“If that was the last thing I could do before I died. I wanted to make sure I did it.”
Jennifer Lee, better known by her stage name TOKiMONSTA, is a Grammy-nominated electronic music producer and DJ
In 2015, Jennifer Lee, better known by her stage name TOKiMONSTA, was diagnosed with the rare and often fatal Moyamoya disease, a disorder which narrows arteries that carry blood to the brain.
Most Moyamoya patients do not live past 40 without treatment. Without really understanding how much time she had, she reached out to Dr. Gary Steinberg at Stanford, who led the institute’s Moyamoya research team. He scheduled back-to-back brain surgeries just a week apart.
Jennifer made it through the surgeries alive, but she had a long road of recovery ahead of her. She would soon lose her ability to communicate through speech, writing, and — most tragically — music. She was no longer capable of understanding or composing music. “I tried to make music, and it was just garbage,” she recalled. “The part of my brain that knew how to put sounds together was broken … I didn’t want to pity myself, but it was a heart-wrenching pain.”
By then Jennifer, who is Korean American, had made a name for herself as an up-and-coming electronic music producer and DJ whose unique style remixes old school sounds into modern compositions rich with emotion, and as a collaborator to hit artists like Anderson .Paak and Justin Timberlake.
Having her passion and love, her outlet for expression, taken from her at the moment she needed it most was terrifying. “It’s hard when you’ve had your head ripped open with people tinkering, and you’re dealing with your mortality and all the different facets of life and stress,” Jennifer said.
The months of rehabilitation she endured were a difficult uphill battle. However, she did not let it stop her — eventually, she was able to successfully write a song, “I Wish I Could Be,” which ended up being the first song she created for her Grammy-nominated, history-making album Lune Rogue. Not only was she the first Asian American producer to achieve this feat, but she was also the first female producer to do so.
After writing “I Wish I Could Be,” Jennifer was on the move. Mere months after her first surgery, she headed to SXSW, and soon after, without consulting her doctor, played at Coachella to an audience of 20,000 people. “If that was the last thing I could do before I died,” Jennifer explained, “I wanted to make sure I did it.”
It’s that resilience and determination that has allowed Jennifer to shatter stereotypes and glass ceilings. Even now, the artist shows no signs of slowing down: “Lune Rouge is not my best work. My best work is yet to come.”