As for musical subgenres, nerdcore hip-hop wouldn’t exist in its current form without the internet. The makers — self-proclaimed nerds who rap as misfits about video games, sci-fi, or just everyday life — record music at home, collaborate via web file transfers, and find stranger cheerleaders online.
That’s how Alex Sun Liu, who goes by the stage name LEX the Lexicon Artist, found her people.
Liu learned to beatbox through beatboxing forums as an above-average teenager in Taiwan. While she perfected violin solos and was top of her class, she traded tips with beatboxers from Germany and France.
Now 28, Liu has expanded her repertoire to three nerdcore albums and has toured the US with like-minded artists. She raps about her psychology degree, referring to Descartes. She rhymes about dating with jokes, using hotel chain puns. In a music video for a track titled “Peep Game,” she addresses her skills while lying on a bed of marshmallow chicks. It all sounds very fancy, and that’s the point.
“No matter how weird you are, there will always be a pocket to exist in,” Liu said. “If you’re a goth, there’s going to be a goth scene for you. If you love metal, there are metalheads. If you’re a certain type of queer, there will be a queer community for you.”
She credits the internet for expanding her world outside of Taipei and later in Berkeley, California, where she attended college, across the country, around the world, doing similar things.”
Alongside other Bay Area musicians like spoken word artist Watsky and Daveed Diggs of Hamilton, Liu is inspired by South Korean singer Psy.
“He embraced what made him unique and not what people expect from K-pop,” Liu said. “He’s middle-aged, not a perfect Ken or Barbie, but an amazing dancer and rapper with incredible charisma and star power. He turned his ‘Gangnam Style’ internet moment into a long-lasting global career.”
While Liu isn’t a household name (she has a job as a booking manager for a New York arts venue that “specializes in nerdy entertainment”), her fans are very dedicated to her work. They show it through supportive comments on Instagram and YouTube. Liu may not share a fan base with the hip-hop artists who shaped their musical leanings in Taiwan (Eminem, Dr. Dre, and 50 Cent), but their verses have found the right corners of the rap internet — where listeners can’t just one good beat but also lyrics about embracing your weirdness.
She cites “Artist Anthem” as a fan favorite, a track about being a creative person set on poppy melodies. Released in 2018 as part of her debut album, Raging Ego, it begins with a verse where she introduces herself as an artist who not only writes her own songs, but does them well. From there, the song takes a turn: “I’m an artist and I hate myself!”
“I think people enjoy the juxtaposition of goofy and dark in this song, and anyone with any level of artistic mindset — whether they’re a writer, musician, visual artist, or any type of creative — can relate to the constant flipping back and forth.” between ‘I love myself!’ and ‘I hate myself!’” Liu said.
She said she was drawn to hip-hop artists as a young person because they conveyed their unfiltered emotions.
“My first album was pretty smug. I wanted to express that socially unacceptable part of me,” Liu explained.
What she considered “self-centered” resonated with others.
“Many fans have told me that the song is ‘too real’ and they almost can’t laugh at it because it’s so relatable,” Liu said.
Through connections she made online, Liu was soon performing at a nerdcore showcase at Austin’s South by Southwest. There she met people she had only met online and toured nationally.
“I expected touring would be my life,” Liu recalled. Then 2020 happened.
The daughter of doctors, including one who “worked her way out of poverty,” Liu excelled academically but always felt like an artist at heart. Without the joy of performing on stage, she began to question her music career. She held marketing positions in the post-college years, but it wasn’t until she took up her current position at an art company that things finally clicked. Now she’s taking time off to perform on the go.
When Liu recorded this interview with Firefox during a tour stop in Los Angeles last spring, Liu joked that it “probably came as close as I could ever be to fame.” But she said she doesn’t subscribe to any defined standards for an artist, an Asian American, or even any human being.
“We’re too concerned about being perfect and normal,” Liu said. “I want to show people that you can find your own success by making your own scene and being very weird.”
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