Eras of Influence: 2000-2004 – L.A. Symphony

This article is part of an ongoing series in which I examine the artists and music that defined specific eras of my life. You can read my previous installment on Outkast, covering the years 1997-2000.

***

By the year 2000, hip hop had fully infiltrated the furthest reaches of suburban America. Even my rural hometown in Kansas, for better or for worse. With the release of The Slim Shady LP in 1999, followed by The Marshall Mathers LP a year later, Eminem had become not only one of the biggest stars on the planet, but a celebrated figure in my own high school (and probably every other high school for that matter). 

As someone who had spent the previous years immersing himself in hip hop culture, you might think I would be over the moon about this new found adoption from my classmates. Not at all. Not even a little.

There were certainly great byproducts of rap music stepping into the national limelight, not the least of which was the disruption of popular music tastes coming out of the 90s, which had been predominantly driven by white artists. Yes, Eminem dominated the airwaves, but new pockets of the country began blossoming their own sounds. The emergence of Nelly and the St. Lunatics as a voice for hip hop in the Midwest gave me particular delight, as did the arrival of a new wave of producers that begin shaping the sound of the new decade, namely the Neptunes and a new, then-unknown producer named Kanye West (more on him in a later installment).

Nevertheless, hip hop’s transition into the popular discussion sent me on a path to discover something new. Ironically, my discovery resembled something that was driven to pay homage to its past and was staunchly dedicated to its roots. Something underground.

***

In my late high school years, those early internet communities I had stumbled into began to grow and evolve. As rap made its way into top 40 radio, I became introduced to an entire portion of the genre that had been bubbling just beneath the surface all along. It was through MSN chats and online forums that I became introduced to names like Jurassic 5, The Pharcyde, Aesop Rock, Atmosphere, and more.

You can buy or stream Composition No. 1 on Apple Music.

But the biggest revelation, and the one that sent me tumbling headlong into a new community defined by shell-toe Adidas sneakers and beat up backpacks, came in the form of L.A. Symphony, a hip hop collective born out of the burgeoning West Coast underground scene.

Sometime around 1999 or 2000 – I can’t pinpoint the specific date from my memory – a friend of mine wanted me to hear something. He was a subscriber of the long-defunct alt music mag 7ball, which came wrapped in plastic bimonthly with a mix CD of new artists. This particular installment contained the track “San Diego” from the group’s debut album, Composition No. 1. I was immediately obsessed.

Fortunately for me, it didn’t take long to find people online who felt the same. That debut sent ripples through the West Coast underground, attracting the attention of major labels who were hungry for new hip hop acts. Like many underground collectives of the era, L.A. Symphony was sizeable in number – anywhere from eight to nine members at any given time. The core of the group was composed of Flynn Adam Atkins, Joey the Jerk, The Eternals (Cookbook and Uno Mas), Halieyoos Fishermen (Sharlok Poems, JBeits, and Trendi MC), and Brainwash Projects (Pigeon John and bTwice).

It was the latter duo that performed “San Diego”, and to my luck, they had released their own album a year prior that I also purchased and began obsessing over (The Rise and Fall of Brainwash Projects). Each member or duo brought their own flavor and personality to the group, creating a long tail of interest. Over the coming years, as each released their own solo albums in addition to the group material, I would gobble them up, play them relentlessly, and display their CD jewel cases in a line across a shelf in my room.

Part of what made L.A. Symphony (and underground hip hop as a whole) so intriguing, aside from the unique sound, was its purpose. At the time, the terms “underground” and “socially conscious” were nearly interchangeable. As I began experiencing my own social and political awakening during my exit from high school into college, this music was speaking my language. As corny as it sounds, it was almost like having a whole other avenue for education in my life. And I consumed as much of it as time would allow.

Conscious hip hop at the time thematically ran the gamut from social, racial, and economic issues to more philosophical topics like faith and religion. Each artist or group would bring their own perspective to the table, creating a community that felt bonded by its desire to learn and grow together. L.A. Symphony added a unique element of humor and lightheartedness that set the group apart. They wanted you to think, but weren’t afraid to crack a joke in the next verse and make you laugh.

The music led me to want to know more about the people creating it. During these years, I would scour the web for any morsel of information I could find; mainly interviews that would shed more light on the thoughts, views, and motivations of the artists I loved. But when my own curiosity couldn’t be quelled, I found a new way to keep the conversation going.

***

During my final two years of high school, I was given the opportunity to host a show on a local radio station in my town (an hours-long weekend hip hop show that I somehow sold the owner of the station on). I also began pitching article ideas to various websites I frequented, and shockingly, was given compensation to write said articles. 

