If there is any individual track on Collision Course that makes sense, it’s album closer “Points Of Authority/99 Problems/One Step Closer.” The mashup’s component singles are thematically similar enough that Linkin Park and Jay-Z are not referring to completely disparate phenomena, and “99 Problems” was already a hard rock-tinged banger with a screeching electric guitar sample, so the buzzsaw engine revving of “Points Of Authority” does little to harsh Jay’s normally soulful vibe here. Not to mention, Jay and co-producer Mike Shinoda have eerily good chemistry, trading verses back-and-forth so fluidly it makes one regret Kid Rock’s atrocious attempt to back Jay up at the 2004 BET Awards (evidence of this has mercifully been scrubbed from the internet entirely).
Otherwise, there is almost no part of the 2004 EP — a blatant cash-in on the popularity of two of the biggest names in their respective genres by MTV — that should work. “Numb” is a song about depression, while “Encore” is a triumphant victory lap — the pairing seems fundamentally discordant.
… And yet…
The album was a revelation, of sorts, that two things that do not seem to go together very well actually go together perfectly, like oxtails and peanut butter, and in doing so, became the first legitimate plank in the bridge between two disparate worlds that are so closely related today that it’s nearly impossible to categorize many artists as either-or.
That’s not to say rap/rock mashups are the sole domain of Jay-Z, Mike Shinoda, and the late Chester Bennington. By all means, they took similar steps on that precarious route to Run DMC and Aerosmith, Kid Rock, the Beastie Boys, and Limp Bizkit, but it was the first time it had ever felt truly legitimate on both sides. “Walk This Way” was simply a remake which largely took place by accident, without a sense of appreciation from the rappers for the rockers. Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit were gimmicks; their rhymes, simplistic at best, belied their appreciation for rap music as superficial, unsophisticated, and readily discarded when it ceased to be profitable. The Beasties, for their part, were reasonably proficient at both but never seemed to take either seriously enough to be considered 100% rappers or rockers, swinging between the two like a well-greased pendulum.
Meanwhile, when given the pick of bands to work with by MTV, Jay-Z decisively chose Linkin Park, coming off the success of Meteora and Reanimation. They’d proven their bona fides by collaborating with some of the dopest MC’s on the underground level of rap, with rapper/producer Mike Shinoda hanging with them and demonstrating an ear for unconventional, but still hard-hitting beats.
It was Shinoda who suggested to Jay that he re-record his vocals over the reconstructed instrumentals, in order to capture the feel of the new song structures, and better reflect the sometimes angsty vibes Linkin Park brought to their own production. Jay agreed. Only Jay could ever have made such a thing work, or he never would’ve even attempted it. This is the same guy who called himself the greatest rapper of all time, then turned right around and admitted to dumbing down to double his dollars. He’s respected, but he knows what sells; he brought the best of both worlds (no pun intended) to the studio with Linkin Park, and didn’t just leap over expectations, he ninja flip-kicked them out of the pre-existing alignment and created a whole new paradigm through which to view musical categorization.
The result was a massively successful, if ephemeral, hitting No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 200 and only remaining there one week before fading into relative obscurity, one of very few commercially released EPs to do so. It’s become something of a curio of the aughts and that strange time, when it seemed like file sharing would collapse the whole recording industry. It was also a bit of a ridiculous thing to mock, like, “Haha, I can’t believe I ever thought this was cool.”
Yet, millions of people did think that, at the very least, the idea was cool — the EP sold over 5 million copies, after all. But something that is sometimes discounted in the ironic nostalgizing is: Collision Course proved, if only for a moment, that a rapper could rock, and a rocker could rap, and that could all take place on the same album. The idea, left in the cupboard for the better part of a decade, has resurfaced. Like all things cool, it was maybe a little too ahead of its time, but now? Now, we can see its impact.
We see it in the way rappers like Migos posture as rock stars, and in how Post Malone teeters on what remains of the fence between the two worlds. Jay-Z, undoubtedly one of the biggest rap stars ever at the time of Collision Course‘s somewhat cynical conception, has become a pop culture fixture behind the groundwork laid on that album, which clearly exposed parts of his oeuvre to an audience that had never heard of him before, and vice versa for Linkin Park.
Beyond any of this, it was an odd, fun little album. Sure, the songs it was made up of were more-or-less played-out by the time it dropped, but the reinvention of each was interesting to get into, and the chemistry between Shinoda and Jay is undeniable. So what if the songs don’t fit together (“Big Pimpin’/Papercut” might be especially egregious in this respect)? It proved that there was a space for rap in rock, for rock in rap, and in music for music that refused to be just one thing. Collision Course was the Big Bang for today’s modern anything-goes climate of musical creativity, bringing two disparate musical styles one step closer.