Jeremy DePoyster is the co-founding singer-guitarist of the Devil Wears Prada. The band's most recent release is 2019's The Act.
I discovered Linkin Park in seventh grade when a classmate on the school bus handed me a burnt CD with Sharpie letters reading Hybrid Theory. I remember staring out the window at the bleak Ohio farmland as the opening drum loop to "Papercut" blasted through my Walkman headphones. The power-chord strums over the fluidity of Mike Shinoda's lyrics resonated to my teenage core, and the iconic sound of Chester Bennington's scream-sing filled voids in my soul that would lead me, like the rest of the world, to a lifelong love affair with Linkin Park and Hybrid Theory.
Years before joining a garage band in Dayton, Ohio, that would change my life, the lyrics and sounds of Hybrid Theory were already pulsing through my veins. Music has a peculiar way of wrapping itself around memories, and the sounds of this album take me back to the clichéd experiences of a teen in suburban Ohio. The parents going through a brutal divorce, the CD binder with Limp Bizkit, Korn and Kid Rock albums coordinated by release date, drinking Busch Lights and smoking in the cemetery — I was a parody of the early 2000s rebellious kid. Mike Shinoda and Chester Bennington, sporting bleach blonde and stark red hair, adorned the walls of my room alongside Jonathan Davis, Trent Reznor, Orgy and all of the other 103.9 The X favorites, but even then, the unique character of Hybrid Theory cast Linkin Park as immediate titans above the established nu-metal pack. In hindsight, perhaps only the Deftones with 2000's White Pony survived that era with such levels of integrity still intact.
From a lyrical standpoint, the struggles outlined in Hybrid Theory felt authentic, themes of depression tackled in a way that did not come across as whining, and substance abuse in a way that did not seem like pandering. Mike offered fast-paced raps that would explore themes in detail before Chester cut in to deliver pure emotional release. Who could resist singing along to the opening hook of "Crawling" or the rapid-fire cries of "Shut up!" found in "One Step Closer"? For a kid being carted from divorce therapists to soccer practices, trapped in that purgatory between the ignorance of youth and the freedoms of high school, these words provided a solace in knowing that others felt the same way. Years later, I would meet my step-siblings for the first time at Linkin Park's Projekt Revolution tour with Korn and Snoop Dogg — the tour serving as both a testament to the reach of a group that could headline over the powerhouse that was Korn at that time, and a reaffirmation that my youth was incredibly hillbilly. Thanks, Ohio!
On the musical front, Linkin Park's Brad Delson is the reason I wanted a Mesa Boogie Triple Rectifier amp, seeking to replicate those powerful distorted walls of guitars, and Joseph "Mr." Hahn may not have originated the nu-metal DJ stereotype, but no one implemented the turntables better. "Cure for the Itch" feels like the best moments of DJ Shadow's Endtroducing… but sitting in the middle of a chart-topping radio-rock album. This track let Linkin Park listeners know that complex electronic elements were a staple of the band's sound, elevating them above their peers. TDWP's original guitar player, Chris Rubey, and original keyboardist, James Baney, were both diehard fans of the band (members of that Linkin Park Underground fan club, too) and of this album in particular. Hybrid Theory was a defining inspiration for the layering of aggressive, thick guitar tones with synths, samplers and drum loops that would help distance us from the pack of (albeit talented) hardcore bands we shared the stage with, in the same way it pushed Linkin Park from the nu-metal tropes of the era.
Later on, I had the distinct pleasure of performing "Guilty All the Same" — one of the songs from the return-to-rock album The Hunting Party — with Linkin Park at the Warped Tour alongside my singer Mike Hranica, friend Jeremy McKinnon from A Day to Remember, and Machine Gun Kelly, among others, and the guys could not have been nicer throughout the process. Entering a Warped environment that could be pathetically littered with unjustified egos, Mike and Chester got up from watching the World Cup with Ryan from Yellowcard to work through the song with us several times in their portable studio in a trailer backstage, making sure two guys from a group they could probably have cared less about felt comfortable. How could the creators of Hybrid Theory be this nice?
Twenty years later, Hybrid Theory stands as an obelisk representing that the musical status quo of any generation can be elevated, that songs can be punishingly heavy and still have poignancy and vulnerability that tugs at the hearts of young people needing an outlet, and that even the most popular acts can release creatively vital and boundary-pushing material. But you don't need my endorsement of Hybrid Theory: It's likely already one of your favorites, too.