TOKiMONSTA’s 2017 album Lune Rouge was a love letter to music itself. The Los Angeles producer, born Jennifer Lee, had recently undergone brain surgery for Moyamoya disease, a rare neurological condition, and the recovery had left her temporarily unable to process speech or music. “I was faced with the possibility of never being able to make music, not even being able to understand music, for the rest of my life,” she tells Apple Music. “Fortunately, I bounced back from it, so Lune Rouge was an explosion of celebratory ideas.” But with her sixth album, Oasis Nocturno, she wanted to make something more focused. Having branched out from her beat-music roots to embrace broader strains of pop and R&B songwriting, Lee was keen to try something more concise, and more intimate, too—more in keeping with the exploratory beats she taught herself to make in her college dorm room. “I was missing warmth in music,” she says. “Music nowadays is so crispy and clinical-sounding and sharp.” Oasis Nocturno channels that warmth into a journey across the night. Along the way, she’s assisted by a dynamic crew of collaborators—including hitmaking songwriter Bibi Bourelly, surrealist Atlanta rap duo EARTHGANG, and Nigerian American sister act VanJess—and she also takes an unexpected detour into slow, sultry dance grooves that draw on her fondness for deep house. Ultimately, Oasis Nocturno is an album about finding one’s bearings. Making it, she tells us as she talks through each of its tracks, represented the chance “to step away from all the trauma and pain. Now it’s like, let’s make some art.”
Love That Never "You can’t really love anyone else if you can’t love yourself. I know that can come off really corny, but I think that’s the consciousness we’re all rising to at this moment. You can see that with the self-care movement: People are focusing on themselves. There are these little vocal clips that say, 'Love that never touches,' 'It doesn’t feel,' and it’s about how we can feel fulfillment in ourselves. Love can be hard. It can make us feel empty, and barren, and exhausted, and parched, when we’re giving out so much of that love to someone else. I wanted to create a song about this love that’s fully just for us."
One Day (feat. Bibi Bourelly and Jean Deaux) "It’s all written, performed, and produced by women, but it wasn’t with that intention. It’s really about being misunderstood and feeling as though the world is against you. Lots of people have made all three of us feel small in different ways, and one day, essentially, we’re going to get past all that and show everyone how great we really are. It’s a really poignant statement from Bibi. At the time we were writing this, she was going through quite a lot, too. She’s a young, very sought-after songwriter, writing big hits for people, and yet she’s an artist herself and she has growing pains, things that she’s dealing with. Half the session was writing the song and half was therapy. It was cool to be able to be there and be like, 'Hey, we’re not just here for business. How are you doing? Are things okay?' That’s what makes these songs so meaningful to me. There’s a rapport. There’s a connection between the artist and myself."
Get Me Some (feat. Drew Love and Dumbfoundead) "I was like, 'I miss making beats like I used to make.' I tried to work on it with a bunch of people, but I couldn’t tell if people really understood writing to a beat like that—maybe because it was too throwback and everyone now is just used to writing to trap beats or EDM. But Drew Love really killed it. He performed it in a manner that’s very different to what he usually does. I didn’t request it—I never try to step on anyone’s toes—but he just made a song that was so fun and the energy was great. To be able to put on Dumbfoundead was the cherry on top. I’ve known that guy for so long. We both used to be super broke together in LA. Obviously, he’s thriving now, and yet over the 15 years or so that I’ve known that guy, we hadn’t really worked on any music together. So it’s cool to bring it all together and create this song that very much reminds me of Project Blowed and the Low End Theory."
Renter’s Anthem "The original working title was something really stupid like 'Weird Nonsensical Dance Song.’ The lyrics being repeated throughout are saying, 'Are you hanging on?' Even though it’s a silly, fun house song, I wanted it to be uplifting at the same time, so that’s why I called it 'Renter’s Anthem.’ Because life is hard—young people are struggling, and sometimes it’s hard to pay that rent. It’s an ode to the young starving artist, or the young college kid, or anyone out there who’s renting: 'Are you holding on? Are you doing okay? You’ll make it.'”
Up and Out "Sometimes I make these songs and the next day I listen to it and I’m like, 'I have no idea how I made that.' I made it very late at night, which is usually how I function anyway. I just wanted to make a beat with a dope rhythm. I started off with the drums, which is not something I do a lot; usually I start with the melody, but I was like, 'Let’s make a beat that bangs, that has good swing, that’s really catchy and bouncy.' So I tapped into my classic J Dilla influence. I wanted to make a snappy beat, but I wanted it to be melodic and I wanted it to evolve, so there’s that turnaround at the end, where the vibe changes."
