Linkin Park has never traditionally abided by the boundaries of genre. The California band straddled multiple lines in music, dabbling in Hip Hop, while pushing the limits of Rock within a Pop landscape. But something changed for bandleader Mike Shinoda. While the singer-rapper-producer felt LP’s music was still sharp, he realized that Rock music in general was nearing a dangerous cliff. As the lines between Rock and Pop continue blurring, Mike aims to reinforce some powerful sounds with his band. Their new album is slated for a Summer release, and they just debuted the lead single “Guilty All The Same” with Rakim via Shazam. Linkin Park has always been pretty tech savvy, but utilizing mobile’s most frequently used music-recognition app was an ingenious way to bring the music to the masses. But that’s been Linkin Park’s mission from the beginning. He speaks to HipHopDX about how the track with Rakim came together, his eclectic taste in Hip Hop, and how he remains on the “Kendrick Got Robbed” team in regard to this year’s Grammy Awards.
HipHopDX: Hey, how are you doing Mike?
Mike Shinoda: I’m alright things have been fun got a lot of folks, meetings, talking about launching the single, writing the album.
DX: What’s up with the single [“Guilty All The Same”] dropping out of nowhere?
Mike Shinoda: Well I guess the thing to mention first is that for a band like ours [Linkin Park] each record is a different experience and different direction; on each record we try to grow and learn. Be better as songwriters, recording artists, and performing artists. Anything we think we can learn, we wanna learn. With that said, the climate for a Rock band now is weak. For Hip Hop fans, and I don’t think they notice it but they could relate, the Rock genre, the Rock radio/Rock channels are getting smaller, and a lot of the rock on Alternative especially outlets are turning towards Pop. So where you used to get Green Day and System of a Down you are now getting Lorde, or Avicii. I was making new music for this album, I was making the same songs that I was really excited about and they seemed to fit in that genre. Not the Pop genre, but they felt like great Alternative songs. I felt like I was happy with what I was doing, but then I looked at it one day and I said, “You know what? The music I’m making is like a derivative of all this new tempo Poppy Alternative stuff.” I didn’t like it to be honest, so long story short we started working on a real heavy Rock record, and at a certain point Rakim’s name came up, and I realized we were in a similar situation. He’s an artist whose respected but not mentioned really in Pop culture even though he is the Godfather of a lot of things in Hip Hop. He’s kind of a bar by which lyricists are measured, but the times have changed. He’s not gonna make a Pop music song for people to dance to and shit. He refuses to do it, and that’s how we felt on this record. We didn’t wanna play by the rules and make a Pop record, we don’t have it in us. I think it was what we connected on immediately and why he came all the way from New York to record with us.
DX: Wow, and it totally shows in the single because it really has a hard Rock element to it. It goes against the grain of what people are perceiving to be Rock right now. There is an ambiguity between Rock and Pop and you are proving that’s not the case even in 2014.
Mike Shinoda: I just look at it like this: when I was 16, my insides were messed up with chemical changes that happens in a young person's body when they are growing up [laughs]. You’re frustrated, pissed off, emotional and back then if I didn’t have an aggressive music or aggressive concert going experience I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. You know there's a part of me that feels bad for the young people that are out there right now with aggression to get out. And not in a negative way; we don't want them to get out and do anything bad, we want positive without being cheesy. That’s what music is for. When I was a kid, I used to go to whatever concert and get that energy out from Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, rock groups like Alice In Chains or Rage Against The Machine. You wanted to go and get that aggression out.
DX: Do you feel as if Rap music - for the most part the stuff that crosses over from newer artists - is a lot softer than that? Short answer I know is yes because when you are talking about artists like Chuck D anybody would seem pretty soft in comparison. But do you feel like that fire is gone? That ability is gone to be to be able to listen to a song vent is gone?
Mike Shinoda: We’ve made soft songs too, I’m not saying there’s no place in the world for it. I love a lot of music that are of all different styles and some of my favorite albums of the past year have been from Vampire Weekend to Haim to Kendrick’s record, which was amazing. I mean I’m looking into my Spotify account right now so that I can show you what I’m exactly listening to. Here’s what’s in my Spotify right now: Chvrches, Lorde, ScHoolboy Q, Danny Brown, Arctic Monkeys, Kid Cudi, and Queens of the Stone Age. It’s a lot of variety you know, different music for different moods. And I feel like the records we are making right now was the mood that every time I felt that way and I wanted to listen to something like that I would have to listen to something 15-20 years ago.
