To anyone looking from the outside, 2005 would have seemed to be a wonderful time to be Mike Shinoda. Riding on the wave of two very successful blockbuster Linkin Park Records, and a critically acclaimed collaboration with the millionaire rap-mogul, Jay-Z, and an announcement of a solo project named Fort Minor, there seemed to be nothing that Mike Shinoda could touch that didn’t turn into gold.
With an incredible ear for crafting rock hits, such abilities should leave any artist feeling confident and empowered to do anything that they feel like. But for Shinoda, despite his massive success, the (then) 28 year old rapper had his reservations about how he would be able to handle standing up on his own without his five friends in Linkin Park. Would the hip-hop community embrace him despite his introduction to the scene as a “rapper in a rock band?” Would the fans who have grown to love him for his band’s hard rock sound, turn their backs once the heavy guitars, and aggressive vocals of Chester Bennington were suddenly nowhere to be found?
Unsure of the answers to these questions, yet staying the course, Shinoda poured his heart and soul into sixteen game-changing tracks and in the process crafted one of the best hip-hop records of 2005; thus cementing his status as multi-faceted musician, producer and emcee. With the backing and support of Jay-Z and his contemporaries, many suspected that Shinoda would continue to dominate the rap scene with his refreshing new approach to hip-hop music by releasing Fort Minor records in between Linkin Park records.
Instead, however, to the surprise of many, the complete opposite occurred. With only one record, and a mixtape to it’s credit, the incredibly innovative Fort Minor was put back on the shelf by Shinoda in order to focus his ‘Fort Minor energy’ into Linkin Park.
Ten years on, the influence of Fort Minor’s quick moment in the sun can still be found for those who look in the right places. Fort Minor’s hit single “Remember The Name” continues to be used at sporting events as a song to motivate professional atheletes while entertaining the crowd, as well as being featured in movie trailers, in sports compilations and on highlight reels. On the other hand, “Where’d You Go” contributor ‘Holly Brook’ has continued to find success through her new alias Skylar Grey, featuring on Diddy Dirty Money’s hit single “Coming Home”.
As for Shinoda, well he didn’t fare too badly either. Now 38, the Grammy award winning multi-platinum musician has released six huge records with Linkin Park (their latest being the critically acclaimed The Hunting Party), launched a venture capitalist fund, developed a watch with Rolex and contributed to the score of two full-length feature movies (The Raid and Joseph Hahn’s The Mall). Not bad for a guy who, in his own words, felt he “was a complete weirdo” growing up. Despite after releasing the positively received Fort Minor, Shinoda still never really felt welcome in the hip-hop industry.
With the passing of time, however, the Fort Minor and Linkin Park vocalist has learned to ignore those negative thoughts and power past his detractors. Far more confident than his younger self, the newly inspired Shinoda has dusted the cobwebs off of his Fort Minor project with releasing the outsider anthem ‘Welcome.’ Fort Minor’s returning track was released alongside an innovative 360-degree virtual reality music video and is being offered as a signed limited edition vinyl; featuring one of a kind covers that were painted on as part of the 80 foot mural that was seen in the music video for ‘Welcome’.
This past weekend, on the eve of his return to the hip-hop game, we here at AltWire sat down with Mike to ask him what this return means for Fort Minor, and how the ten years between The Rising Tied and ‘Welcome’ has impacted him as an artist. Read our interview below!
AltWire [Derek Oswald]: It’s been a long time since we’ve seen anything from Fort Minor. What has prompted you to finally return back to this side project?
Mike Shinoda [Fort Minor/Linkin Park]: I didn’t plan to make another Fort Minor song. And one day, “Welcome,” just popped out of my head so quickly, and sounded so finished, I couldn’t ignore it. That’s why, in the social media release for the song, I had the @fortminor accounts talking to me, trying to get my attention. Because that’s how it really happened.
AW: Since The Rising Tied, your time and material with Linkin Park has been transformative and constantly changing – The Rising Tied came before four very huge records in your career in which Linkin Park took on different sounds and approaches. How do you feel your songwriting has changed over the last ten years, both in Linkin Park and perhaps now with Fort Minor?
Mike Shinoda [Fort Minor/Linkin Park]: When I first came up with Fort Minor 10 years ago, it’s important to remember that Linkin Park had just come off Collision Course with Jay-Z. Our only two studio albums were Hybrid Theory and Meteora; we were essentially only known for one sound. So, when I had a distinctly hip hop idea, I didn’t know where to put it—I didn’t think it would fit in with Linkin Park, so it became Fort Minor. After the FM album, as Linkin Park got in the studio to do Minutes To Midnight, the band and I realized we wanted to broaden our sonic identity, and all of a sudden it was OK for my hip hop ideas to become Linkin Park songs. So songs like Hands Held High, Waiting For The End, When They Come For Me, and Until It Breaks came about. If you listen back to those, there’s a distinctly Fort Minor flavor in there. And for years, if I had a Fort Minor idea, it basically became a Linkin Park song.
