The rap-rock craze that has enveloped modern metal is a blend that was bound to proliferate among today's twentysomethings, who witnessed the original rock and rap collision firsthand as impressionable kids. When these two powerful genres came together, it made an impact that wasn't soon forgotten.
"Seeing Anthrax and Public Enemy [tour together] in '91 was a really important thing in my life," recalls Mike Shinoda, MC for the band Linkin Park, which headlines the hip-hop-heavy Dragon Festival on Saturday at the National Orange Show Events Center in San Bernardino. "It was the first concert I'd ever been to, and it was this mixing of all these different types of music."
Shinoda was so inspired by the musical melding that when he decided to form his own group with his childhood pal, guitarist Brad Delson, he wrote with both rhymes and rhythms in mind. The result was a project initially called Xero, then renamed Hybrid Theory--which ended up the title of the debut album from the band after it had changed its name one more time, to Linkin Park.
After five years together and several showcases for record companies, the Southern California band was signed to Warner Bros. last year. Released in October, "Hybrid Theory" debuted at No. 16 on the national sales chart, and the heavy rock radio play for the single "One Step Closer" has helped the album reach the 900,000 sales mark.
While the name refers to Lincoln Park, an area in East Los Angeles, the group only chose it because it had "no immediate connotations, unlike Hybrid Theory," according to Shinoda. They decided on the misspelling for a simple reason.
"We wanted our own Web site, and the official spelling would have been too expensive," says Shinoda. "Plus we wanted our fans to be able to find us easily on the Internet."
That wasn't an idle pastime. Linkin Park is a prime example of the new breed of band that builds its foundation in cyberspace instead of on the club circuit.
Virtually all the pre-album buzz was created on the Web, with their own "street team" passing along information, and MP3s and chat rooms serving as their only exposure. Explains Shinoda, "We're songwriters at heart and we didn't play that many shows, so the Internet was a good way to meet a lot of kids and get feedback."
One look at the video for "One Step Closer" and it's hard to believe that the musicians, who are all in their early 20s, haven't been touring together for years. Shinoda, Delson, drummer Rob Bourdon and DJ Joseph Hahn met while living in and around the San Fernando Valley, while singer Chester Bennington moved to L.A. from Phoenix to join the band a little more than a year ago. Bassist Phoenix came on board in November. They have a chemistry and ebullient vitality that's downright infectious.
A key weapon is the presence of both a rapper and a singer in the band. "We get to put in twice as much energy as a band with one vocalist," says Shinoda, whose poetic shrieks are a perfect complement to Bennington's smooth yet potent singing style. As adept in the studio as he is with words, Shinoda applies a similarly aggressive sensibility when creating the electronic beats that form the music's foundation.
Given its sound, it's surprising to find that "Hybrid Theory" contains no Limp Bizkit-style profanity.
"We don't have an agenda against it," says Shinoda. "I just thought that sitting down and actually spending some time on expressing those emotions in a different way would be a little bit more descriptive than a four-letter word."
Indeed, tunes such as "Closer," the groove-riding "Papercut" and "A Place For My Head" evoke frustration, anger, confusion, self-doubt and paranoia without the typical repetition or bad-boy bravado. "I think that a lot of bands considered 'rap rock' aren't willing to be vulnerable on a song," Shinoda says. "We try to be a mix of heavy elements and softer, more emotional elements."
The combination seems to be working. Linkin Park's headlining tour with Taproot (also on the Dragon Festival bill) has widened its audience and sharpened its chops on stage, and for now they're savoring every experience. With all the attention their first single has received, they're in no rush to put out the next one.
"We want to let 'One Step Closer' kind of do its thing," says Shinoda. "We're not gonna be putting new singles out there until people get tired of the first one."
* The Dragon Festival with Linkin Park, GZA, Kottonmouth Kings, Taproot, Blackalicious, Shuvel, Ugly Duckling, others, Saturday National Orange Show Events Center, 689 S. E St., San Bernardino, 2 p.m. $20 to $50. (909) 888-6788.