"When the best damn thing in the room is an Asian woman, people notice"
LEX The Lexicon Artist, AKA Alex Liu Sun, is a self-professed entertainer, marketer and nerd. She writes and performs “weird smart rap” that offers audiences a unique blend of reliability and comedy.
LEX was born in Taipei, Taiwan, but moved to San Francisco aged 18 in 2012. Her experience as a third-culture child influences her writing and many of the Asian diaspora will be able to relate to her clash of cultures.
Tracks such as ‘Glasses’, ‘L.E.X.’, ‘Undateable’ and ‘Artist Anthem’ demonstrate that LEX is not only a talented rapper but also an inspiring writer. Whilst lyrics such as “flow cold like Articuno, ice beam” show LEX’s comedic nerdy side, lyrics such as “Asian vaginas aren’t sideways you dumb fucks” and “I’m an artist and I hate myself, I need professional help” show a more ruthless and raw side to the rapper.
Chatting with Resonate, LEX discussed her background, influences and her thoughts on Asians in rap music.
CC: How does Taipei compare to life now in SF?
LEX: It’s very different. Taipei is much denser, but life there is much calmer, safer, and more comfortable. In the Bay, everyone’s looking to conquer the world – with tech, art, anything. It’s grittier, scarier, and more intense. But that’s good for what I’m trying to do.
CC: How was your Asian experience?
LEX: My experience as a third-culture kid informs plenty of my writing. It’s a core part of the project, even in songs that don’t directly reference it.
CC: Did you experience any discrimination, how did you combat it?
LEX: As far as music career, it’s actually been beneficial. When the best damn thing in the room is an Asian woman, people notice. The Bay has been very supportive of a weirdo goofball like me. Some scenes are easier to access than others – for example, more ‘mainstream’ hip-hop tends to be more exclusionary for folks that veer “different” (which includes my race and gender), but nerds and freaks love me.
CC: What are the challenges facing you today?
LEX: The main thing is scaling my business. I’m always thinking about how to move to the next level and reach tens of thousands of people beyond my locality and scene. I think a lot of people who have never met me would relate to my words – it’s just a matter on reaching them on a larger scale.
CC: How did you start creating music? How long ago was it? What’s your journey been like?
LEX: I’m classically trained in violin, but I wrote my first ever rap song in eighth grade for an English project. My teacher was really cool. The song was called “All I’ve Got” and it was about being excluded because I was always studying. Some things don’t change that much. My teacher listened to it and told me that I was really good, and that I should do this more. Those words have never left me.
Since then, I tried various types of performance art. I dabbled in the beatboxing scene for about 7 or 8 years as “Adiao”, and garnered a small and solid following for beatbox tutorials. That was my introduction to hip-hop performance. Then I joined an a cappella group in college, and tried acting. That was where I built my stage presence. The year I turned 22, I decided to pursue my initial dream of being a rapper, and here I am today.
CC: How did the name LEX The Lexicon Artist come about?
LEX: I started off as just LEX, but nobody could find me online. I spent some time thinking of a cool name (I have been consistently bad at that) and settled on an appendage to LEX. “Lexicon Artist” is not a reference to the audio company, but a spin on “Con Artist”. “The Lexicon Artist” means that I do tricks with words.
CC: What differentiates you from other rappers? How did you create your own unique style?
LEX: For one, I might be one of just two Asian female rappers who identify as part of the nerdcore scene (the other is the awesome Shubzilla from Seattle). Besides that, I work to differentiate myself with a couple of things.
My stage presence is ridiculous and over-energetic. I always try to do something out of left field on stage, whether that’s having a sandwich-eating contest, wearing costumes, or bringing out the blow-up T-Rex. I want people to leave thinking, “What the hell was that? I loved it.” In a sea of samey mumble trappers and vaguely conscious rappers, I want to rep the crazy weird kid I have always been.
My rapping voice uses a lot of theatrical inflections, like I’m telling a story. I don’t care for sounding “normal” or serious, unless it’s a serious song; I care for sounding FUN. I’ll write about things people never thought were an issue – like Asians with butts – and make it sound like the coolest thing in the world.
My overall style is a combination of early 2000’s hip-hop, internet rappers I grew up watching over the years, viral pop sensations, and the occasional heavy metal/industrial slant. In the strictly musical sense, I often reach beyond hip-hop into other genres, but it all comes back to telling the most irreverent stories possible.
