“We were all saying, ‘We’re gonna make this something they can never follow up.’” How Linkin Park and Jay-Z united for the ultimate metal and hip hop crossover, Collision Course

Chester Bennington of Linkin Park onstage with Jay-Z
(Image credit: Marc Andrew Deley/FilmMagic)

You know where you were when you first heard about Collision Course. Whether you first saw Chester Bennington and Jay-Z rapping together on MTV, or crammed into the backseat of your mate’s Ford Fiesta to blast Numb/Encore through its tinny speakers, the 2004 collaboration was the hot topic on everyone’s lips. True to its name, Collision Course was a head-on cultural clash of titanic proportions. 

Regardless of whether you were into hip-hop or metal, the news of the Collision Course union was unavoidable. When the world’s biggest rapper and the world’s leading rock band join forces, people are going to talk. And that’s no exaggeration: with seven number-one records under his belt, Jay-Z was hot shit, and Linkin Park had also sky-rocketed to global fame, 2003’s Meteora having topped charts globally, selling over 810,000 copies in the first week alone.

When MTV came a-knocking, asking Jay-Z to feature on the first episode of their new series Ultimate Mash-Ups, the rapper had only one artist in mind: Linkin Park. Co-frontman Mike Shinoda wasted no time proving that it was the right call.

“My first response back was to send music,” Mike later explained to Montreality. “He already had [2003’s] The Black Album acapella available, so I just grabbed his acapellas and my laptop… and I just threw together a few tracks and I sent those back.” 

MTV were floored, with Jay-Z simply responding with an “Oh, shit!” What no one had known was that Mike was a seasoned mash-up maestro: mash-ups had essentially been his gateway into production.

“I had been doing mash-ups for easily five, six years… That’s my shit. That’s what I do,” he told SiriusXM. “I was literally learning to make beats by taking samples of Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins and Rage Against The Machine and putting Mobb Deep over the top of it and, like, a breakbeat.” 

Watching Chester and Jay-Z performing together for the initial Ultimate Mash-Ups, it’s clear that MTV would have never topped it. Opener Dirt Off Your Shoulders/Lying From You is immediately electric, the band and the rapper fluidly navigating their way through the Frankensteinian rap rock beast. Everything just works, be it a softer Linkin Park tune or girthy, frazzled basslines adding an extra bite to Jay-Z’s bars. The performance feels like the 2000s’ answer to the Run-DMC/Aerosmith Walk This Way collab: a combination that feels so obvious in retrospect, yet so incredibly groundbreaking at the time.

Mike was quickly reluctant to let such sonic gold stop at just one MTV special. Speaking to Fuse, Chester insisted that Collision Course, the EP Linkin Park and Jay-Z released together in 2004, would never have been what it was “if it wasn’t for Mike”. Mike made it his mission to blow any potential future Ultimate Mash-Ups tandems out the water.

“We were all saying, ‘We’re gonna make this something they can never follow up,’” Mike said.

Interestingly, the Ultimate Mash-Ups show calls each track X Vs Y, rather than the eventual X/Y titles that the Collision Course EP would opt for. That different perspective is arguably what led to Linkin Park and Jay-Z interacting so successfully: it was never a battle to them. From Jigga What/Faint to the Grammy-winning Numb/Encore, every track felt like it elevated each artist’s sound, culminating in something entirely unique.

Speaking to Aftonbladet, Jay-Z explained the collaborators’ approach to the project: “I’m not trying to be Linkin Park. I’m not trying to be Jay Z. We’re just here to bring [our respective talents] to the table… and we have fun with it.”

The pair’s Collision Course would continue to thrive through multiple shows, including an appearance at 2005’s Live 8 extravaganza, a monumental Grammys performance of Numb/Encore featuring Sir Paul McCartney in 2006 and their historic double-header at Milton Keynes Bowl in 2008, adding yet another exciting new texture into the innovative rap rock sound. 

While it had its naysayers back in the day – NME begged, “Please god, someone make it stop” – when reflecting on Collision Course 20 years on, there’s no denying the EP was a groundbreaking moment for nu metal. The Guardian’s one-star review claimed that “on a musical level, nothing works”, yet the sonics of Collision Course continue to flourish in rap rock and metal circles to this day. The EP continues to lure fans in, even going double platinum in 2017.

Regardless of your stance, there’s no denying that Collision Course was truly lightning in a bottle. While modern artists certainly knock out unconventional collabs, like Ed Sheeran and Bring Me The Horizon, never again have two such high-profile, global artists pulled off a collaboration on Collision Course’s scale. Like most infamous music landmarks of the early 2000s, we have MTV to thank for the collab, but the days of MTV being top-dog are long gone.

With a lack of a truly centralised music media, it’s uncertain whether anything will happen like this again. So let’s raise a toast to this divisive yet adored EP – and admit that Points Of Authority/99 Problems/One Step Closer goes so, undeniably hard.

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Emily Swingle

Full-time freelancer, part-time music festival gremlin, Emily first cut her journalistic teeth when she co-founded Bittersweet Press in 2019. After asserting herself as a home-grown, emo-loving, nu-metal apologist, Clash Magazine would eventually invite Emily to join their Editorial team in 2022. In the following year, she would pen her first piece for Metal Hammer - unfortunately for the team, Emily has since become a regular fixture. When she’s not blasting metal for Hammer, she also scribbles for Rock Sound, Why Now and Guitar and more.