Private Playlist: TOKiMONSTA is rediscovering her love for the guitar

TOKiMONSTA revisits her formative ‘90s rock influences. Photo credit: TOKiMONSTA.

Private Playlist is a listening session with Southern California’s most notable musical figures in their private creative environments. Jennifer Lee, aka TOKiMONSTA, got her start in the beat battles of Leimert Park, and quickly carved out a space in the legendary Low End Theory scene out of Lincoln Heights. Her 2010 debut, Midnight Menu, was released on Flying Lotus's Brainfeeder label. Collaborations with Jessie Ware, Anderson .Paak, and Kelly Rowland followed. Her 2017 album, Lune Rouge, was nominated for a Grammy in Best Dance/Electronic Album, making her the first female Asian-American artist to be considered in that category. TOKi founded the Young Art record label in 2014 and released a new album, Oasis Nocturno, on that imprint in March 2020.

People underestimate how long I can stay at home. Obviously I'm someone who goes out a lot, but because of the nature of what I do for a living, I tend to travel quite often: I'm constantly on flights on the weekends, staying in hotel rooms, things like that. So when I'm home, I tend to be quite a homebody. In the earlier weeks [of the quarantine], I wasn't that troubled by it, but then it started to creep in that I won't get to see my friends or any of the things I like to do when I'm home. So that changed the nature of it.


During this time, I've been rediscovering my love for guitar, and that's motivating me to make more music. I 100% believe the urge to play guitar is reflected in the music I'm listening to. I'm not sure which came first: if I started listening to the songs that are on my playlist at the moment, or if I started playing guitar first. For example, I've been listening to Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness by Smashing Pumpkins. It's an album that meant a lot to me growing up. I love Smashing Pumpkins the same way I love Aphex Twin, Missy Elliott, or Astrud Gilberto. It's all on the same level for me. I find that while I've been at home, I've been very reflective and introspective, and rediscovering that album has been very nostalgic.


Another band I've been listening to a lot lately is Altın Gün. They're a Turkish psych-rock band that was meant to play at Coachella this year. They have one song called "Leyla," and it's just amazing. It has all this fuzz and they use the pentatonic scale, so it has that very Eastern vibe to it. The main thing too is that the female vocalist has this incredible voice, and she's singing the songs in what I assume to be a traditional Turkish way, and with their tones and melodies it's just incredible. It reminds me of Korean or Japanese prog-rock of a similar era, where they mix this Western and Eastern vibe into something so special and unique.


There's this other amazing Turkish psych/prog-rock song called "Lambaya Puf De" by Barış Manço, and it’s incredible. A lot of us used to play this back in the days of Low End Theory in Lincoln Heights. We'd DJ for one another and dig deep in the crates for interesting music. Many of us also made very creative music, like Flying Lotus and Daedelus, but this was a common track in everyone's crate.


I feel like my whole life now is going down YouTube black holes, and that's what I do regularly. So I've been listening to Haddaway and other old '90s dance music. Included in that set is "Waiting for Tonight" by Jennifer Lopez.

A funny thing that I noticed: If you play J-Lo’s “Waiting for Tonight” and Haddaway’s “What Is Love,” you can play them on top of each other and sing the melody over the instrumental. And I think they're in key, too. Just saying...


I suppose, to go full-circle, If I really wanted to share a song with someone to get them through all of this, it probably would be “It’s Not Right But It’s Okay” by Whitney Houston. It's not right, but it is okay, and we're going to make it through anyway, you know? So, while I’m pulling it back to the vintage vibes, it's never more relevant than right now.

Check out KCRW’s other Private Playlists:

Inara George shares tips for raising music-literate kids during quarantine
Chris Cohen shares Algerian synth funk, avant jazz, and more far-out sounds
Hand Habits’ Meg Duffy offers an earthy soundtrack for the homebound
Mia Doi Todd recommends space-age sounds and Brazilian tunes
Neon Indian shares music for your inner monologue
Thundercat on the importance of albums as a journey
Dorian Wood is walking a tightrope and trying not to look down
Jeff Parker is busy studying music in hibernation mode