For a few months, a Hollywood-style hype has surrounded Low End Theory, the weekly hump-day gathering of the local beat elite (the thing you bob your head to, not Kerouac's generation) at L.A.'s Airliner Club. Out-of-towners are in awe of some of the recent lineups (Odd Future, check; Flying Lotus' li'l buddy Thom Yorke, check; Erykah Badu — you get the picture).
But like a native Angeleno, Jennifer Lee — best known by her nom de beat Tokimonsta — just shrugs. “It's been around for such a long time. We were all just kids who were making beats for rappers, and then thinking, 'We don't need rappers. We can just play beats amongst ourselves.' ”
The “First Lady” (more about the gender thing in a second) of Flying Lotus' now-famous label, Brainfeeder, grew up in Torrance in a single-parent household, and her “very traditional” Korean mother worked hard, leaving Lee to “express creativity without being critiqued. I'm part of the generation that was raised by Saturday morning cartoons, and after-school cartoons, and every-single-moment-of-the-day cartoons. I can be quite geeky.”
Despite her early creative inklings, due to being an “unfocused pupil of classical piano,” Lee went to college to major in business, and got a job working in video games. But then the economy started to nosedive, and she got laid off. She found an advertising job, and got laid off again.
All the while she was making music, and at that point she decided it was time to risk doing so as a career. “I never wanted to work a 9-to-5 again, and I told my mother to please give me a year.”
Several years of beat battles and a coveted place on Brainfeeder later, she revisited her geeky girl roots and created the theme for Mileena, evil clone of the 2011 version of the video game Mortal Kombat's Kitana. Fingers of discordant synths slither ominously while a beat begins chasing down the song, until finally the “kund-kund” corners it.
That's what Lee says her mother calls music with a lot of bass. “Kund-kund, like the sound your fist makes when it hits the wall,” she explains.
Lee has just returned home from a European tour, but in less than 24 hours, she not only has to pack for another tour, she also has to move all her stuff into storage. Oh, and she has a fever that she's desperate to douse with NyQuil. “If I start talking in circles, it's because I'm a little out there. Or I could just be kinda crazy, I'm not sure,” she apologizes.
If crazy is what it takes to simultaneously space out and concentrate R&B hummingbird Tweet's sexy “Call Me,” as Lee did, we should all be so mentally touched. With such body-encompassing, neck-breaking beats, the self-described “intergalactic squad leader” comes off as a little intimidating. But Lee is chatty and open, still running on the fumes of adrenaline.
She is, however, bored by the discussion of gender in the beat scene, having proved herself to the point that it's a nonissue for her. “The level of skill in L.A. in every genre imaginable really motivates you to make something original. I feel blessed that we're in a time where no one feels obligated to stick to a mold.”