Asian-American DJ Overcomes Life-Threatening Disease Before Grammy Nomination, Proves Power of Sheer Perseverance
For Jennifer Lee, a.k.a. Tokimonsta, the road to becoming the first female Asian-American producer to earn a Grammy nomination in the best dance/electronic album category was riddled with some of the most difficult circumstances anyone can face.
At the end of 2015, Lee was diagnosed with a rare and potentially fatal brain disease called Moyamoya. The illness involves the shrinking of one’s main arteries, forcing blood to go through weaker veins that can’t handle the pressure. “Without any treatment, most people don’t live past 40,” Lee explained in a 2017 Pitchfork article.
Lee decided to go through two surgeries in January 2016 without telling anyone about her illness beyond her mother, boyfriend, sister, and a few close friends. “I didn’t announce it online,” she wrote. “I wanted to avoid anything like, ‘Hey, everyone on the internet, by the way, I might die!'”
After the surgeries, Lee noticed she had lost the ability to speak, write, walk or even hear her own music. “All music just sounded like noise,” she told Pitchfork. “I remember being like, ‘Ooh, this is weird! This is metallic, harsh nonsense to me.’”
To make matters worse, her boyfriend dumped her shortly following the surgery. “That moment was probably the worst I’ve ever felt in my entire life,” she wrote of the breakup. “But that sadness allowed me to regain some clarity. I knew I had to overcome it.”
Lee decided to keep pushing and follow her passion. “I maintained hope that my ability to create music would come back,” she wrote. “I’m glad I did, because I think if I had pushed myself I would never have found the music again.”
Lee eventually regained her musical talents and made some of her most emotional tracks to date.
“It’s my most personal piece of work,” she wrote of the 2017 album “Lune Rouge.” “Because I’m making beats, it might not be as obvious, but each of these beats—all these songs I put together—tell a story.”
Just three months after surgery, Lee performed at Coachella in front of 15,000 people all while keeping her life-threatening battle with brain disease a secret.
Two years later, “Lune Rouge” ended up landing her a Grammy nomination.
Well before knowing how successful her album would be, Lee wrote a truly inspiring message about the power of perseverance.
“We all go through really terrible things and face hardships,” she acknowledged in the 2017 Pitchfork article. “If I can do something like this, anyone can.”