Illustration: Russell Taysom
Taiwanese rapper and frequent Grimes collaborator, Aristophanes, is in a league of her own. If you can’t figure her out, you’re not alone—her rapturous mix of bubblegum lyrics, Gabriel García Márquez quotes and transcendent beats, has made her introduction to hip-hop seamless. But it’s also been hard—coming from the epicenter of modest Asian culture to the male-dominated and often misogynistic world of hip-hop, Aristophanes has had to hustle.
“If you wanna survive, you gotta have the patience for communication, and focus on your own thing without expecting support from others, especially males,” said the rapper. “You have to know who you truly are, so you can be strong through all the mansplaining, sexism and body shaming.”
She would know. As a female MC in the burgeoning Taipei rap scene, Aristophanes has become a prominent voice, her lyrics ranging from highly conceptual literary references to subversive feminist commentary that defies any rap world stereotype.
“If everyone just says what he/she wants, that’s fine with me,” she explained. “I am not interested in saying the ‘bitch/money’ thing, but I’m also not going to stop someone who wants to write about that.”
Having heard her first rap track less than 5 years ago, Aristophanes’ rhymes have more style and grace, than any rap veteran.
“The first rap song I ever heard was from the Taiwanese MC Soft Lipa,” she recalled. “I was 20 then, and I found it so interesting and poetic, that I started to make my own music.”
Her debut mixtape, 人為機器 (Humans Become Machines), is exactly that—soulful and innovative, like nothing I’ve ever encountered. Inspired by Björk, Pina Bausch and Italo Calvino, Aristophanes spits philosophical lyrics atop heavy experimental beats, waxing poetic on everything from modern dance to the human experience.
“I had a hard time starting the record,” she admitted, “getting all my ideas together. But once I had a clear concept, things were easy.”
Featuring collaborations with Grimes, Jam City, Kai Winston and Sandflower, Humans Become Machines is a radical take on contemporary hip-hop, putting Aristophanes at the top of a long list of emerging feminist rappers. Mostly in her native Mandarin, the record is a spellbinding introduction for a girl who’s ready to take on not just the scene, but the entire patriarchy.
“I love to explore with my lyrics,” she said, “I don’t even expect people to understand them. I just want to share my point of view with the rap world, generated from all my identities—I’m Asian and Taiwanese; I’m a woman, a literature fan and a cat lover.”
She’s also one of hip-hop’s most exciting new voices. Whether or not you speak Mandarin, it’s clear Aristophanes is about to leave her mark.
Photography: Puzzleman Leung
Styling: Lin Xiu Wei