Rock music wasn’t in rotation in my life in any form heading into the fall of 2000. Several years prior, I had fallen head-over-heels in love with hip hop, a discovery that would change my life forever. And when I say I only listened to rap music at that time, it’s not an overstatement. The genre infused its way into every part of my life as I made my way through the bowels of high school.
Nevertheless, I stayed abreast of music trends at large via a variety of music mags, MTV, and this thing called the internet, which had recently entered my own home. While I can’t recall the precise moment that Linkin Park entered my life, I remember a slow wave building its way through the halls of my high school. Almost overnight, Linkin Park was the band that everyone was listening to.
It was around this time that I received my first burned CD from a classmate – a copy of Hybrid Theory downloaded from Napster in which every song was out of place and mislabeled. Thus began a new era of my life, both in terms of the music I consumed and how I consumed it.
Hybrid Theory didn’t expose me to mainstream nu metal or send me headfirst into the genre. I was well aware of the movement thanks to the likes of Limp Bizkit and Korn, but none of those bands held my attention. What set Linkin Park apart in my eyes was their much more focused execution of hip hop elements. Mike Shinoda could actually rap. The band actually took sampling and programming seriously. It wasn’t embarrassing, and it helped bridge a divide for listeners like me.
That debut album stayed in rotation through my final years of high school and served as a small stroke of common ground I could share with some of my classmates, none of whom had any interest in rap at the time. It also opened the door to other guitar-driven bands I would soon come to love like 12 Stones and Evanescence.
The sense of common ground Hybrid Theory created wouldn’t last long. During my first semester away at college, I met some new friends that were in an actual rock band. I’ll never forget the looks on their faces as I attempted to make pleasantries, telling them that I, too, had an interest in rock music. I listened to Linkin Park.
*Insert record scratch* And not the good kind.
As it turns out, Linkin Park wasn’t cool. But I quickly learned of some new music that was – music born out of the east coast underground scene, spearheaded by the likes of At the Drive-In and Glassjaw. Never mind that Glassjaw’s debut, which was created to “destroy Adidas rock,” was produced by Ross Robinson, who also manned the boards for Korn’s first two albums. This was new. This was cool.
As I began exploring a completely new style of music and diving into new bands like Anberlin, My Chemical Romance, and Underoath, I still couldn’t shake Hybrid Theory’s hold on me. In the spring of 2003, I purchased Linkin Park’s follow-up, Meteora, at a local Wal-Mart and listened in secret, hoping none of my new friends would find out. There was something perfect about those albums, something that sonically coalesced in a way that captured everything I was feeling. Something about Chester Bennington’s tortured voice that felt familiar.
It was in the four-year gap between Meteora and Minutes to Midnight that I finally moved on, finding a plethora of new bands that scratched that existential itch. To this day, 2003 to 2007 still stands as possibly the most influential period of my life in terms of music discovery. But it also stands as the period in which I became a snob. By 2007, the nu metal genre as a whole had become maligned and forgotten as a new wave of scene bands entered the mainstream. Who had time for Linkin Park? Not me.
Not only did I not follow the band through their ensuing years, I became the person that scoffed when people brought them up in conversation. By this point, I was writing for various music magazines and websites and couldn’t afford a dent in my reputation. Linkin Park belonged to the masses.
In 2012, I had moved to a new city and was invited by some people to attend a Linkin Park concert. In an effort to kindle some new friendships, I agreed to go. But only as a credentialed member of the press. I was there to take photos and document for PopMatters, not to have a good time. To read my ensuing article today is to read the words of someone conflicted. Because that night, front and center of the stage, I was transported back to those days in 2000 when Hybrid Theory was more than an album I listened to. It was a friend I could talk to.
It was that night that I rediscovered Linkin Park, and most importantly, the overpowering presence of Chester Bennington. And I’m so glad I did. I’m not here to tell you how Hybrid Theory changed the world or saved rock music. It did neither. But it’s impossible to deny the impact of an album that went diamond, becoming one of the 50 best-selling albums in the United States, and created a following unlike any we’ve seen from a guitar-driven band in the past 20 years.
These days, the conversation around Linkin Park and that debut album have come full circle, perhaps partially due to the tragic passing of Bennington in 2017, but almost certainly due to the collective recognition that Hybrid Theory has managed to stand the test of time. When I listen to it today, I’m struck by the foresight the band had in terms of genre mixture. In a time when the idea of genre has dissolved nearly completely, Hybrid Theory sounds not all that out of place.
Twenty years later, my favorite song is still album opener “Papercut”. A few days ago, as I sat parked in my car outside a Starbucks, waiting for the song to end before I turned off the ignition, I was nearly overcome with emotion during Chester’s repeated bridge of, “The sun goes down / I feel the light betray me”. There’s something about that line that hits different today, especially when considering the band’s final single, “One More Light” – a song about the deep pain that comes with the loss of a loved one.
That idea of light and its finite existence serves as fitting bookends for the band and an era they helped define. It’s also a reminder of those moments of discovery, when music speaks to our soul in a way that nothing else can at a time when we need it the most. I’m thankful for the moment Hybrid Theory provided all those years ago and that it still holds meaning in my life today.
by Kiel Hauck
Kiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.