AW: Fort Minor, while comprised of many collaborative artists, seemed to fundamentally be comprised of you, and your colleagues in Styles of Beyond. Will we see a return of the old gang in the new material? Both Jay-Z and your bandmate Brad were on hand to assist with production and A&R. Are they returning to help on this record, or is this purely you on this endeavor?
Mike Shinoda [Fort Minor/Linkin Park]: I have no plan to make a Fort Minor “album” at this point. I only have this one song. After this song, will there be another one? I don’t know. There’s something modern and exciting about that. I’m putting all my effort into this singular moment: I wrote every note and word in the song, performed everything, produced it, mixed it. I designed all the merchandise. I wrote the video treatment and produced the video. Incidentally, the video is a cutting-edge 360 video, filmed in public in Venice, CA, in which I painted a mural made of 1000 vinyl jackets. After the video, a vinyl single of the song and an art print of the whole mural was put in each of the actual jackets, which are all hand-painted and hand-signed by me. Those are available now on FortMinor.com.
AW: We’ve asked Chester a similar question, but when you write music, do you have a particular intention in mind? Do you write for Linkin Park, and write separately for Fort Minor or other projects?
Mike Shinoda [Fort Minor/Linkin Park]: Sometimes there’s a very specific vision, like I want to write a song to this chord progression, or “I want this to sound like Death Grips meets The Beatles,” and other times I’m in the car and an idea hits me over the head.
AW: What does the hip hop scene look like to you right now, as you survey it? Do you feel like FM’s new material, much like The Hunting Party, will be somewhat of a reaction to the scene?
Mike Shinoda [Fort Minor/Linkin Park]: Hip hop is in a good place right now: Run The Jewels, Kendrick, Schoolboy Q, A$AP Rocky, Action Bronson, Kanye, Pusha T, Big Sean, Joey Bada$$, Drake, Wayne…all making amazing music, and all dramatically different from one another. My approach with Fort Minor, as with any music I make, is to make it “me.”
AW: A lot of artists later in their careers have taken on pursuing big mega-band projects, such as Thom Yorke and Flea and others in Atoms for Peace. Do you see Fort Minor as a more hip-hop iteration of that?
Mike Shinoda [Fort Minor/Linkin Park]: FM has always been a solo project at its core. Back then, I wanted to put Styles Of Beyond on The Rising Tied because I think they’re amazing and we grew up near each other. At the same time, I also think one reason I had so many other people on board was because I wasn’t confident standing there by myself. After all, I had always done everything, from the studio to the shows to the interviews, with 5 other band members in LP. But over time, I’ve finally grown the confidence to do it alone. So now, when I do upcoming performances as Fort Minor, I intend to make it entirely a one-man show, which is really not easy to do well. We’ll see how it goes!
AW: Linkin Park seemingly avoided collaborative works on albums until The Hunting Party. Why was that, and why did that change? Are collaborations going to continue being a regular part of Linkin Park’s albums, or do you think it was a one-off thing?
Mike Shinoda [Fort Minor/Linkin Park]: I have no idea! Only time will tell.
AW: Now that you’re back on your Fort Minor grind, do you think after this comeback, that FM will be more of a regular effort?
Mike Shinoda [Fort Minor/Linkin Park]: I don’t know, but the door is open. If I end up having another Fort Minor song idea later, I’ll put that out when it happens. It’s nice to feel like I’m leaving the door open for inspiration, and that I can deliver that to the fans in real time.
AW: “Remember the Name” is a song that seemed to resonate with so many people – musicians, athletes, aspiring artists and professionals, etc. – that song seems to stick around as a track for motivation. Did you ever get the sense or the feeling that the track would be so impactful?
Mike Shinoda [Fort Minor/Linkin Park]: I don’t usually think about what’s going to happen with a song after I make it. I’m just focusing on making a good, honest song. Whatever people do with it later is definitely not in my hands.
AW: Lyrically speaking, The Rising Tied, and even more recent material like LIVING THINGS and The Hunting Party, seemed to have lyrics that tried to, in a sense, show that despite the obstacles you’ve faced and the criticism you’ve garnered, that you’ve succeeded. Your lyrics in many ways speak to your critics. Do you still feel in a sense that you have something to prove as an artist, whether it be with Linkin Park or with Fort Minor?
Mike Shinoda [Fort Minor/Linkin Park]: Welcome is an outsider song. I guess I feel like I still have something to prove, more so to myself than anyone else. I came into a career as a rapper in a pretty weird way—through being in a rock band. And as such, I’m in a strange outside category. I mean, even from a practical perspective, what genre or station can you put “Welcome” on? At least in L.A., it doesn’t fit on any radio station. Thinking back to when I was a kid: I grew up a mixed race nerd who loved anime, video games, piano, got good grades, and listened to Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, NWA, and Public Enemy. At the time, I was a complete weirdo. The good news is, the world is a lot more open place for weirdos these days.