MC Mike Shinoda might embrace nu-metal in Linkin Park, but his side project Fort Minor explores rap and hip-hop exclusively. Although Shinoda wrote all of the songs and played most of the instruments on Fort Minor's debut, "The Rising Tied," he also gets a lot of help from such notable guests as Common and Black Thought of the Roots.
Those guest voices often outshine Shinoda's exaggerated cadence, but the lyrics prove that "Tied" is a solo project. "Kenji" relates his father's and aunt's experiences in Japanese internment camps during World War II, even incorporating recordings of their reflections amid his own narration. On "Where'd You Go," Shinoda bemoans his own choice to put his touring lifestyle before loved ones. He later dismisses his critics on "High Road" ("But you can say what you want about me/Keep talking while I'm walking away"), as soul singer John Legend praises taking the high road in an exuberant chorus.
While Fort Minor dwells on serious topics, North Carolina's Little Brother focuses on satire on "The Minstrel Show." The rap trio -- Phonte, Big Pooh and 9th Wonder -- sandwiches skits and mini-commercials amid a parody of R. Kelly's "Trapped in the Closet" ("Cheatin' ") and recurring mockeries of television networks. Although Little Brother's conceptual raps are clever, such constant joking around makes it difficult to take "The Minstrel Show" too seriously.
-- Catherine P. Lewis