In the end, this album really does matter 20 years later
There’s an argument that says that there’s a perfect circle between Mississippi Delta blues, Northern English heavy metal, and the pop-appealing nu-metal movement of the late 20th century.
The only thing separating legendary blues guitarist John Lee Hooker from Linkin Park’s DJ Joe Hahn is the track’s groove, and hard it breaks. Yes, nu-metal gets lampooned as “less than rock.” However, upon review of their debut album Hybrid Theory twenty years after its debut, Linkin Park’s honest portrayal of pop, metal, and underground rap encapsulates a unique progression in the rock of the early 2000s era. When molded into a more metal-relevant style, that sound embodies the energy of music made more than a half-century prior.
Hybrid Theory is essentially a “greatest hits” compilation of sorts comme-morating Linkin Park’s first year together as a band, though all members had been playing in bands for roughly a half-decade prior. Even deeper, the album’s title, Hybrid Theory, was the name the band chose before settling on Linkin Park (a name chosen because lead singer Bennington noted that the band’s then rehearsal space was located near “Lincoln” Park in Los Angeles).
The songwriting that has come to define the band — and this album’s success — was there from the start. Regarding the songwriting process between vocalist Chester Bennington and guitarist/emcee Mike Shinoda, Bennington told Rolling Stone in 2002 that, “It’s easy to fall into that thing [while songwriting, of] ‘poor, poor me,’ that’s where songs like ‘Crawling’ come from, that feeling of, ‘I can’t take myself. Instead, we make It about how ‘I’m the reason that I feel this way, and there’s something inside me that pulls me down.’” Continuing, he noted, “But our flip on this is to change it to not feeling sorry for yourself, but about taking responsibility for your actions. I don’t say ‘you’ at any point.”
When blended with strong songwriting, aggressively pursuing self-empowerment bases Hybrid Theory’s success in roots familiar to other eras’ metal classics. However, the blending of hip-hop culture into the mix adds the essential something more that creates this album’s legacy.
Before Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory became the 21st century’s best-selling rock album, the combination of highly-amplified riffage, caterwauling vocals, beats, and rhymes was quite commonplace in rock. A year prior, Limp Bizkit had sold 20 million albums, plus had five top-ten singles (“Nookie,” “Re-Arranged,” “Take A Look Around,” “Rollin’,” and “My Way”). However, Limp Bizkit’s work paled by comparison to Linkin Park’s ability to mine equal parts of moody tech-rockers The Smiths and Depeche Mode, the metal-inspired Deftones, intellectual jazz-loving rap band The Roots.
VIDEO: Linkin Park “Crawling”
In short, “I did it all for the nookie,” while the chorus of an eponymous 1999 breakout hit for Fred Durst, Wes Borland, DJ Lethal and company compares very little to “I tried so hard / And got so far / But in the end / It doesn’t even matter,” the hook of “In The End,” Linkin Park’s sextuple-platinum-selling 2000-released star-making smash.
Limp Bizkit brought the reanimation of the Beastie Boys frat-boy punk braggadocio back to mainstream pop’s surface. Linkin Park merged that energy alongside desperation hearkening back through Guns n Roses’ “Freight Train,” to Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.” Also, notes of The Animals’ “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place,” and something twisting the essence of Robert Johnson’s “Me and the Devil Blues” exist. Jolting that into the future with hip-hop’s core tenets scratching the zeitgeist makes for a potent blend.
In a 2000-published review, PopMatters’ Stephanie Dickison noted Linkin Park was “a far more complex and talented group than the hard rock boy bands of late,” further stating that the act “[would] continue to fascinate and challenge music’s standard sounds.” Even in the face of the untimely 2017 demise of the band’s lead singer Chester Bennington, the band’s legacy as the most commercially successful and critically-acclaimed of metal’s genre pushers is unparalleled.
It is important to discuss the significance of Linkin Park’s unique merging of hip-hop into aggro emo-rock. As a corollary, Limp Bizkit’s DJ Lethal had rap roots in Ice-T’s LA-based Rhyme Syndicate. Comparatively, Linkin Park’s Joe Hahn and Mike Shinoda were fans of the East coast’s underground rap scene, namely the jazz-break and Black consciousness-inspired ones in Philadelphia and New York City. Thus, whereas cocksure interpretations of rap very much defined Limp Bizkit’s roots, Linkin Park came from a much less arrogant, more introspective place.
VIDEO: Linkin Park “In The End”
Heavy metal worked as an offshoot of the blues because it eschewed rock’s danceable, pop-ready, and bubblegum impulses. Metal’s louder, faster, and frequently darker. Thus, in the 1970s, groundbreaking metal acts like Led Zeppelin and Alice Cooper, plus Judas Priest and Motörhead, created the space wherein an act like Linkin Park could be birthed. If looking at metal’s progression and including hip-hop in the volatile mix, a fact emerges. Limp Bizkit’s failure to retain relevance as compared to celebrating Linkin Park’s debut certainly is due, in part, to the band borrowing the impulses of a much less than pop-ready variant of hip-hop culture.
To The Guardian in 2001, Chester Bennington noted, “There’s some pretty pissed-off kids all over the world. I think that’s a good thing. Anger feeds change–more so than happiness. When people become happy and comfortable, they become lazy and melancholy. When there’s a little bit of rage behind, you get motivated.”
Two decades later, questions of rock’s demise run rampant. There’s something in the ribald ridiculousness of acts that have faded into the record store cut-out bins of our memories that is not present in Linkin Park. Angry motivation evolved into the studio work that blended vestiges of the essence of the Delta blues, rap’s serious edge, metal’s aggressive insurgency, pop-ready screamo vocals, and hook-driven lyrics into a dynamic sonic concoction.
Thirty million happy Hybrid Theory purchasers worldwide after 20 years have left an indelible mark and untouchable standard of success.