I had no formal training in broadcasting or journalism, yet somehow, I was suddenly interviewing my favorite artists, asking them for answers to questions that I couldn’t find elsewhere. And they actually told me stuff. And people actually listened and read what I was saying. It’s the kind of rush that somehow still propels me to do the same all these years later.

L.A. Symphony was at the epicenter during this time. I can’t count from memory how many interviews I did with various members of the group during those years, but it was more than was likely necessary. For a fleeting moment, the group’s ship actually did arrive in the form of a record deal with Squint Entertainment, resulting in a 19-track album titled Call it What You Want, featuring production from likes of Prince Paul and will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas. Sadly, in one of the most well-worn stories of the era, Squint was acquired by Warner Music Group, which shelved the album prior to its release. Although leaks scattered across the internet, one of the most anticipated albums in underground hip hop history never saw the light of day.

L.A. Symphony re-grouped and independently released Baloney in 2002, an incredibly unsung record that ended up producing an unexpected hit when “King Kong” was featured on a Tony Hawk Pro Skater video game. While home from college in the summer of 2003, I interviewed Pigeon John by phone in anticipation of his sophomore solo album, Pigeon John is Dating Your Sister. Near the end of the conversation, I prodded for some updates about L.A. Symphony. After a couple of ambiguous answers, he finally caved. JBeits, bTwice, and himself had all left the group. L.A. Symphony as we had all known it was no more.

It was the first big story I ever got to break. It was also deflating and the moment that marked the beginning of my next musical transition. The core remaining members of the group carried on, releasing two more full-length albums on Gotee Records. In the summer of 2004, I caught a live performance in Tulsa, Oklahoma, before being invited out to dinner after the show with the group. The high school kid that had pestered them with interviews and broken news of their semi-breakup was now dining alongside them at a TGI Fridays in the middle of Oklahoma. Maybe not quite as exciting as William Miller’s journey in “Almost Famous”, but it still somehow felt stranger than fiction. I can’t think anything that could’ve brought this period of my life more full-circle.

By now, I was halfway into my college experience, full of new friends and, of course, new sounds. Hip hop remained a passion, but for the first time in my life, I felt fully accepted into a real life community of friends that wasn’t based solely on the web. And these friends listened to some cool music. By that summer of 2004, I was sporting a checkered backpack covered in patches of my new favorite pop punk bands: MxPx, Good Charlotte, Simple Plan, The Ataris. 

I dove headfirst with my new friends down that new path of guitar-driven, angsty-lyric-filled music that had taken over Warped Tour and was about to break through on MTV. A sound that was about to literally be screamed from the rooftops by a passionate new influx of fans into “the scene.” And I was about to discover the band, my unquestionably favorite band, that would shape everything about the way I thought about and experienced music thereafter.

Second Tier: Clipse, MxPx, Deepspace5, St. Lunatics, Linkin Park

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel 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.

Eras of Influence: 1997-2000 – Outkast

This article is part of an ongoing series in which I examine the artists and music that defined specific eras of my life. You can read my introduction, covering the music that moved me in the 1980s and 1990s, respectively.

***

Like most people, my experience of middle school was awkward. As I moved into 8th grade, just a year away from high school, I remember a growing sense of a need for individuality. To that point in my life, I had no clear idea of who I was. Any interests I had were fairly general and mostly influenced by those around me. I liked basketball and drawing. Music was a safety blanket that I retreated to and was always in rotation, but none of it was solely “mine.” 

But everything was about to change.

If you’ve read the previous installments of this series, you’re aware of the role MTV played in my life from a very early age. In the summer after my sixth grade year, I won a small television from a raffle held during June Fest in my hometown. It wasn’t really big or nice enough to replace the TV we had in our family living room, which led to a crucial opening that would have never presented itself otherwise. There was nowhere else for it to go – why not put it in my bedroom?

After weeks of sprinkling the idea on my less-than-enthused parents, it finally happened, and I still have no idea why they allowed it. The cable man came and ran a new line in my bedroom wall, and before I knew it, I could watch MTV at any time, from the privacy of my own room. So I did just that. I turned the channel to MTV from the moment I got home from school until well after I was supposed to be asleep.

These were the pre-”Total Request Live” days, and while I certainly had an interest in shows like “The Real World” and “Daria”, it was the blocks of music videos that held my attention the most. And it was here that I fell in love with hip hop.

