He was born Michael Kenji Shinoda in the Los Angeles suburb of Agoura Hills on February 11, 1977. As a child, he loved to paint and studied classical piano, eventually branching out into jazz and hip-hop before picking up the guitar. Inspired by both rock and rap music, he counted N.W.A., Boogie Down Productions, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Led Zeppelin, Aphex Twin, Deftones, and Nine Inch Nails as major influences. In junior high, he became friends with guitarist Brad Delson. Years later in high school, they started the band Xero with drummer Rob Bourdon. Following graduation, and still performing with Xero, Shinoda enrolled at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design to study graphic design and illustration. While there, he met fellow aspiring artist and musician DJ Joseph Hahn and the two struck up a friendship; Hahn eventually joined Xero on the turntables, as did Delson’s college roommate, bassist Dave “Phoenix” Farrell. Shinoda graduated from art school and took a job as a graphic designer, while Xero continued to gig around the Los Angeles area. With the final addition of co-vocalist and Arizona transplant Chester Bennington, the band renamed themselves Linkin Park in 1999.
The group signed to Warner Bros. soon after, and released its diamond-selling debut album Hybrid Theory the following year. Shinoda managed to integrate his graphic arts background into his main gig with Linkin Park by designing the band’s album artwork with Hahn, while actively involving himself with the group’s mixing and production. Fostering such studio skills, Shinoda later produced and remixed tracks for acts like the X-Ecutioners, Handsome Boy Modeling School, Lupe Fiasco, and Depeche Mode.
In 2004, Shinoda started the hip-hop outfit Fort Minor, which allowed him to concentrate more on the rap side of things. Fort Minor’s debut album, The Rising Tied, was released in November 2005 and debuted just outside the top fifty on the Billboard 200. Shinoda played almost every instrument on the album — in addition to all of its programming and sequencing — and recruited Jay-Z, who had previously worked with Shinoda and Linkin Park on the 2004 mash-up album Collision Course, as executive producer. The hit single “Where’d You Go,” featuring vocals by Skylar Grey (who went by Holly Brook at the time), went platinum and peaked in the Top 5 of the Hot 100 and the Billboard Pop Songs chart.
Through the decades, Shinoda and Linkin Park released seven albums, most of which topped the albums chart and went multi-platinum. On the side, he continued to develop his scoring abilities, collaborating with Ramin Djawadi (Game of Thrones, The Strain, Westworld) on the soundtrack to the Medal of Honor: Warfighter video game, and composing and producing the score for 2011’s Indonesian martial arts spectacle Raid: Redemption with Joseph Trapanese (Straight Outta Compton, Insurgent, TRON). He also worked on 2014’s Mall soundtrack, which was directed by DJ Hahn and contained songs by Shinoda and the guys from Linkin Park. In 2015, Shinoda contributed the theme music for the television show Into the Badlands and released “Welcome,” the first Fort Minor output in a decade.
Months after the release of Linkin Park’s seventh effort, One More Light, Bennington committed suicide, which left Shinoda and the band at a crossroads. As part of the grieving process, Shinoda issued a three-song Post Traumatic EP in early 2018. The project expanded into a full album of the same name, which arrived that summer. Billed as his official solo debut, Post Traumatic featured appearances by Blackbear, Grandson, K.Flay, Chino Moreno, and Machine Gun Kelly. ~ Neil Z. Yeung & Corey Apar