Although rooted in alternative metal, Linkin Park became one of the most successful acts of the 2000s by welcoming elements of hip-hop, modern rock, and atmospheric electronica into their music. The band’s rise was indebted to the aggressive rap-rock movement made popular by the likes of Korn and Limp Bizkit, a movement that paired grunge’s alienation with a bold, buzzing soundtrack. Linkin Park added a unique spin to that formula, however, focusing as much on the vocal interplay between singer Chester Bennington and rapper Mike Shinoda as the band’s muscled instrumentation, which layered DJ effects atop heavy, processed guitars. While the group’s sales never eclipsed those of its tremendously successful debut, Hybrid Theory, few alt-metal bands rivaled Linkin Park during the band’s heyday.
Drummer Rob Bourdon, guitarist Brad Delson, and MC/vocalist Mike Shinoda attended high school in Southern California, where they formed the rap-rock band Xero in 1996. Bassist Dave “Phoenix” Farrell, singer Mark Wakefield, and DJ/art student Joseph Hahn joined soon after, and the band courted various labels while playing hometown shows in Los Angeles. Few companies expressed interest in Xero’s self-titled demo tape, however, prompting Wakefield to leave the lineup (he would later resurface as the manager for Taproot). Hybrid Theory became the band’s temporary moniker in 1998 as replacement singer Chester Bennington climbed aboard, and the revised band soon settled on a final name: Linkin Park, a misspelled reference to Lincoln Park in Santa Monica. With Bennington and Shinoda sharing vocal duties, the musicians now wielded enough power to distinguish themselves from the wave of nu-metal outfits that had appeared during the decade’s latter half. Warner Bros. vice president Jeff Blue took note and signed Linkin Park in 1999, sending the band into the studio with Don Gilmore shortly thereafter.
Linkin Park titled their debut album Hybrid Theory, a tribute to the band’s past, and released the record during the fall of 2000. “Crawling” and “In the End” were massive radio hits; the latter song even topped the U.S. Modern Rock chart while peaking at number two on the Billboard Hot 100, an example of the band’s crossover appeal. Linkin Park joined the Family Values Tour and played shows with Cypress Hill, leading the group to log over 320 shows in 2001 alone. Come January 2002, Hybrid Theory had received three Grammy nominations and sold over seven million copies. (Sales later topped ten million, earning the album “diamond status” and making Hybrid Theory one of the most successful debuts ever.) Despite their meteoric rise, however, Linkin Park spent the remainder of the year holed up in the recording studio, again working with producer Don Gilmore on a follow-up album. Meanwhile, the timely summer release of Reanimation helped appease the band’s eager audience, offering remixed versions of Hybrid Theory’s tracks.
A proper sophomore effort, Meteora, arrived in March 2003, featuring a heavier sound and stronger elements of rap-rock. Although the record spawned several modern rock hits, songs such as “Numb,” “Somewhere I Belong,” and “Breaking the Habit” furthered the band’s crossover appeal by simultaneously charting on the Hot 100. Linkin Park once again supported the album with ample touring, including performances with the second annual Projekt Revolution Tour (the band’s own traveling festival, which originally launched in 2002) and additional shows with the likes of Metallica and Limp Bizkit. Live in Texas was released to document the band’s strength as a touring act, and the bandmates tackled various personal projects before beginning work on a second remix project.
Released in 2004, Collision Course found the band collaborating with king-of-the-mountain rapper Jay-Z, resulting in a number of mashups that sampled from both artists’ catalogs. Collision Course topped the charts upon its release, the first EP to do so since Alice in Chains’ Jar of Flies, and Jay-Z furthered his association with the band by asking co-founder Mike Shinoda to explore the possibility of a solo hip-hop project. He did, dubbing the project Fort Minor and releasing The Rising Tied in 2005 with Jay-Z as executive producer. Linkin Park then reconvened in 2006 to begin work on a third studio album, which saw Shinoda sharing production credits with Rick Rubin. The resulting Minutes to Midnight, a more traditional rock affair that largely left behind their trademark electronics, arrived in 2007, debuting at number one in several countries and spawning the Top Ten single “What I’ve Done.”
In 2010 the band teamed up with Rubin again to produce its fourth studio album, A Thousand Suns, changing tack again for a left-field, experimental project based largely in ambient electronica, which divided their fans. The following year, Chester Bennington stated the band’s desire to focus more on putting out new material rather than maintaining an exhaustive touring schedule, with the band having a goal of releasing a new album every 18 months. Linkin Park made good on that promise in 2012 with their Rick Rubin-produced fifth album, Living Things, which saw something of a return to the hybrid sound of yore. Upon its June release, the album debuted at the top of the Billboard charts, selling over 223,000 copies in its first week; it would soon be certified gold.
As Linkin Park began work on their sixth studio album in the spring of 2013, Bennington announced that he was replacing Scott Weiland as the lead vocalist of Stone Temple Pilots; he was not leaving Linkin Park, but instead planned to be in both groups simultaneously. Bennington underscored his commitment to both bands in October of 2013 by releasing his debut EP with STP, High Rise, and appearing with Linkin Park on the remix album Recharged that same month. The album’s lead single, “A Light That Never Comes,” recorded in collaboration with superstar DJ Steve Aoki, was a worldwide club hit. In 2015, another Aoki collaboration, “Darker Than Blood,” featured on the DJ’s Neon Future II and entered the Top 50 in both Billboard dance and electronic charts.
Linkin Park unveiled The Hunting Party in June 2014. The album — produced by the bandmembers themselves — was inspired by the punk, metal, and hardcore they had listened to as teens. The resulting collection was loud, raw, and heavy, featuring guest appearances by Tom Morello, System of a Down’s Daron Malakian, Helmet’s Page Hamilton, and hip-hop legend Rakim. Although it was kept out of the top spot on the U.S. charts, it hit number one in half a dozen countries around the world, and became one of the year’s biggest sellers in hard rock circles. When Linkin Park returned in 2017, they were accompanied by a drastic shift in their sound. “Heavy,” a duet featuring singer Kiiara and production by pop songwriters Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter, appeared on the band’s seventh effort, One More Light. It became their fifth number one album. Barely two months after its release, one week before beginning a major American tour, Bennington was found dead at his home in Southern California; he was 41. ~ Andrew Leahey