CC: What artists have inspired you?
LEX: Growing up, the hip-hop that reached me all the way in Taipei was the early 2000’s greats: Eminem, 50 Cent, Kanye, the Black Eyed Peas. My parents didn’t totally approve. As I used the internet more, I was drawn in by the likes of Traphik (Timothy DeLaGhetto), Wax, and Watsky. I still really love Watsky’s work; I think it’s groundbreaking.
I also like popular rock bands like Linkin Park and Avenged Sevenfold, pop artists like Lady Gaga and PSY, UK grime, and industrial. Right now I’m listening to and inspired by people in my scenes – this includes nerdcore rappers like Mega Ran, MC Lars, and Schaffer the Darklord, or freaky Bay Area bands like Doctor Striker and The Wyatt Act.
CC: Your videos are fantastic – do you have a background in video? How are you balancing your time between video and music production?
LEX: Thank you! I’m self-taught in video: I used to run a comedy/meme video channel for fun back in 2010. Some of the videos went viral and got millions of views. The specific video style of that channel has gone out of fashion, but this year I want to incorporate more of that skill-set in the LEX project, as well as creating some new meme content for that channel.
For the LEX videos, it’s mostly not me. I worked with two different directors. Jordan Rose and I worked together to storyboard “Artist Anthem”, which he shot, directed, and edited. Jordan also shot “L.E.X.”, which I edited. Amy Ma did most of the work in “Glasses”.
Right now I’m focusing on finishing my debut full-length record, “The Lexicon Artist”. It’s definitely hard managing my time across creating music, marketing, and making videos, but all three are a very high priority for me. Once I’m done with the album, my focus will be on video for the second half of the year.
CC: How do you create your music? What instruments do you play or have you got a loyal band behind you?
LEX: I play violin, keys, and bass. I do play with a band in some live shows – they’re awesome. I like having the flexibility to roll solo or play with a full band, depending on the situation.
I write all my lyrics. For the music, I often program demos on a DAW and hire producers to flesh the demos out, or I sometimes purchase pre-made beats from those producers. I’m trying to incorporate my band into the writing and recording process, too.
CC: Why do you think there aren’t many Asian rappers? Or maybe there are, do you know of many?
LEX: I actually think the “Asian rapper” is the new trend. There are plenty of Asian emcees with sizable and rapidly growing followings – I’m thinking people like Dumbfoundead, Ruby Ibarra, and G Yamazawa. And there’s obviously the 88rising crew that’s skyrocketing in popularity, like Rich Brian, Joji, and the Higher Brothers.
Now if the first and the second group seem like they target completely different audiences, that’s because they do. I think that just like any other type of emcee, Asian emcees tend to align more based on style and content than ethnic background – for example, loose interpretations of “conscious rap” versus “mainstream trap”.
However, I have started a Facebook group called the “Asian American Emcee Network” that bring emcees of Asian ancestry together to support each other, across all locations and all genres of rap. I think it helps up-and-comers to know there are people who look like them doing the same thing, particularly since hip-hop isn’t much of a “recommended career” among traditional Asian families.
CC: “I need professional help” (from ‘Artist Anthem’) is a powerful lyric – why do you think artists have such a hard time?
LEX: For me it’s uncertainty. Until you’re signed and selling out stadiums – or have a solid independent cult following, or millions of subscribers – you never know if what you’re doing is the right thing. You don’t know if it’s working or if you’re yelling and flinging songs and music videos into the abyss. It often feels like the latter. There’s also uncertainty for the next paycheck. I don’t necessarily speak for everyone, but for me, not knowing if I’m moving closer to success is a large source of my anxiety.
CC: What’s the future looking like for LEX? Are you working on some new material/album (I know you answered this in the other interview, but it’d be good for our readers to know too)
LEX: I’m working on recording the debut full-length album, “The Lexicon Artist”, to be released in May. I’ve already started writing music beyond that album, but I would like to drop that one soon.
I plan to make at least five music videos for that album. I also plan to create more vlog and short-form content in general. I also have a crazy idea of making myself a comic book character or writing a hip-hop musical surrounding the fictional backstory of LEX. Those are larger-scale dream projects.
CC: If you weren’t a rapper, what would you be doing?
LEX: Let’s say I wasn’t any kind of artist – I’d probably do research in sociology to help people improve their interpersonal relationships. I might still do that.
Check out LEX the Lexicon Artist on Spotify.