Words by: Chris Seeger
TOKiMONSTA is riding high. She just finished a European tour and she has a handful of releases coming out this past year. Flying Lotus has named her the “First Lady of Brainfeeder Records”. Considering the Brainfeeder label roster includes artists like Gaslamp Killer, Ras G and of course Flying Lotus, this is quite an accomplishment.
We did this interview below she will play her first ever DC gig. Catch her again live tonight @ U Street Music Hall (With Daedalus)
BYT: Explain your name, TOKiMONSTA.
TOKiMONSTA: “Toki” means “rabbit” in Korean, and “monsta” is a totally stupid way I decided to write “monster” when I was in middle school. And to be honest, that used to be my AOL screen name when I was younger, and when I started making music I decided to keep that nickname with me. But then it culminated into something with a new meaning. You have “Toki” which is a rabbit, something sweet and innocent, combined with a “monster, and it explains the mentality behind my music. It describes my taste in music as well, I have this yin and yang mentality where I like things that are really chill, and I like things that are really angry and obscure.
BYT: You are at the forefront of a progressive hip hop subculture that has been traditionally dominated by men. They comprise nearly 100% of the audience at shows, and many rappers have misogynistic lyrics. How did you become a part of the hip hop scene?
TM: I grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles. The people are predominately upper-middle class and everyone is Asian or white. I live close to the beach, where people are listening to John Mayer. I mean, I grew up listening to Green Day and that stuff and that’s what I got into first. I remember I bought a Coolio tape. I was this 11-year-old little Asian girl buying “Gangsters Paradise” on my own, and I introduced myself to hip hop. I like a lot of the West Coast stuff because that’s what was playing at the time. Stuff like Westside Connection’s first record and Dr. Dre. That sprouted my hip hop “taste” and then I introduced myself to Wu-Tang, and I got into East Coast hip hop, and this is all on my own. I didn’t have anyone there to tell me, “Oh, you should listen to this.” Some of my friends listened to hip hop, but it was more mainstream stuff. As I got older and started high school, people were listening to hip hop more. And then underground hip hop became extremely popular, and everyone’s listening to DJ Shadow, Mos Def, Atmosphere.
I would go to shows with my guy friends and I would be the only girl there, but I got used to it. When I started making beats, I would see the same people at these shows, and they’d be like, “Toki!” And I don’t feel weird anymore because I know I’m going to be the only girl there. Because I’ve been around the same scene for a while, the people around me give me respect and I don’t really feel much of the misogyny of hip hop.
I listen to Dilla, or Slum Village, and they’re totally ripping on girls, but I don’t care because it’s part of the culture. You just have to accept that hip hop is the way it is, but that doesn’t mean it won’t respect you.
BYT: There has been a major shift in how music is produced and distributed. People record in home studios and they can instantly send a song to the internet where it’s fair game. Your career has taken off, you just finished a European tour, yet you still haven’t released a full-length record. What are the advantages and the drawbacks of this new process of music creation/distribution?
TM: Well, because of the internet and things like podcasts it gives you easy access to independent artists, so this is a golden age for independent music. Before the internet, the only music people knew was what they heard on the radio and on tv. Now people can seek out music on their own. You have people who are really into music and they blog about it, and even if you aren’t that into it, you can find the music really quickly because all you have to do is a google search.
A drawback is that since everyone is so tech-savy you have a lot of people bootlegging your music. That’s a big issue I’ve been having. I’ll have music that isn’t mastered or released yet on my myspace player and people will stream it and rip it. I find .zip files of like 15 songs I havent released yet, being spread around the internet. I’m not entirely against it. It’s inevitable that people will download your music. But at the same time, people are spreading around this music that has really poor sound quality. It’s not mastered or mixed down properly
I know the downloading is going to happen, but I at least want people to have the highest quality of my music. Like, if you’re going to bootleg it, at least bootleg it at 320.
BYT: Hudson Mohawke is another one of the top producers in the “beat” genre and I heard he’s collaborating with Erykah Badu. Do you think more mainstream artists are going to be collaborating with independent djs and producers?
TM: Totally. I know some stuff going on behind the scenes and these producers are in the works of working with much bigger names. And it’s nice to see the that the sound is progressive, but its also accessible. It’s not too out there. It’s like how the whole dance music scene has reemerged in the mainstream and you have Three 6 Mafia rapping on a Tiesto beat.
BYT: You have an LP coming out later this year on Brainfeeder records. Is just beats? Or are you working with vocalists as well?
TM: I actually have about five releases coming out this year, big and small. The first is an EP I did with Ramp records and that should be out next month. Then I have a collaboration with Suzy Analog, and that’s a vocalist/producer collaboration coming out on Jazzy Sport records in Japan. On my Brainfeeder LP, I’m going to have at least three or four vocalists on there, and they’re all going to be girls. For some reason I’m not keen to working with male vocalists. So it will be a mixture of beats and songs with vocalists.
BYT: Will this be your first show in DC?
TM: Yeah! This is my very first one.
BYT:Do people still do the “Westside” hand sign in LA? Because when I’m Djing and I play “Californina Love” I definitely throw it up.
TM: (Laughs) Not unless they’re fucking around. In LA we like that music though. If you put on some old anthem by Snoop or DJ Quick or Dr. Dre, everyone’s going to go crazy for it. It’s not like people say, “Oh, this is so California, we’re not into this.”
BYT: I think a big thing that sets you apart from other beat producers is the fact you use live instrumentation and sampling in your music. Those analog sounds can’t be duplicated with digital production software. Do you intentionally build your songs around an analog break?
TM: Well I play my own stuff, and I have a really good hand-held condeser microphone, so sometimes I’ll go out and sample street performers, and I can sample and cut that up too. But I also have a really short attention span so I might not be in the mood to do really labor intensive music, so sometimes I’ll just play the whole thing by myself.
I used to sample a lot of loops but lately I’ve been doing a lot of one shots, like single notes. I never sample the same record twice, and sometimes I’ll play something and then go through my library of pre-recorded samples and find something that I can chop up and work with. It’s always different.