With the release of Hybrid Theory, their stunning debut, in 2000, and its successor Meteora in 2003, Linkin Park had already established themselves as one of the most successful and important bands of the 21st Century; Hybrid Theory gained diamond certification in the US, and Meteora went six times platinum. By 2004, everyone knew the Linkin Park “sound”: it was heavy, raw and angry, but radio-friendly at the same time, a feat that only Linkin Park could accomplish.
Yet Linkin Park, since their very first release, had been an ambitious band. This had already been evidenced through the release of Reanimation in 2002 – essentially a remix of Hybrid Theory – which demonstrated that Linkin Park did not want to be a straightforward rock band, who were only masters of one style of music. They wanted to be something more. Successfully blurring the boundaries between rap and rock, between heavy and mainstream, then, was not enough for the California sextet. So, to solidify their status as a band that transcended genres and categorisation, the band approached Jay-Z, proposing a collaboration. The high-profile rapper accepted, and in 2004, Collision Course was born.
Although the pairing of Linkin Park, a hugely successful rock band, and Jay-Z, an equally successful rapper, might have seemed like an ideal match, Collision Course received mixed reviews. Some critics praised the album, hailing it as innovative, and a seamless blend of different styles that complimented each other. But others dismissed it as merely a musical brainstorm, an experiment that should have remained within the bounds of the studio.
Certainly, at times, the mash-ups don’t quite work. The energy and rawness of ‘Papercut’ is lost in ‘Big Pimpin’/Papercut’; the collaboration doesn’t particularly add anything to either original track. Whilst the mash-up of ‘Izzo’ and ‘In The End’ is somewhat impressive, as both tracks are so different, one being in a major and one in a minor key respectively, it isn’t entirely successful. Chester Bennington’s vocals are reduced to a mere afterthought, sounding weak and somewhat lost on a track where they don’t really fit.
However, there are moments of pure brilliance on Collision Course, and it’s these moments that have made the album so memorable. ‘Dirt Off Your Shoulder’ and ‘Lying From You’ fit together seamlessly; Mike Shinoda’s rapping flows perfectly over Jay-Z’s track, and Jay-Z adds a new, refreshing element to Linkin Park’s track rather than detracting anything from the original. ‘Points Of Authority/99 Problems/One Step Closer’ is equally successful; the driving beat of ‘Points of Authority’, and the aggressive riff of ‘One Step Closer’ compliment Jay-Z’s cutting verses on ’99 Problems’ perfectly.
It is ‘Numb/Encore’, however, that is the highlight of the album – an effortless collaboration that combines both tracks so fluidly it’s almost impossible to tell where ‘Numb’ ends and ‘Encore’ begins. Undoubtedly the most well-known track from Collision Course, it was released as a single, and received a Grammy Award in 2006 for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration.
After the release of Collision Course, Jay-Z continued to be as successful as ever, being named as the president of Def Jam Records later in 2004, and going on to release Unfinished Business with R. Kelly the following year. Yet Linkin Park turned in a different direction: their next studio release, 2007’s Minutes to Midnight, saw the band move away from the defining nu-metal sound they had created, and instead venture into the alternative rock genre.
Collision Course, however, continues to be one of both Jay-Z and Linkin Park’s most well-known works, having sold more than 5 million copies worldwide. Although the album divided critics’ opinions, it remains an essential listen of the early 2000s, not necessarily for its total success, but for its innovation, for its moments of sheer excellence that have made it a shining exemplar of musical collaboration.
Collision Course was released on 30th November 2004 on Warner Bros./Machine Shop/Roc-A-Fella/Def-Jam.