As far as music subgenres go, nerdcore hip-hop wouldn’t exist in its current form without the internet. Those who create it — self-proclaimed nerds who rap about video games, science fiction or just everyday life as a misfit — record music at home, collaborate via web file transfers and find cheerleaders out of strangers online.
That’s how Alex Sun Liu, who goes by the stage name LEX the Lexicon Artist, found her people.
Liu learned how to beatbox through beatboxing forums as an overachieving teen in Taiwan. While perfecting violin solos and being top of her class, she traded pointers with beatboxers from Germany and France.
Now 28, Liu has expanded her repertoire to three nerdcore albums and has toured with like-minded artists across the U.S. She raps about her psychology degree while referencing Descartes. She rhymes about hookups with jokes using hotel chain puns. In a music video for a track titled “Peep Game,” she talks up her skills while lying on a bed of marshmallow chicks. It all sounds very offbeat, and that’s the point.
“Regardless of how weird you are, there’s always going to be a pocket for you to exist in,” Liu said. “If you’re a goth, there will be a goth scene for you. If you love metal, there will be 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 Taipei, and later, Berkeley, California, where she attended college, saying that “you don’t realize how limiting your locale is until you get on the internet and realize that there are so many people all across the country, all across the world, doing similar things.”
In addition to other Bay Area musicians like spoken word artist Watsky and Daveed Diggs of “Hamilton” fame, Liu is inspired by the South Korean singer Psy.
“He embraced what made him unique and doesn’t conform to what people expect K-pop to be,” 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’s not a household name (she holds a day job as a booking manager for a New York City arts venue that “specializes in nerdy entertainment”), her fans are very engaged with her work. They show it through supportive comments on YouTube. Liu may not share a fan base with the hip-hop artists who formed her musical inclinations in Taiwan (Eminem, Dr. Dre and 50 Cent), but her verses have found the right corners of rap internet — where listeners not only appreciate a good beat, but also lyrics about embracing your weird.
She cites “Artist Anthem” as a fan favorite, a track about being a creative person set to poppy melody. Released in 2018 as part of her first album, “Raging Ego,” it starts with a verse introducing herself as an artist who not only writes her own songs but does it well. From there, the song takes a turn: “I am an artist and I hate myself!”
“I think people enjoy the juxtaposition of goofy and dark in that song, and anyone with some level of an artist mindset – whether they’re a writer, a musician, a 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 of how they conveyed their unfiltered emotions.
“My first album was quite self-indulgent. I wanted to express this socially unacceptable part of myself,” Liu explained.
What she thought was “self-involved” resonated with others.
“A lot of fans have told me that the song is ‘too real,’ and that they almost can’t laugh at it because it’s so relatable,” Liu said.
Soon, through connections she made on the internet, Liu performed at a nerdcore showcase at South by Southwest in Austin. There she saw people she had only met online, and she went on to tour nationally.
“I expected touring would be how my life was going to be,” Liu recalled. Then 2020 happened.
A daughter of doctors, including one who “studied his way out of poverty,” Liu excelled academically but always felt she was a performer at heart. Without the joy she got from performing on stage, she began to question her music career. She held marketing positions in the years after college, but it wasn’t until she landed her current role at an arts company when things finally clicked. Now, she takes time off work to perform on the road.
While taping this interview with Firefox during a tour stop in Los Angeles last spring, Liu joked that it was “probably the closest I’ll ever get to being famous.” But she said she doesn’t subscribe to any defined standards for an artist, an Asian American, or for that matter, any human.
“We’re too worried about being perfect and being normal,” Liu said. “I want to show people that you can find your own success by making your own scene, and by being very weird.”
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