Taiwanese-American Rapper Miss Ko survived a near fatal accident to become a star who rhymes like no one else on earth. Really.
Words by Kathy Iandoli
Back in October, Miss Ko led a Taiwan Music Night at NYC’s Webster Hall as part of the CMJ Music Marathon. The event was packed with fans, plugged into the artist (née Christine Ko’s) overseas success. However, upon meeting for dinner later that month, she breathed a sigh of relief to be in New York City saying, “It feels good to not be followed around.” That’s her reality as a hip-pop star in Taiwan. People follow you places. “Being in the public eye oftentimes makes you feel like a zoo animal, which can be fun or not, depending what you make of it,” she explains. There is a plus though. “I’ve had people tell me that they’ve been on the brink of suicide before, but after listening to my songs, they couldn’t help but feel hope,” she says. “I think that’s the best part: being able to inspire others to be better.”
Initially, the New York City native traveled to Taiwan to learn Chinese in 2010 for a few short months. “I didn’t feel like I learned enough and I wasn’t finished traveling, so I extended my trip,” she recalls. Ko enrolled in Mandarin classes at a local university and halfway through the semester her composition teacher asked her to write a jingle for an online competition since he knew she wrote songs for fun. “After liking what he heard and subsequently uploading it onto YouTube, my current manager, Dela Chang, signed me for further development,” she says.
With a little Chinese and a little English, Ko unlocked a rap pattern that Taiwan had never heard before from a rapper, let alone female rapper. “It’s a different rhyming pattern that I didn’t even know existed,” she explains. “When you can rhyme in English – multi-syllable English words – and you take that concept and apply it to Chinese, they don’t even know how it works, but I have that ability because I have both languages. Their rhymes are usually one syllable at the end, but I do two to three if I can so it sounds more fluid.”
Ko was given a government-sponsored grant to record an entire album, as part of an effort to boost the artistic morale in Taiwan. It all came to a screeching halt though, when she was involved in a near-fatal accident while riding her moped, as a cab driver cut her off at a major intersection. “I think my soul left before anything happened,” Ko says. A traffic video revealed that her small moped collided with the cab. “My heart dropped,” she said about watching the video, “and my mom cried.” Ko spent the following months with her mouth wired shut and a series of reconstructive surgeries. “My jaw’s fake,” she says, “and there about eight nails and two steel plates,” she adds, smiling. PTSD, intense physical therapy, and bouts of depression all followed. “My mom told me this idiom in Chinese, that translates to mean if something major happens to you and you survive it, you’re going to have great fortune afterwards,” Ko adds. “It gave me this positive outlook.”
Once fully healed, she was back in the studio to polish off her debut album Knock Out. Before the accident, Ko was toying with the idea of creating a song called “Slide,” inspired by the movement of unlocking an iPhone. The song was intended to be in English, but Ko had another plan. “I thought, ‘how can we make this adhere to the Chinese-speaking audience too?’” So she combined the two languages, and a hit single was born, with over a million YouTube views for the video to date.
Before even entertaining an album, Ko enrolled at New York University for a Masters In Music Business to appease her father. She was scheduled to attend in September of 2012, as her album was about to drop, and so she headed back to New York. “As I was sitting in my Entertainment Law class while discussing worldwide copyrights, I scoped the music charts in Taiwan and to my surprise my album topped the list for the month without any promotion,” she recalls. “At that moment, I knew I had to return to Taiwan. Despite having two very rare opportunities, one clearly had a bigger calling.”
2013 proved to be her biggest year yet, as she won the Golden Melody Award (a Taiwanese Grammy) for Best New Artist, a first for a hip-hop act and non-native. Her father, unaware that she dropped out of school, learned that his daughter was not a student but a superstar when she apologized to him during the speech for not being in school. “The whole audience was shocked,” Ko says. Since then, she’s recorded a Run DMC tribute track “Walk This Way” for Adidas (she’s a brand ambassador), along with starting her follow-up album set to release in 2014. For Ko, her most monumental movements have arrived from living the unexpected.
“Honestly, breaking your jaw and having it wired shut for two months is probably one of the worst experiences ever,” she says. “I’m much more grateful for all that I have. I’m not just referring to the success of my career, but to simply have the ability to breathe is a blessing. It’s easy to take something for granted when you already have it, but I have a lot to appreciate.”