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Rappin' and rockin' in Linkin Park

By Alan Sculley

When Linkin Park formed in 1996 (under the band's original name of Xero), guitarist Brad Delson said the band members felt like they were working in undiscovered musical territory by combining alternative rock and rap in their songs.

This, of course, was before the deluge of rap/rockers like Limp Bizkit, Kid Rock and Korn, to name a few, who have flooded the charts over the past two years.

"We felt like, hey, we had stumbled upon something totally unique," Delson said. "And then as these other bands started coming out, bands that already had record deals that were being widely promoted to the world, we were like, 'Hey, crap, look at all these other groups are kind of doing what we're doing.'

"So we at that point (said), 'Hey, we're obviously not the only band out there that's combining rap and rock. Let's be the best band out there that's playing rap and rock,' " Delson said.

Linkin Park will perform a sold-out show at the Dane County Coliseum, along with Cypress Hill and Adema, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

It took Linkin Park until 2000 to get that record deal and release a debut CD, "Hybrid Theory." And while some good rap-rock acts have come on the scene (Everlast and Rage Against the Machine come to mind), a case can be made that Linkin Park has come quite close to achieving the goal of being the best of the bunch.

Unlike many bands whose rock and rap elements seem segregated, Linkin Park has crafted a multidimensional sound that smoothly integrates metal, pop, rap and techno into a cohesive whole.

"In the End," "Papercut" and "One Step Closer" are among the songs that pack especially enticing pop melodies within the hard-edged raps and serrated guitar riffs that drive these songs. "Crawling" is one of several songs that showcase more of the techno influence, shifting between ambient textures and a Nine Inch Nails-type industrial roar – all wrapped around a soaring vocal from Chester Bennington.

"By Myself" is a song that showcases Linkin Park at full volume, as a slamming rapped-and-sung chorus blends with gritty guitar melodies and a touch of ambience in the verses. Adding to the CD's energy are the emotionally charged lyrics written by Bennington and rapper Mike Shinoda. Like many of today's bands, they specialize in the kind of therapeutic songs that explore feelings of self-doubt, betrayal, anger and heartbreak. But the way Bennington and Shinoda express these emotions helps give Linkin Park a unique identity.

"I think what differentiates us in that style of writing is our producer, Don Gilmore," Delson said. "He wanted our lyric writing to be honest, but he also wanted it to be entertaining. In other words, he didn't want us to get too much into the 'poor me' thing of look at how many problems I have. You can talk about something that happened to you, but you can still do it in a witty or a storytelling way that's not just 'Hey, feel bad for me,' but this is something that happened to me, and here's an interesting way of explaining it."

Fans have caught on to the Linkin Park sound. Released in October 2000, "Hybrid Theory" was one of 2001's early breakout CDs, easily surpassing platinum, as sales remained brisk throughout much of the year.

"We knew we made a great record, but we really thought it would take this whole year touring to have people start to notice us," Delson said. "So we're really grateful for how much support and success we've had early on."

It's not like the acclaim and popularity came easily for the band, though. In fact, the band encountered a fair share of doubts and disappointments along the way.

The group, which initially included Delson, Shinoda, DJ/sampler player Joseph Hahn and drummer Rob Bourdon, got off to a fast start when it landed a publishing deal with Zomba after the very first show the group played. It was an offer that changed the foursome's intentions for the band.

"That was really the point where we realized this was going to be something more than just a hobby," Delson said. "Because up until that point we wanted to have a good band, and we were always serious about practicing and writing good songs. But it was just for fun. We were all in school. I was getting a degree in communications and I planned on going to grad school. Mike was planning on getting an art job. At that point we were like, 'Hey, this is a serious commitment. This is obviously a step before getting signed to a recording contract. Are we all really 100 percent committed?'

"We did take some time to think about it, and we decided this was something we really wanted to pursue. Then the funny thing is actually, we thought we would be getting signed (to a record deal) rather quickly."

Instead, Linkin Park (which at this point had changed the band name from Xero to Hybrid Theory, before changing to Linkin Park after discovering some legal conflicts over the Hybrid Theory name) was severely tested as showcase after showcase failed to produce serious interest from record labels.

"For the first few years, the first couple of years trying to get a record deal, people were telling us pretty much that we weren't great and that we should change our approach and be more like some of the groups that were already popular," Delson said. "That was exactly what we didn't want to do, and we stuck to our guns. We wrote the record we wanted to write.

"I think that actually worked out for the best in the long run because it built character in the band," Delson said of the extended pursuit of a record deal. "I mean, everything's happened quite quickly for us, but at the same time we have had our own trials and tribulations and our ups and downs. We know what it's like to persevere and continue along the path that we believe in in the face of adversity."

Two events helped Linkin Park get on the right track with their career. One was finding singer Bennington, an Arizona native who had auditioned for the band. His melodic singing voice, coupled with Shinoda's rapping, gives Linkin Park a seamless vocal blend.

"What happened when Chester joined the group, we moved from 'Hey, these are the kind of singing parts we want,' to 'Wow, these are singing parts that we never even thought of,' because his range and versatility are such that, like 'Crawling,' who would think to write that melody?" Delson said. "You couldn't because there are very few people in the world that could probably sing that. So that's an example of when I say he really expanded our writing ability in the sense that he has such a range vocally.

"He really was kind of the final piece of the puzzle, and he brings vocal talent that, when we were looking for a second vocalist, we didn't see anything close to his talent in anybody else," Delson said.

A second fortuitous event occurred when Warner Bros. Records, which had begun to show interest in Linkin Park, recruited Jeff Blue to join the label's A&R department. Blue was the man who signed the band to its publishing deal with Zomba, and he had remained a staunch supporter throughout the showcasing process.

With Blue on board at Warner Bros., a record deal with Linkin Park was finalized in quick order.

"We had it in the cards that we could work together and he could A&R our record," Delson said. "So we both kind of went over at the same time. He's been with us, really from the beginning of our career, to this day."

Alan Sculley is a free-lance music writer from St. Louis.

From Rhythm, Thursday, January 31, 2002.

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