Music

How Chester Bennington Became One Of Hip-Hop’s Greatest Benefactors

I f*cking hate writing these.

I hate writing them not just because it means the world has lost yet another light, another genius, another source of truth and hope and inspiration, but because it means yet again, baring my soul, becoming vulnerable, cutting open my chest and putting my heart of display for the world to do its absolute worst.

Chester Bennington didn’t seem to have that problem. He was a smallish guy (well, for me. I’m 6’2″), but his voice towered as he would regularly put his pain on display in songs like “Crawling,” “Numb,” and “In The End.” Those were the Linkin Park songs that I knew him for off their debut Hybrid Theory, way back when, I was a skinny, angry, sad, black teen who felt increasingly alienated and confused by an expanding world that felt like it was becoming more scary by the day.

Not only has rock suffered a huge loss, so has hip-hop, in a roundabout way. Undoubtedly, Linkin Park’s remix albums, Reanimated and the oft-maligned Jay-Z mash-up Collision Course, exposed hip-hop to a greater audience, one that might never have had the opportunity to hear compare Pharoahe Monch compare himself to Cyclops from the X-Men, or realize just how catchy “Encore” is without the crossover of appeal of “Numb,” in the same way hearing Chali 2na on a remix album exposed me to the most counterintuitively uplifting songs I ever heard. Ironically, Linkin Park was still using their platform to promote rap just 2 months ago, putting Pusha T and Stormzy on “Good Goodbye,” one of the surliest breakup tunes they’ve ever released.

Let me back up, because you may be wondering how a hardcore hip-hop head, king of the backpackers at Poly High, got wrapped up in a band that had been pegged at the time, embarrassingly, as “Nü-metal?

Well, it all started with a remix album called Reanimation. While on tour to promote their debut album Hybrid Theory, Linkin Park re-recorded a number of their techy, glitchy, hard rock anthems into techy, glitchy hip-hop remixes, adding then-underground rappers like Black Thought, Pharoahe Monch, Chali 2na, Aceyalone, and the Cali Agents, Planet Asia and Rasco, alongside the group’s own resident emcee, Mike Shinoda, who has also released his own separate rap-oriented project, Fort Minor.

I fell in love. Here was a rock crew with humongous smash hits on the radio, paying homage to my favorite unknown rappers. It made me feel acknowledged, supported, and validated as the one kid who would rather bang “Simon Says” than “Holla Back” in his headphones at my high school. More importantly, it made me a fan of Linkin Park, and through them, of Chester Bennington.

Chester’s voice always freaked me out a little. I wondered how he could possibly sustain that raspy, painful-sounding scream for whole songs, let alone for hour-long concert sets, night after night on drawn-out, nationwide tours. Yet, somehow he did. I’m glad he did; that voice conveyed so much meaning and emotion that his words couldn’t, despite their poignancy. He spoke of feeling truly, deeply alone, something I related to.

I was taking an hour bus ride go to a nicer school than the ones in my neighborhood, so I felt separated from everything I knew and felt comfortable around; I was awkward and introverted, so making friends didn’t come as naturally to me as it seemed it did to my peers. My parents had been divorced for as long as I could remember, and I didn’t really know anyone who had to deal with the sort of friction that two of every holiday could bring along. My pops was sick — desperately, terrifyingly so — and I didn’t know if he was going to make it my graduation.

Of course, I was dealing with the usual range of teenage emotion brought on by out-of-control hormones, but everything else I was dealing with just exacerbated them, making them seem less like the typical obstacles of adolescence and more like an insurmountable wave of non-stop, borderline panic that would certain drag me out to sea and drown me. Even worse was the deep-seated, inescapable sensation that when that eventually happened, no one would care. It’s not like I had too many people to talk to who could engage with that feeling — kids with old school black parents will feel me on this one.

Finding Linkin Park when I did was more than fortunate, it was a gift. Hearing Chester scream-crying about being so depressed that he felt numb touched something in me that made me feel less alone; someone else out there knew what it felt like. What’s more, he was able to transform that sinking, hollow feeling of crawling in one’s own skin into an expression of art that could touch someone across upbringing and locale; that was inspiring, and motivational. It took me out of a place where I was genuinely contemplating permanent “solutions” to temporary problems and gave me just enough of that inspiration to hang on for the next hour, the next day, the next month, just long enough to see that those problems were temporary and I was stronger than them.

Which is why it hurts so much that Chester couldn’t find that medium of inspiration now, when he needed it most. He was reeling from the recent death of his own friend Chris Cornell, undoubtedly feeling very much lost and alone, just like the scared, confused kid that I once was. I wish he’d had something akin to his own music to drag him out of that dark place.

Rest in peace, Chester Bennington. Not only has rock lost one more light today, but hip-hop lost one of its greatest benefactors, even if we didn’t know it at the time.

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