The 20-something, who rose from the legendary late-2000s Low End Theory parties that helped shape the L.A. beat scene, has traveled the world on tour, performing for crowds in far-off places like Tokyo and Australia. But for all the raucous festivals, pool parties and arenas she’s played, her favorite place to spin is still without question: “L.A. all day.”
Her loyalty to L.A. county, where she’s lived her whole life, is demonstrated again when I ask whether she’s ever thought of living anywhere else: “Nope,” she spurts back. This allegiance shouldn’t come as a surprise; for what TOKi does—creating jazzy glitch-hop that’s as likely to have a Diplo-like beat drop as it is an old-school drum break—there’s no better place in the world to be than the City of Angels, which is a hotbed for artists developing a woozy sound that’s not only influenced the underground dance circuit, but also mainstream releases like Kendrick Lamar’s critically acclaimed To Pimp A Butterfly.
Some of TOKI’s peers in the scene include electro-funk acts Thundercat, The Gaslamp Killer and, most notably, Flying Lotus, who put out her first album, Midnight Menu, on his label Brainfeeder in 2010. With its release, Menu earned TOKi the title of “The First Lady of Brainfeeder,” a designation that she believes is helpful but also indicative of the gender equality struggle in the scene.
“That on-going narrative is a sign that things aren’t changing fast enough and the ‘female’ presence is still a rarity,” she says.
After all, TOKi has always made it a point to declare herself a producer first—not a female or minority (she’s Korean American) one. It’s been this way since she first started making beats in college, using FruityLoops to chop up samples and develop dark melodies, more akin to the production stylings of The Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA than the smooth g-funk being made in her home state. These beats helped set the formula that would enshrine her at the Low End Theory, where she thrived and continued to develop her sound by mixing together R&B, disco, hip-hop and pop.
Eventually she would go on to release genre-bending records on Brainfeeder and dance mainstay Ultra before starting her own imprint, Young Art. Her newest album, Fovere, was released on Young Art last March and features Dr. Dre’s latest signee, Anderson .Paak, whom TOKi has known for quite some time through their run-ins in the city’s music scene.
Despite her wish to go completely indie, her status is now higher than it’s ever been, demonstrated by the fact that she’s currently on tour with legendary acts Duran Duran and Nile Rodgers. Her recognition is now growing far beyond L.A. county.
“There is a sense of validation, like, ‘Wow, my musical heroes brought me on tour with them. They understand me and my music,“ she says.
Leafly: I know some things about your childhood, like that you were a classically trained pianist and big into hip-hop, but could you go a little more into what life was like growing up in Torrance?
TOKiMONSTA: Torrance is a suburb of L.A. County, right by affluent areas like Palos Verdes and the beaches, but also near Gardena, Compton, Carson, Long Beach. It wasn’t a particularly exciting city, but you got a good cross section of So-Cal living and you were always close to all the music culture of L.A.
L: In college, what made you want to start making beats? I read that your first few sounded like RZA’s sample-based production—how come that and not West Coast sounding beats?
T: I didn’t have the tools in the very beginning to make West Coast-style production. I had access to samples (more East Coast), but didn’t own the equipment to write bass lines or funky synth lines (more West Coast).
L: Above all else, you want to be known for making good songs. Is it frustrating when writers or fans decide to put you in a narrative about your gender first?
T: Yes, but it’s necessary to some extent—to let people know a female can produce and create music at a high caliber. However, that on-going narrative is a sign that things aren’t changing fast enough and the “female” presence is still a rarity.
L: What was it like during the early days of the L.A. beat scene and the Low End Theory parties? How has it changed?
T: It was beautiful. It was this little scene that harbored so much creativity and open mindedness. It still exists now, but at this bigger level. It’s not a small scene any more, but the creativity is more wide spread now.
L: You’ve gone from using FL to Ableton. How much of a gear nerd are you? Is it a bonding factor at all between you and the other Brainfeeder crewmembers?
T: I think my gear nerdiness has waned. With all the touring I do, I have changed into more of a plugin nerd. Of course, when I’m home I like playing my gear and gadgets. All the members of BF are at varying levels of technical nerdiness. Some care about techy stuff, others have their methods for their sound and veer away from that.
L: A lot of people are just getting hip to Anderson .Paak because of the Dre signing. I’m guessing you were up on his music before that. What was it like collaborating?
T: We have been friends for ages and his come up is well deserved. It’s about damn time. Collaborating with him is awe-inspiring. Since the first track we made to the ones that people haven’t even heard yet, dude is a fountain of creativity and talent. Great friend, he’s my family.
L: Do you have any rituals while out on the road?
T: No rituals—I’m mostly on my phone or working on music. I try to always try to eat good local meals when I can.
L: Your album is titled Fovere. What does this represent?
T: It’s means to appreciate or cherish.
L: What is your experience with cannabis?
T: I get terrible migraines and it helps a lot. Especially CBD strains.
L: What’s your favorite strain?
T: Og Kush, Alien Rock Candy, and I’m into CBD wax cartridges.
L: What is your preferred way to consume cannabis?
T: As of late, via vape.
L: What is your munchie of choice?
T: Umm, everything.