I don’t know if I can pinpoint the exact moment, but by my 8th grade year in 1997, I was obsessed. I would place a blank VHS tape in my VCR and hit record every time a rap video came on. Early favorites included Ma$e’s “Bad Boy”, Jay-Z’s “Hard Knock Life”, Juvenile’s “Ha”, A Tribe Called Quest‘s “Find a Way”, and “Hate Me Now” by Nas. Unbeknownst to me at the time, hip hop was in a state of transition as it mourned the deaths of Tupak Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. I was aware of their music and influence, but didn’t understand the genre’s full history and the changing landscape from the two coasts to a suddenly evolving movement that was about to change popular music around the world.

In 1997, hip hop hadn’t fully crossed over into the mainstream. Aside from the scattered Will Smith hit, rap music was still viewed as dangerous by the vast majority of white suburban America. To this day, I still feel fortunate that my mom allowed me to explore the genre in full, something that so many of my friends and classmates weren’t allowed. I don’t think she was crazy about her middle school son purchasing CDs with the notorious “Parental Advisory” sticker, but as long as I could explain why the music interested me, it was always allowed.

For all of the new artists I began exploring with obsession, pouring over every line and every note, feeling as though I was peering through a window into another world, none held me quite as captivated at the time as Outkast – the duo that put Atlanta on the hip hop map and proceeded to change the genre in ways that are still felt to this day.

***

You can buy or stream Aquemini on Apple Music.

While I discovered ATLiens near the end of its cycle, it was 1998’s Aquemini that changed everything for me. I would replay the video for “Rosa Parks” until I wore out my VHS tape, and I still remember the day that the CD, with its iconic cover art and spacey, atmospheric music, arrived in the mail. It must have been nearly a year straight when I listened to the album every day. For as much as I was falling in love with rap, Outkast were on another level. Their music was distinctly hip hop, but it was…weird. No one else sounded quite like them.

All these years later, the yin and yang of Andre 3000 and Big Boi has become legendary. Two completely individual artists seeming to reside on different planes of existence that still somehow combined effortlessly into something greater than their individual parts. My favorite of the two changed depending on the day or mood. My favorite tracks revolved as well, although all these years later, there’s still not a song from that time period that gets me going quite like “Skew It on the Bar-B”.

I can say with certainty that there was no one else within my limited network of acquaintances at the time that was listening to Outkast, which made them distinctly my own. Oddly, this didn’t make me any cooler. Jokes about C-rap were abundant at the time, and I became viewed as somewhat of an odd duck to be immersing myself in music that wasn’t “meant for me.” And maybe that’s a fair critique, but my love of hip hop served as the jumping off point that forever changed my view of the world and opened my eyes to experiences and culture well outside my purview – complete with all of their beauty, and sadly, the societal injustices that sought to suffocate them.

Those are big words to tie to the music I was discovering as I entered high school, but it’s a real thing that forever changed the trajectory of my life, the passions I held, and the causes I associated myself with. It was the genesis in a lifelong journey of learning and responding in kind with action and empathy.

Seeing as how I had no one with which to share the conversation, I made do in a completely new way. By the late 90s, my family had purchased a computer and connected it to a phone line via a modem. After spending two minutes listening to squeals and squalls, I could begin surfing the internet to discover more about the music I was listening to. It didn’t take long for me to find pockets of the internet dedicated to the discussion of hip hop in the form of message boards. Suddenly, I’d discovered an entirely new network of friends from around the world, including a daily pen pal in Australia who was just as obsessed with rap as me, and a group of hip hop heads with which I would go on to share a fantasy football league with for over 20 years.

Up to this time, I had made my new hip hop discoveries from MTV or the newest copy of The Source that arrived in my mailbox each month. Now I was finding new artists daily through conversations with my newfound friends who I knew almost solely by their usernames. It was through my aforementioned pen pal Rachel that I discovered influential albums like Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star and the solo Mos Def follow-up, Black on Both Sides. As archaic as this all sounds now, I can still feel the excitement in the newness of it all. I had found a community. I had found music I could call my own.

***

In the time since Aquemini entered my life, my relationship with Outkast has fluctuated greatly, for better or for worse. My junior year of high school began with the release of Stankonia, an album that immediately took full ownership over the discman I took with me to school and the stereo in my bedroom. But about mid-way through the semester, just as “Ms. Jackson” was becoming a staple on Top 40 radio and MTV, something strange happened. I vividly remember overhearing a conversation about Outkast in my art class. Wait…other people were listening to this?