DX: When you approached Rakim for the project, what were his thoughts on it?
Mike Shinoda: It was so funny how that happened. We were in the studio listening to the track and originally I was gonna Rap in the bridge and I said as I was listening to it I thought it was predictable for me to rap a verse right here. Like that's not as exciting as it could be. What could we do that would be shocking? And I joked [that] you know we’ve already done stuff with Jay Z, what if we got Rakim? Like I thought it would be impossible, but the engineer was like I can get to him if you want me to. I said, 'You're fucking kidding me.' He said, 'You know my buddy back in New York was his engineer and lived near him, and I’ll just give him a shout and see if he can reach out and ask the question.' I said, 'Well it doesn’t hurt so do it.' Next thing I know a week later I was on the phone with the guy.
DX: What was his process like in comparison to Jay Z’s when it came to making music?
Mike Shinoda: I don’t know about comparing Rakim to Jay Z; it's like apples and oranges. I’ll tell you this is what I observed: not the whole process, but [Rakim] likes to spend time writing. Just to make that one verse between the time he started it and the time he recorded it was about a week. I don’t know how much he wrote like by the day. Like maybe 3-5 hours a day he could have wrote five minutes, but I know when I listened to it there was a complexity to the subject matter and the rhyme pattern and the way everything is assembled almost from an emotional standpoint and mathematical standpoint that no one else can do. I mean you gotta have the life experience, the natural born talent and the craftsmanship, the experience of building that a young person simply can’t have. I look at it like, man that’s something to aspire to be able to do, and he’s just a one of a kind phenomenon.
DX: And you chose to drop it on Shazam. How did that happen?
Mike Shinoda: I’ll be honest. That one actually our manager found that one. They know that we use Shazam - that everyone uses Shazam to find the name of an artist or name of song when they are out at a restaurant or whatever, and they said you know Shazam is proposing that if anybody Shazams anything that they will get their results and a link to your song to listen to it inside the app. I don't know how many millions of people use the app, but it’s a lot, and it was a no brainer and a great way for people to experience the song first. To be honest, like I said earlier I love the radio, I love the support that radio gives the band and at the time I know that’s not the only way people experience music. I’m not living under a rock somewhere. I listen to music on my phone more than I listen to it anywhere else, so for me to find a way to tap into people and them listening to music the same way I do, it’s the most important thing.
DX: What other kind of Hip Hop are you feeling right now?
Mike Shinoda: Well going back since I just mentioned Kendrick I was on the “Kendrick Got Robbed” team. I felt that record was classic. I have to imagine it was a really close race. Man, you know Macklemore made a good record, but Kendrick’s was a classic. I like ScHoolboy Q’s record, it’s cool. Pusha T’s record is in my weekly playlist. Luci Eck$, he’s a pretty young artist, but his style is really dope with kind of a indie stoner rap chill out vibe. Actually my friend put out an app that is great called Muzaic, and I love it. I find tons of new music. It’s like Instagram for music - just pics and comments. Press play on the pic and listen. It also even has a curator’s list capabilities. The stuff I find on there is pretty great.
DX: Will you be doing any more collaborations for the album?
Mike Shinoda: No I don’t think so, only Rakim. It’s hard to follow that up with anyone else. I actually had a hard time rapping on any song after he came in, like Jesus Christ, how can I pretend I can rap after this guy’s been in the room? It was inspiring though. Honestly it forced me to go and take a long look at my lyrics and really push myself to write better stuff. Having him there and seeing him do it was inspiring. But the album will be released this Summer. At least one more song will be given out as well before Summer comes. Thats new info too, haven't told anyone else.
DX: The rest of the album, what are we in for?
Mike Shinoda: It’s a Rock record. It’s loud and it’s Rock, but not in the sense of what you’ve heard before, which is more like ‘90s Hardcore-Punk-Thrash. But from time to time we do flex the beatmaking and sampling and a record isn't done ‘til we add a little of that color to it. You even hear it in “Guilty All The Same” in sections. We break it down to samples that are made with the keyboard then switch it up with sampled guitars. We try to reference some of our favorite older music while still keeping it futuristic.