As Pan Wei Ju and I sit in a booth in a tiny Mexican restaurant in East L.A., I find myself telling her that her here and now music sounds like the future. She stares at me and takes another bite of her food. “I guess there wasn’t really a question there,” I say.
The 25-year-old Taiwanese rapper—who goes by Aristophanes on stage—is in town playing a couple of gigs after SXSW in-between recording new material for her debut album—slated for a 2017 release. Pan is petite with long platinum hair and has a gravitas about her. Despite the language barrier, it’s obvious she’s smart— scary smart.
Not too long ago Pan was teaching creative writing to teenagers in Taipei. The storytelling habit is evident in her music—which takes lyrics from writers like Gabriel García Márquez and layers this highbrow material with her otherworldly vocals. At a performance the night before our interview Pan stood behind a fold-out table with her MacBook Pro and a small mixer in front of her, howling and sighing into the microphone over glitched out beats.
The underground MC circuit in Taipei is a hard nut to crack, and perhaps even more so for a 20-something woman with an ethereal ow. All that changed when Grimes brought Pan in to collaborate on 2015’s critical darling Art Angels.
After listening to her dreamy, dark EP, No Rush To Leave Dreams, it’s obvious why Grimes would have seized the opportunity to work with her; but when speaking to Pan it’s equally obvious why the two artists would have clicked. They are both, in a word: intimidating.
Despite garnering an ever-growing fan base in the English-speaking world Pan raps entirely in Mandarin. I ask her what she thinks non-Mandarin speakers get from her music. “I don’t think it’s a big deal that people don’t understand what I mean,” she says, “because there is other information. I inspire with my voice, emotion, and the beats I pick.”
Last night at the end of her set Pan played a track from her upcoming album. It’s harder and faster than anything in her current catalogue. “The thing that I am trying to explore [with the album] is an outer space odyssey. It will be very cinematic,” she says explaining the concept of the album. “When we are adventuring in outer space, actually we are traveling in our mind. Because you are isolated you are adventuring, but it’s a very good time to look back on yourself.”
I ask Pan what adventure means to her. “You mean outside, or inside?” she asks. “Either,” I say. “Water is always flowing in a river,” she starts, “and you’ll change, or the water will change, just like nature will change itself. If I just sit here and think about something, I think that’s an adventure.”