Fried for the Night (feat. EARTHGANG) "Me and EARTHGANG got into the studio, and my manager, who doesn’t always stop by on my sessions, brought all this liquor store candy, like Sour Patch Kids and Kit Kats. We were just completely losing it eating all this sugar. If you listen to the lyrics, they’re really, really trippy, but they all make sense at the end of the day. 'Fried for the Night' was a title I gave to a completely different beat. When EARTHGANG decided they wanted to write to this beat, I think they forgot the title was from a different song, so they started writing about being fried for the night. It just became this trippy song—a really cool take on what it means to be fried, whatever being fried means to you."
Phases (feat. Sunni Colón) "'Phases' is one of my favorites. It’s the one song on the entire album where I engineered it from top to bottom. I recorded the vocals at home and engineered them, and I produced it and mixed it. I felt very connected to this particular song. The vibe is what I think of as my classic energy. It’s very deep and humbling, and it has this kind of romantic tinge to it as well. I love music like that. And Sunni Colón killed it. Yeah, it’s a vibe, to say the least."
Come and Go (feat VanJess) "This is like a modern-day R&B power-ballad kind of vibe. VanJess are sisters—they’re so amazing. This was like working with Bibi Bourelly on 'One Day': It was like therapy. When one of the sisters would be recording in the booth, I’d be talking with the other sister about her boyfriend. They’re both newly in love with new guys, so they were filled with that new relationship energy. But they’ve also been burned in the past, so they weren’t going in with no knowledge. They were very realistic. The idea behind the song is that love comes and goes, and at the end of the day, what are you going to do? These people can be a presence in your life for just a short amount of time, and you have to learn how to deal with it. I broke up with my boyfriend after making the song. You’ve got to pick yourself up off the ground and move on, because love is going to come and go."
To Be Remote "This is one of the first songs I knew was going to end up on this record. 'To Be Remote’ is about this idea of being meditatively, intentionally self-distancing, but in a good way. What is it like to be alone in the middle of the night? Everyone is asleep. The streets are quiet and you can exist in this kind of dark peace. The song starts with a lot of field recordings of storms and rain. I know that can sound dark, but in LA, a good rainy moment feels kind of nice. You feel okay being at home and being remote from other people. That’s the mood I was in when I made this song: finding that peace in the darkness of the night, and not being fearful of it but having it evolve into this beautiful, amazing journey."
House of Dal "Dal means ‘moon' in Korean, and my mom’s name is Moon—not Dal, but actually Moon. So this is a dedication to her. I didn’t want to say Moon explicitly, because that would be too on the nose. Musically, it’s a combination of koto, which is a Japanese string instrument, and gayageum, which is like the same thing but Korean. It’s definitely one of the more electronic songs on the album, but the mood and the energy are still very much me. I’ve always been inspired by house and techno, because when I was growing up raving in LA, I would listen to house and techno and drum ’n’ bass. Starting off as a musician, I wanted to make rap beats, but now I want to see how I can reincorporate those early electronic elements into my work in a way that respects all of my influences."
Higher Hopes (feat. Rosehardt) "I was introduced to Rosehardt by a friend who was trying to set him up with people in LA while he was visiting. He’s so warm, so talented and amazing, and I just felt, 'Hey, I want to make a song with you.' He had a song called 'High Hopes' and I decided I wanted to remix it. So 'Higher Hopes' uses the vocals from his own song, but I scrapped the instrumental, like I usually do for remixes, and repurposed his vocals to make it completely different. It was a cool flex for me. I was changing the tones and melodies of his voice, and then it became this kind of emotional masterpiece. I like to be able to offer that, because in electronic or beat music, the vast majority of producers are men. We don’t hear a female perspective a lot of times, and I’m glad that I can offer music produced with that kind of intention and perspective in mind."
For My Eternal, Oh Dream My Treasure "This album is meant to take you from dusk ’til dawn—all the moods you experience throughout the night, from going out with your friends to the moment where you eventually hunker down, back at home, and you’re sitting in bed, alone with your thoughts. So this last song is a moment to relax, to center yourself, be introspective. The whole album gets more introspective toward the end, but this is like the palate cleanser, like, 'Cool, I’m ready to go to bed.' But I also set it there so that when the song finishes, it goes very nicely back into the beginning of the album. That’s something I try to do with all my projects: have the album create a cycle, like how life is, or a day. So at the end of that last track, you can go back into the very first one. We all live high-stress lives, so it’s cool to have a song where I can turn it on and take a breather in the car, chill—life is good, everything will be okay. Just to have that sense of peace—that’s what I wanted to offer in this song."