It was a strange introduction to an experience that would happen throughout my life going forward. The intimate relationship I shared with an artist suddenly vanishes and the secret is out. It’s a strange feeling, similar to have something stolen from you. That moment may have been the primary reason for the next shift in my musical journey that was about to take place, as well as the reason that I largely missed out on the joy of 2003’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below

Fortunately, the passing of time has given me better perspective on moments such as these. Why wouldn’t I want more people to experience the joy that I had discovered? Things would come full circle at Forecastle in 2014 when I was able to experience Outkast in person for the first – and likely last – time. That night, you could feel the energy of the crowd rise as the duo entered the Aquemini porton of their set, rattling off the singles in succession. It wasn’t just me after all back in the fall of 1998. The sound of Atlanta had spread to the plains of Kansas and very much beyond.

Second Tier: Ma$e, Nas, Juvenile, Jay-Z

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel 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.

Podcast: Our Most Anticipated Music of 2021

In many ways, it’s harder than ever before to know what to expect from the world of music in 2021. Did our favorite artists use quarantine downtime to create? Will there be live shows? Who knows! But we’re here to speculate.

Kiel Hauck is joined by Nadia Alves and Kyle Schultz to discuss the music they’d most like to hear in the new year, including new albums from the likes of Weezer, Kendrick Lamar, Julien Baker, AFI, Travis Scott, Lorde and more. They also discuss the difficult nuances around creativity in the midst of depression and why many artists may need more time to bounce back. And finally – what are the chances that we’ll be able to safely attend a live music even in 2021? Take a listen!

Like our podcast? Subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts and be sure to leave a review.

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Eras of Influence: Exploring the Sounds of the 1990s

This article is part of an ongoing series in which I examine the artists and music that defined specific eras of my life. Check out the introduction to the series here.

1990s: Alanis Morissette, Nirvana, No Doubt, Boyz II Men

As the 90s rolled around, I started to gain a little more autonomy. On occasion, my mom let me choose the radio station. On the schoolbus, someone might talk about a cool new song that had just hit the airwaves. And I would use these moments to begin stretching my wings into new sounds. To put it plainly, I grew a very quick interest in anything that had a guitar.

And the sound of a guitar in the 90s was distinct. While I didn’t yet have the chops to distinguish between different styles of rock, I frequently used the term alternative to describe my tastes. Alternative to what? I don’t think anyone my age really knew. But it was a sound and it made me feel cool. My mom didn’t listen to Nirvana or The Smashing Pumpkins. She feigned interest in No Doubt’s breakout single “Don’t Speak”, but not enough to explore the entirety of Tragic Kingdom. I held my cassette tape of Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill in special esteem. It had a swear word!

I remember how early sounds of the decade, in the form of groups like Ace of Base and TLC, blended the fleeting influence of the late 80s with something fresh and new that helped define the pop music of a new decade. A new wave of R&B sounds hit the radio in the form of Boyz II Men and All-4-One. The former’s third studio album II was owned by nearly everyone in my middle school.

During this period, my lawn-mowing and leaf-raking money was used almost exclusively on music – first on cassettes, then on CDs. My first compact disc, purchased in conjunction with a Discman, was Hanson’s Middle of Nowhere (yikes). Did I have to sit perfectly still to avoid my favorite songs skipping? Of course. But the days of rewinding and fast forwarding were over.

As much as I was able to stretch my own wings through the early and mid part of the decade, I still hadn’t found something that was quite my own. I was open to anything, by hadn’t quite pinpointed a sound or a scene that would engulf me. That would all change in 1997, which we’ll explore next time as my first clearly defined era of influence.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel 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.

Most Anticipated of 2021: Lorde Travels to New Heights

Here is my biggest secret-not-a-secret of the past three years: I need Lorde to come back and grace us with another electro pop masterpiece. She was robbed of her Album of the Year by Bruno Mars (I wanted to jump through the TV and pull a Kanye, not gonna lie) after 2017’s Melodrama, and we have waited with bated breath to see what she would do next. 

She announced in November that she was releasing a book, Going South, a travel journal inspired by her trip to Antarctica in 2019, and one can’t help but wonder when a new album will follow. It sold out before I could even look at the preorder page, but I intend to pick it up when I can.

The proceeds for the book are going to fund a scholarship. I didn’t fully appreciate what we had in Lorde when Pure Heroine came out; I figured she would be another one-album-pop-star, but her music truly transcends genre, and I now consider her music timeless.

by Nadia Alves

kiel_hauckNadia Alves has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Most Anticipated of 2021: Travis Scott Blasts Off

It’s crazy to think that we’re over two years separated from Astroworld, the album that transformed Travis Scott from a rapper on the fringe of the zeitgeist to one of the biggest and most exciting voices in hip hop. It’s an album that somehow still feels underrated, despite its influence and omnipresence as a new summer staple. Scott has seized the opportunity to transform from musician to cultural icon. Did that McDonald’s thing actually happen? Yes, it did.

