When Mike Shinoda was just starting out as a musician, he'd combine raps from Jay-Z's debut, Reasonable Doubt, with samples from Smashing Pumpkins and Nine Inch Nails, never imagining he'd one day produce Jay in a project that would mix tracks from his allegedly final release, The Black Album, with songs by Shinoda's future group, Linkin Park. Shinoda also never dreamed he'd perform those songs live with the Brooklyn MC.
Fast forward eight years, and Linkin Park and Jay-Z are getting ready to issue Collision Course, an EP of six mash-up tracks they recorded together. The first single from the November 30 release will be a hybrid of Linkin Park's "Numb" and Jay-Z's "Encore." Other cuts include "Lying From You" combined with "Dirt Off Your Shoulder"; "Papercut" with "Big Pimpin' "; and "Faint" with "Jigga What?"
While Shinoda masterminded the project, Jay lit the first spark by contacting Linkin Park about a possible collaboration after hearing about Danger Mouse's Grey Album (which combined Jay-Z's The Black Album with the Beatles' White Album) and Cheap Cologne's Double Black Album (a blend of The Black Album and Metallica's Black Album). Instead of getting back to Jay's manager with an answer right away, Shinoda picked up the a cappella version of The Black Album, created mash-ups of three songs and e-mailed them back to Jay.
"I didn't just want to say, 'Hell, yeah, let's do it' — I wanted to show him what it might sound like if we did it," Shinoda explained. "And I think Jay was really excited by that. After that, he wanted to talk only by e-mail instead of in person because he thought that would save a little bit of the excitement for when we really got to meet."
When the two artists finally did meet, their work ethic was equally unorthodox. The plan was simply to create some mash-ups for the debut episode for the new concert show "MTV Ultimate Mash-Ups," which was taped at the Roxy in Los Angeles on July 18 and debuts on air November 10. But instead of simply reconfiguring a batch of tracks, rehearsing them and jumping onstage, Shinoda and Jay-Z decided to enter the studio and re-recorded their raps over the songs Shinoda had already deconstructed.
"Jay and I realized it's better to re-perform the rap vocals if you're gonna do it to a new beat because the vibe changes and you have to deliver your verse a little differently," Shinoda said. "There was no ego at all working with Jay. If I asked him to perform something a certain way or put a vocal line here or there, he was happy to do it. He's really easy to work with."
The rapping wasn't the only element that got a makeover. Some of the musical passages were also altered. On "Numb/Encore," the heavy guitars were replaced with a cleaner-sounding rhythm, and additional bass lines were added to "Big Pimpin'/Papercut." Linkin Park guitarist Brad Delson and bassist Phoenix made the changes a couple of days before Jay arrived in the studio.
"The bottom line was we wanted to perform a show together, so [you might ask] why we would spend all that time in the studio," Shinoda said. "It's because when you hear a song in its studio form and you've got a good-quality copy of the song, then you know how it should sound when you go play it live. If you just go jam it out, you might never know the potential of the quality you're trying to achieve."
The studio session was so rewarding that both Linkin Park and Jay-Z agreed that it had to be released. "I think the songs are really strong, and it was totally exciting recording them," he said. "You can hear it on the tracks. There's laughing going on and people telling jokes. We kept all those little things in there, so I think it's something our fans would really enjoy."