Today’s the day that you may or may not have known you’ve been waiting for: LEX the Lexicon Artist has dropped her debut album. Raging Ego rages in the best way possible, dipping into stories that feel simultaneously deeply personal, wholly relatable and uniquely LEX. This lyric from the track “Curse of Creativity” says it best: “I felt like I was reading your autobiography. With every track it was as if I was exploring your brain and inhabiting your every pleasure and absorbing your pain. I know that all your other listeners have felt like this too, but I’m privileged to have shared something special with you.” The sentiment is mutual, LEX. Meet the artist and entertainer behind the infectious rap rhymes in her personal essay here.
I am LEX the Lexicon Artist. I’m a rapper currently living in Oakland, California. Raging Ego is my debut full-length record, and while I’ve answered many questions about its musical influences and thematic content in other interviews, I haven’t really explored it through the lens of my cultural background.
I grew up in an upper middle-class Taiwanese household. I was raised in, and still regularly visit, my parents’ 19th floor apartment in Taipei. I have one older brother, and we went to English-speaking private schools in Taipei, where we were surrounded for the most part by people who looked and lived like us.
For the time I’ve known them, my parents never really lacked much (except time, of course), but they worked very hard to get to that point. My dad studied his way up, and went from being the child of a poor military family to the winner of an American scholarship and eventually a PhD holder. My mom moved from her small hometown in Korea to study at Taiwan’s best university, where she met my dad. Both of them work constantly to provide for us, and their work ethic is probably THE major reason my brother and I can even dream of pursuing our respective career paths. But growing up, I remember seeing them frequently under stress, which tipped me off fast that I probably did NOT want to end up in their line of work, noble as it may be.
As for what I DID want to be when I grew up? I grappled with that for most of my life. Taiwan has an interesting culture: It’s less conservative and repressed than other East Asian countries like Japan, Korea, and China (we were the first East Asian country to legalize same-sex marriages, for example). At the same time, that’s just by East Asian standards. Taiwan, as a whole, is still mostly a collectivist society, which means that the needs and norms of the collective are put above those of the individual. That means conformism is celebrated, and aberrations to the norm are not viewed kindly, or are even punished.
I found myself caught in the duality of that. My culture and my parents were just open-minded enough to not completely shut down the alternative and rebellious worldview that I developed by listening to hip-hop and rock at the early age of 9. But I had a hard time connecting to the people around me, especially my peers at school. I was constantly made to feel different for my interests, my nerdiness, and the way I carried myself. The ostracism went from feeling like an outsider to being straight-up bullied, which only drove me further into wanting to prove myself with something that was “cooler” than having straight As.
The seeds of my artist dreams were planted around the age of 13. I think I ended up deciding that rather than trying to fit in to the cultural norm, I was going to put myself so far away from it that people would eventually respect me for how out-there I was. Getting people to stop seeing me as the weird nerd was a long and uphill battle, and I continued to be typecast in the social role of the nerd. But there was a gradual shift from being the “freak” to being “the rapper” and “the beatboxer.”
When I moved to the United States to study at UC Berkeley, being a nerd suddenly became cool. All of a sudden, I was surrounded by like-minded individuals—the key word being “individuals.” I found myself in an all-American, individualistic culture that was even more amplified by the theater and a cappella enthusiasts with which I spent most of my time. Weirdness? Great! Personality flaws? Just more to love! The overwhelming positivity of being in America consumed my life. At that point, I was still not sure whether I wanted to make performance art my career (although I definitely suspect some part of me knew all along), but I think my parents could probably tell, considering I spent most of my college days rehearsing for and doing theater shows.
I decided I was going to make this my career after graduating from UC Berkeley and working in marketing and sales for about two years. Many people ask me if I feel qualms about being an Asian-American woman in the music/entertainment industry. After all my talk on being ostracized, you probably know the answer. I’m no stranger to feeling like the odd one out, but I use my Asian experience in the music industry in the same way I used my weirdness among my Taiwanese classmates. Rather than trying to fit in as closely to “the mainstream” as possible or follow a trend of looking and sounding a certain way, I put myself so far away from what everyone is used to listening to, that it ends up standing by itself and delivering a unique perspective no one has delivered before. This theme of “owning your identity,” as well as my various life experiences, is pretty central to the songs on “Raging Ego.” I touch upon being called a freak, my school-day trauma, my sales job, and my college degree. As a debut album, I think it’s a pretty comprehensive look at my life thus far, and how my Asian background has influenced it.
Stream Raging Ego by LEX the Lexicon Artist on your fav digital platform, or grab a digital download or physical USB card at thelexiconartist.bandcamp.com. Can’t get enough? Head to the Ivy Room in Albany, Calif. at 860 San Pablo Ave for LEX’s next show on Monday, June 11. Follow LEX on Twitter and Instagram @lextheconartist.
Essay written by LEX the Lexicon Artist
Edited by Sara Hayden
Let’s Talk Story is a program about identity where you’re invited to share an anecdote from your lived experiences in the form of a live conversation, short oral history, or written essay. The goal is to keep a record that connects the past to the present, and bring our stories to life. Participate here.