Before we applaud MTV for dreaming up another media stunt-turned-stocking stuffer, let’s answer this: Who—or what—is colliding here exactly? Certainly not rap and rock. Forget Run-D.M.C. versus Aerosmith, Onyx versus Biohazard, and the Beastie Boys: Rap and rock freaked so much in 2004 alone that only the most catastrophically kinky union would force the kids to wear neck braces again.
For Linkin Park and Jay-Z this is especially true. The Park have made a career of peddling hip-hop rhythms as metal pomp and butt-cut rhymes as good rap for the middle-school rockist set. Jay-Z, meanwhile, has alchemized and been alchemized, rock-rapping with Rick Rubin for “99 Problems” and sourcing those increasingly bland color-pun mash-ups. Then there’s the whole “crunk and nu-metal sound exactly the same, and Lil Jon is Fred Durst for a different demographic” argument. So, since rap and rock are more likely to collude than collide anymore, this “groundbreaking” Collision Course qualifies as bumper cars at best.
Mash-ups don’t need to break ground, though—they just need to sound good. (Derrida-jocking rock crits will figure out the rest.) And though Jay-Z calls the collaboration the “hybrid of the hot shit,” it’s the exact opposite, really. The tracks come off two-faced, Jay-Z and Linkin Park not so much mashed up as pieced together in alternation. Jay-Z hardly struggles over LP instrumentals—his nimble “Jigga What” run over “Faint” proves he’s still pretty much invincible, even in retirement. But with places traded, LP’s Mike Shinoda and Chester Bennington embarrass themselves, mere ensemble players who double Jay-Z in spots and pepper tracks with pasty catcalls. On their own, Bennington’s wails are incongruous but at least inoffensive, and his minor-to-major melody trade for “Izzo/In the End” actually fits. Shinoda fares worse, though, huffing and puffing heavy-handed rhymes throughout, and at his most laughable when he reformats “99 Problems” to be about Jay-Z (“He’s got 99 problems . . . “).
There’s a DVD, too. Behind-the-scenes footage reveals Jay-Z as amiable but all business, maybe even a little bored. Collision Course clearly wasn’t his idea. The Parkies have a blast, though, especially Bennington. One minute he’s ragging on the cameramen, another he’s screaming at the studio help: “I ordered a Frappucino. Where’s my fucking Frappucino?!” As for collisions, there’s a small one during the concert: Jay-Z tosses his water bottle to a fan, but instead it hits the kid in the face.