We do have an idea of what comes next, we just don’t know the exact time it will arrive. Scott announced Utopia last October, which has already seen singles in the form of “Highest in the Room” and “Franchise” featuring M.I.A. and Young Thug – one of the most unsung tracks of 2020. We can expect that Scott will bring the house down with Utopia, but what are we to expect in terms of tone? Astroworld dazzled in its theme park presentation and could easily exist as a standalone effort in that regard. Could Utopia trend darker?

We’ll have to wait to see, but hopefully not too long. Although we’re just in the beginning of the cold winter season, we’ll soon be looking for some spring and summer soundtracks when we’re all hopefully be able to, like, go outside and do things again. And when it happens, I can’t wait to play Travis Scott at full blast.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel 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.

Most Anticipated of 2021: Underoath Provide Another Fix

Tampa, Florida, rock act Underoath didn’t let 2020 slow them down. Booked to support Slipknot on a massive summer tour that went up in smoke, the band launched a weekly Twitch show breaking down their catalogue track-by-track with a constant stream of guests. But it all led up to the big announcement: A live streamed concert event held over three nights called Underoath: Observatory. And it was incredible.

Not only did Underoath use the expertly executed Observatory series to set the bar for the litany of live-streamed concerts that came after, it turned out to be pretty profitable according to an article published by Forbes in July. While the Observatory series certainly won’t mark the end of Underoath’s time on the road, it opened a new door of possibilities for what it might look like for fans to experience their favorite band.

But throughout the band’s fascinating summer adventures, there was an undercurrent that there was more to come. Given that five of the six band members all still reside in the Florida area, it’s probably safe to presume that some collaboration and writing took place in 2020. Following Underoath’s successful comeback album, Erase Me, coupled with the tour opportunities that followed, now is certainly the time to strike while the iron is still hot.

If 2020 offered longtime fans of the band to re-experience Underoath’s old albums and classic material, 2021 could very well present us with something new. Whether you enjoyed the sonic evolution found on Erase Me or not, the band’s trajectory has always been one of exploration and change. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for another dose.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel 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.

Most Anticipated of 2021: Kacey Musgraves Shines Bright

We’re coming up on two years since the release of Golden Hour, the country pop masterpiece from Kacey Musgraves. Met with acclaim from almost every angle, Golden Hour was an album whose warmth and hope was a much needed respite at the time. Honestly, its tone would have felt out of place in 2020, and I only recently returned it in the past month as we prepare to (hopefully) come up for air in the coming spring.

And if the chips fall right, 2021 could be the perfect time for a follow up. Fans were treated to a very vague but straightforward tease last August when Musgraves chose to entertain a fan’s questioning on Twitter:

Since the release of Golden Hour, Musgraves has not only become a welcome voice for progress on every platform she graces, but has become an unexpected feature guest across tracks by everyone from The Flaming Lips to Troye Sivan. Once an outsider amidst the curmudgeonly country crowd, Musgraves has not only won over many a country music gatekeeper, but has become one of the most exciting voices in all of pop.

So what comes next? 2021 will be interesting in its artistic output from every angle, to say the least, but the world is Musgraves’ oyster at this point. Will she dive deeper into the disco influence that peeked through the cracks on Golden Hour? Return to her more traditional country roots that were displayed on her early work? Something else entirely? Time will tell. And we can’t wait to find out.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel 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.

Podcast: Interview with Pitchfork’s Rawiya Kameir

If you’re a fan of great music criticism, there’s a strong chance you’ve crossed paths with the work of Rawiya Kameir. She’s currently a contributing editor at Pitchfork and Assistant Teaching Professor at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. In October, she published a piece titled “Rethinking Appropriation and Wokeness and Pop Culture”, which examined how the language and aesthetics of social justice have become the social currency of the music industry (and pop culture at large), ultimately yielding the myth that representation solves everything.

Rawiya recently joined Kiel Hauck on the podcast to discuss the article and share some thoughts on how music journalists can take steps toward elevating a more diverse range of voices and have better conversations about the music they’re covering. She also shares her experience as a music critic during a rapidly evolving digital age, as well as the challenge facing music journalists and music fans when it comes to maintaining objectivity and responsibility when examining the work created by problematic artists. Take a listen!

Like our podcast? Subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts and be sure to leave a review.

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Reflecting On: Linkin Park – Hybrid Theory

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. 

You can buy or stream Hybrid Theory on Apple Music.

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_hauckKiel 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.