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While the original members of Linkin Park (who named themselves after Santa Monica's Lincoln Park) were struggling to catch a break in L.A., Bennington had effectively retired from singing in his native Phoenix, Ariz. "I just got tired of being in bands that weren't dedicated," he says of the apathetic Phoenix metal scene. He had taken a job transferring property maps into computer files when a mutual friend told him Linkin Park was looking for a singer. With his wife's encouragement, Bennington drove to L.A., auditioned and never left. "Another guy was trying out the same day," says Shinoda, "and he just took off when he heard Chester try out. He was, like, 'Hey, I'm not gonna try to compete with that.'"
With the addition of Bennington's soaring vocals, the band's sound took on a richer, more dramatic tone. But rather than wait for record companies to notice, Linkin Park started building a fan base on its own. "I would assign everyone in the band to go on the Internet and recruit five or six people a day," says the business-minded drummer Bourdon. "We'd go into a Korn chat room and say, 'There's this new cool band called Linkin Park, go check out their MP3,' pretending like we weren't in the band." When interested kids e-mailed asking for more music, the group sent back mountains of tapes and instructions to pass them out to anyone with ears. By the time Linkin Park signed with Warner Bros. in November '99, the group had fans in Scotland, Japan and Australia and a worldwide thousand-person unpaid street team.
The accolades Linkin Park now receives are no longer just from kids in cyberspace. The band was recently nominated for three Grammys, including Best New Artist. But the critics have not yet been won over. Part of the problem is a broader perception that rap-metal fusion is still a bit of a gimmick, a crass way to cash in on two markets. While considering its own devotion to both genres beyond reproach, Linkin Park concedes that some of its fellow hybridists may not be so purely motivated. On a track called Step Up, Shinoda raps, "Rapping over rock doesn't make you a pioneer/ 'Cause rock and hip-hop collaborated for years/ But now they're getting readily mixed and matched up/ After a fast buck and all the tracks suck."