By then, Linkin Park’s heyday as a hit-making force was long past. It had ended in the aughts, and for nearly a decade, nu metal was rarely mentioned by mainstream critics or forward-thinking musicians. But whether or not the new forces on the scene—the likes of Skrillex and Lady Gaga—were Linkin Park fans, the band had clearly previewed the new millennium’s pop sensibility: bombastic, melodramatic, and self-consciously genre busting, though always outfitted with glimmering synthetic textures. Meanwhile, Drake’s rise to stardom represented a breakthrough for male sensitivity in hip-hop, on display in an aesthetic swerve toward sinuously hybrid songs in which rap bleeds into singing against purpled and luminous soundscapes. Though they might not admit it, some of Drake’s fans were surely reared on Linkin Park.
Indeed, in retrospect Linkin Park stands out as a significant evangelist for both rock and rap. The band’s merging of hip-hop and guitar music was committed and proud in a way that subgenre peers like Deftones or Korn never really matched. Linkin Park had a full-time singer, Bennington, as well as a full-time rapper, Shinoda, who genuinely cared about his craft’s history—even if he mostly made clumsy additions to it. Between them, two forms of musical (and often male) angst traditions achieved reconciliation: the pathos and self-loathing of rock, and the aggrieved confidence of hip-hop. The band’s songs read as wounded counterpunches against abusers, finding victory in the moment when the dams of internal repression broke. “I cannot take this anymore,” Bennington hissed in the first line of the band’s first single, “One Step Closer,” which built up to a full-blown screaming tantrum: “Shut up when I’m talking to you!”
Within a tight pop framework, the underlying music looked for opportunities to hybridize as well. Songs such as “Crawling” pushed grunge’s dichotomies to new extremes: A synth riff like something you might hear at a crystal-healing meditation harmonizes with guitar feedback that evokes a garbage-disposal jam. My own entry point as a teen was Linkin Park’s hugely popular, Shinoda-produced 2002 remix album, which showcases a surprisingly deep eclecticism. Some tracks intensify the band’s metal edge, others turn the dial toward the airy and orchestral, and many enlist well-respected rappers (Black Thought, Pharoahe Monch, Chali 2na). A smash 2004 EP by Linkin Park and Jay-Z, Collision Course, converted many black kids to rock fandom, as tributes written since Bennington’s death attest.
Lately, a wave of stylishly sullen young artists, many in rap, has excavated the painfully unhip, angsty subcultures of the 1990s and 2000s. Bennington’s tragedy further clarified the lines of influence. In one fan video from August 2017, the rapper Lil Peep leads a crowd in black T-shirts in a sing-along of Linkin Park’s “In the End” at an event called Emo Nite. The video is especially moving given that Lil Peep, the 21-year-old Long Islander born Gustav Åhr, died of an overdose a few months after it was filmed. A bisexual fashion-magazine muse with a tattooed face, he seemed to present a plausible future for pop, swerving between melodic hard-rock wails and mumbled hip-hop boasts. And what Lil Peep rapped and sang about, in almost every song, was drugs or suicide. His lyrics sometimes shouted out Cobain, who killed himself at 27 in 1994, and in one music video he glowered in front of a portrait of Amy Winehouse, who died at 27 in 2011.