In a music industry dominated by men, TOKiMONSTA (born Jennifer Lee) is a unique figure even amongst her female counterparts. Bridging the gap between electronic music and hip hop, her unique style includes elements of dance music while incorporating the ethereal mood of head-nodding beats. Preferring to just be herself, while not exploiting her looks or her body, she strives for integrity and lets her music do the talking. Our Detroit correspondent Kelly ‘K-Fresh’ Frazier was able to catch up with the Los Angeles-based DJ/producer and talk about her music, her latest album Half Shadows, and a certain sense of anonymity she wants in her music.

TOKiMONSTA, image: Spectrum Magazine

Kelly: What goes into doing your sets?
TOKiMONSTA: I want to enjoy my time on stage, so essentially what I want to do is play my music as well as play the music that makes me happy – and a lot of that is playing stuff I grew up with. I feel as though maybe some of the people that will listen to my music don’t listen to all the things I have grown up with. Some people listen to me because they like electronic music, but they didn’t grow up with hip-hop or vice versa. I come from this old school hip-hop mentality. I want it to be fun for the crowd but I want it to be fun for me too because I’m the one that has to play it all the time. As selfish as that might sound, I don’t mean it to be selfish.

What kind of a kid were you growing up?
I never really fitted in and I was a little self conscious because I didn’t. I grew up in suburbia where a lot of kids listened to pop/rock like Green Day or Blink 182. When I was really young, they didn’t venture too far from that. But I was into west coast rap, like Westside Connection, N.W.A. and Ice Cube. Smashing Pumpkins too. When I discovered electronic music, I liked listening too Squarepusher and Aphex Twin. In the neighborhood where I grew up, it was predominantly Caucasian or Asian, middle to upper class. Most people were more conventional and I never felt I fitted in until the internet arrived. That always made me feel included.

When it comes to the internet, you always find your niche.

How did you discover more electronic music?
Raving when I was younger. It was kind of a trend so I started raving in the early 2000s. That was my introduction into electronic music. At that time, it was predominantly trance and Detroit techno, like Carl Craig. I liked drum ‘n’ bass and jungle because it had these hip-hop elements as well. From there, it’s about blossoming and searching for all that music on your own.


TOKiMONSTA, image: Nikko Lamere

What inspired you to produce your own music?
I grew up playing the piano so I had a sense of music – but even with the piano,I didn’t enjoy everything I played because although liked classical music but I didn’t enjoy everything. Playing piano felt forced, despite there being some parts I really enjoyed. When I discovered that I could make music on my own by being a bedroom producer, it was a way for me to incorporate some of the things I grew up with melodically and with things I listened to. Going from hip-hop or DJ Shadow and stuff like that.

As a woman in a male-dominated industry, how do you stay classy during all of it?
Keeping my integrity. The biggest thing right now with a lot of the females in electronic music or just DJs, is that although there are many with integrity there are also a lot that plenty of attention which is based more on their physical appearance. Perhaps the only reason I maintain the integrity is that it’s never been about physical appearance. I never wear for example bikini tops. I would never do that regardless, but I appreciate music and I appreciate making music. I always want people to realize that whether I’m a female or not, my music should stand on its own. When someone says ‘I had no idea you were a girl’, I’m like ‘good, it shouldn’t matter’.

TOKiMONSTA ft. MNDR – Go With it from High5Collective on Vimeo.

You just came out with a new album Half Shadows. Talk about it.
It was a good year, a couple years in the making. I guess it had been a while since I released anything official. I had all this music I wanted to put out. That’s essentially what I did. I always continue to make music regardless of whether or not it’s going to come out on a label or if it will be an official release or end up on SoundCloud. With this album, I just had this collection of songs that suited a period of my life, it just had this running theme. In terms of the album itself, it’s meant to flow like a story.

I hope when people listen to Half Shadows, they listen to it from start to end because it’s meant to transition in a very specific way.

How do you feel that you tell a story through your music?
I like this idea of there being a beginning, a middle, and an end. Not all the time, because if you stick to a certain formulae it can be hindering and too traditional. In any story there’s these ups and downs and then it moves towards an ending. With all of my music, I don’t want to get to the best part right at the beginning. I don’t want the drop to be at the beginning. Not that I really do drops, but I want people to listen to the whole thing because it always gets more epic towards the end. That’s the way I’ve always made my music. And that’s kind of like a story.



“Half Shadows” album artwork, image: Christopher Chan

words: Kelly ‘K-Fresh’ Frazier
images: Spectrum Magazine, Christopher Chan, Nikko Lamere, (Purple banner)