underground hip hop artists

I never listened to Linkin Park when I was a teenager.

I know everyone talks about going through their “edgy phase” as a teen and then growing up and “cringing” at those interests, but that wasn’t my experience. When I was a teen, I was in a “pretentious” phase. Classic rock and independent films and the “great works” of literature, and acting like they made me better than everyone else. Hanging around with people who were snobs and who would sneer at anyone who was actively interested in anything that was too lowbrow, and desperately trying to please them. Hiding emotions because all my friends kept everything behind at least three layers of ironic detachment and performative sarcasm.

And you know what? It never improved my life. Being like that only made me unhappy and made me feel ashamed of the things I liked in secret. Made me afraid to show my emotions so I bottled them up and let them eat me away from the inside out. It took me years to realize how damaging that way of thinking was. I’m still trying to put the pieces of my identity back together, trying to find all the parts of myself that I had buried deep underground to protect them from ridicule and rejection. But I know now that I hate snobs, I hate cringe culture, I hate judgemental assholes who sneer at people because their interests are easy to mock.

I didn’t start listening to Linkin Park until I was 20.

Someone who was very important to me mentioned that they were into it. At first, I laughed, just as a reflex, but then I listened. I listened to the music and I heard people putting a voice to pain that I felt, saying things about me that I was struggling to say about myself. They played the album “Reanimation,” a more obscure album where Linkin Park collaborated with a bunch of underground hip hop artists to remix their original songs. I convinced myself that was why I liked them. This was different. This wasn’t just Linkin Park, this was “true artists” taking what Linkin Park made and turning it into “true art.” We listened to the album over and over and I fell in love twice, with a person and with the music they shared with me.

It wasn’t until I was 22 that I let myself dive deeper into their music. The person who had introduced me to their music had cut ties with me. I told myself that I was only listening to the album out of nostalgia, and a desire feel what I felt with them before. But that wasn’t true, I wanted more. So I let myself listen to the rest of their music. And when I did, I found a depth of emotion and passion that I never realized was there.

When I first heard “Breaking the Habit,” I cried. And that never happens. But the lyrics spoke to me that much, it seemed to describe exactly what I was dealing with at the time. And as I listened to more and more of their music i found more and more pieces of me that I had lost. Feelings I was scared to feel. Thoughts that I was afraid of. Ashamed of. I let myself acknowledge them for the first time in years and I started to delve deeper into what this band was really about.

You know the song “Crawling?” Yeah, the “teen angst” song that everyone likes to make fun of for being so “edgy” and “cringeworthy?” Did you know that song was about Chester Bennington’s struggle with getting into alcohol and drug addiction at a very young age? Yeah, it’s not about “being angsty and your parents not understanding” or whatever shit you all like to claim it’s about. It’s about actual something that millions of people really struggle with. And honestly, if you ever listened to the lyrics, it’s hard to misinterpret it as being about “angst.” It’s a powerful song, and it’s a good song, regardless of how many Naruto AMVs it was used in.

People have been mocking Linkin Park for years. People have been shaming them for continuing to make these “cringeworthy” songs where they bare their emotions- ugly emotions, emotions that are hard to deal with from any angle and even harder to admit openly. And yet? they’ve never stopped. Over 15 years since Hybrid Theory first came out and they’ve never stopped releasing music which is sincere, which is passionate, which exposes the raw emotions that so many people deal with but are afraid to acknowledge out of fear of judgement. They’ve given hope to so many people just by saying “Hey, you’re not alone. We struggle with these things too, and so do the people around you who listen to us. Reach out to them, you don’t have to be ashamed.”

And they never stopped growing and changing, either. Almost every single album they’ve released has experimented with their sound, trying out bits and pieces of different genres and seeing how they might be better at delivering the message they want to send. And while I haven’t always appreciated the results, I’ve always appreciated the experimentation.

I’m getting off track but the point is, Linkin Park means a lot to me. Their music is important, and I’m not going to be ashamed of that fact. And the world has undeniably lost someone important today. Chester Bennington, a person who went through so musch trauma, who struggled with drug addiction and alcohol addiction since he was a child, who was sexually abused as a child, who was bullied and beaten as a child, who grew up with so much pain and damaged mental health because of that, and who tried so hard to turn that pain into something positive, something that would help other people, is gone. He couldn’t make it, and that breaks my heart. And honestly? It scares me.

But I’m not going to let that destroy the message that his music sent. Chester Bennington always had hope. Even to the end, he was writing music telling people that they mattered, and urging them not to give up. Even if he couldn’t take his own advice, I know he still meant it. And that he was saying it because he needed to hear it just as much as we did. That message will live on past him.

“Who cares if one more light goes out? Well I do.”