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Self-affirmation, light on swagger

November 20, 2005|Richard Cromelin

Fort Minor

"The Rising Tied" (Machine Shop Recordings/Warner Bros.)

* * 1/2

MIKE SHINODA is Linkin Park's setup man. In a typical song by the mega-selling Los Angeles band -- "In the End," "Faint," "Somewhere I Belong," et al. -- he's the one who articulates the angst and builds the tension with a rap verse, then tosses it to singer Chester Bennington for the vein-popping catharsis.

Now here's a whole album of Shinoda's rap without the rock, an unfettered indulgence of his fascination with hip-hop. He's a major musical architect in Linkin Park, and for this side project (in stores Tuesday) he uses live instruments and original samples to construct a varied series of tracks that make heavy use of those portentous orchestral fragments that are a Linkin Park signature.

Over those tracks, Shinoda offers sober vignettes about people scraping for survival, as well as self-affirming, go-for-your-dreams celebrations of the underdog. At one point he recalls the rejection Linkin Park endured, but that sting pales next to the album's most powerful piece, "Kenji," an account of his Japanese-born forebears' internment at Manzanar.

As a rapper, Shinoda sounds like a suburban b-boy, amiable and sensitive but not charismatic or colorful. "The Rising Tied" gets its vocal heft and energy from his sidekicks and such guests as Common, Black Thought and John Legend. Shinoda himself tried to put on a little swagger, but his real appeal is pure puppy dog.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.

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