AJA: FROM DRAG TO RAP SUPERSTAR
Drag Race royalty Aja is on the cusp of mainstream success with their debut studio album, Box Office.
Aja, the non-binary Brooklyn darling, has proven to be more than just a ‘Ru girl’. Known for high concept videos, killer looks, and fierce rhymes, Aja’s new music is incredibly authentic. They own their identity and are in control of their narrative. The album inspires. It’s empowering. It’s a record that acknowledges and celebrates all of what Aja is. “The album is truly a mini biopic,” they explain. “I’m saying, ‘Hey, this is where I came from. This is who I am.’”
Box Office has all the potential to be a crossover success. It’s not just an album by an LGBTQ+ artist; it’s a great rap/hip hop record all around. Plus, it features some amazing collaborations with CupcakKe, Rico Nasty, Shea Couleé, Lady Luck and Momo Shade.
The self-penned studio album is Aja’s follow up to their critically acclaimed EP, In My Feelings. V caught up with Aja to discuss the new album.
The album is very honest. You reference your life experiences, finding your identity, personal thoughts, and feelings. Was it hard to be so open? To put your life out there?
Honestly, it wasn’t that hard to be open. I think the real battle to overcome when you’re just trying to be yourself and transparent is understanding and knowing that people are going to judge you positively and negatively. It will be personal but at the same time it doesn’t matter because when you’re being yourself, you know, it’s just the most important part of living. Just being you and being an open book. For me, I’ve never had qualms about being an open book so it was really easy to just put it down into music.
What inspired the album’s title, Box Office?
At first, it had no title. I was just writing songs, and these really different themes. Then I started to really realize, well, all these songs are so heavily based on media…I just don’t consider myself to be “just a rapper,” but I do consider myself to be a full package entertainer. So when you go to see someone’s show, when you go to the movies, you hit up the booking office first. You get a ticket. I thought of the album as being one-way ticket to heae about my life and experiences.
What can we expect from the Box Office tour?
People can expect to see me being honest and being extremely genuine and loving my fans, because I love my fans so much. I think I just have this relationship with my supporters that a lot of people don’t really have because I feel that there’s this sort of lack of intimacy with your supporters these days. With me, I kinda just realized that without my supporters, I wouldn’t be anything.
It’s clear that you love music. Growing up, who was your favorite artist?
When I was growing up, honestly the people who spoke to me the most were the female rappers like Nicki Minaj, Lil’ Kim, Missy Elliott, Trina, but also I loved Jay-Z, Eminem. I just really had a thing for musical artist who were very clever with their wordplay. I love clever wordplay so much, I love metaphors and I think that there’s something so intelligent about people who can convey a message without having to be so literal.
You’ve collaborated with so many amazing people on this record, what did you enjoy about that process?
Getting the collaboration wasn’t too easy because I think being a queer rapper, a lot of people didn’t take my project seriously. We hit up a lot of people, honestly, and I’m being completely transparent; everyone who is on the album is everyone that responded back. And that was crazy to me, the people who I worked with on the album were so easy, so genuine, and so nice. And I feel like it was a blessing because… it doesn’t just happen that you get to work with people, especially people who are in the hip hop community that are easy and nice to work with. For me, finding collaborations was like, every time I went to seek out a feature that person needed to shit perfectly on the song. They needed to match the vibe, they needed to match my lyrics. A lot of people won’t actually know this, but when I first wrote “Clowns”, it was a completely different song. When I decided to put Rico Nasty on it, I rewrote the entire song, so that it would match Rico Nasty more because I thought that the chemistry needed to be there in order for the song to really sell. I’m so happy I did because I honestly love the way the song came out. It’s the same thing for “Safari Zone”, at first, “Safari Zone” was a completely different song, a completely different beat. It was actually supposed to be a song called “Slumber Party”, and then when CupcakKe agreed to the feature I was like, “Okay, well I don’t really wanna put CupcakKe on a song called “Slumber Party” because no one’s really sleeping on her, she’s a badass bitch! People love CupcakKe. I said, ‘Okay, what’s the song for CupcakKe?’… you know honestly, in my opinion, it’s like shaking your lil ass, having fun, and when I got that beat, it was the one.
You lyrics and song titles reference Transformers, Sabrina, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Kill Bill. What were your favorite TV shows and movies growing up?
Honestly, I’m such a horror nerd. I loved anything horror, I was always into the big horror franchises, Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, the whole Chucky series, but also the campy television shows. Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Bewitched, anything to do with witchcraft or like you know anything super silly but scary. I always love that type of thing. It wasn’t until I really got older that I got into action films, ones with deeper meaning. I really got into appreciating Kill Bill, the Fast and the Furious series. Media has always being a development in itself for me because, I’m so picky with what I like to see.
You’re known for high concepts videos, and killer looks. How would you describe your aesthetic? What inspires you?
I’ve struggled with image for a long time, and one of the things that I just really think about when I’m visual directing, or putting a package together is just… something that I love the most is… like… me, and I know that sounds weird, but some people I feell don’t [feel that way]. They’re not styled correctly, or they don’t know what they wanna wear. Sometimes fashion just means that you know your style and you’re killing it. For me, I just go for things I like. I like a little bit of shinny, a little bit of athletic and honestly a lot of hood. My style is just kinda like, I’m hood but I’m rich, that’s my style. A little bit of like, Japanese street fashion, that I’ve always been into. I’ve been obsessed with this sort of harajuku lick, It’s not necessarily full on harajuku but it’s a lick of it, whether it’s in the color palette, because I love pastels and I love vibrant colors, or with just the hairstyles. I’ve always had a thing for that style.
You’re featured in H&M’s first pride campaign along with Kim Petras and Gus Kenworthy. How did it feel to be apart of that?
It was so great and so fun being able to work with those people because it’s not an opportunity that’s handed to everyone, and I think that one of the reasons I was chosen for the campaign was that everyone knows that I’m a very outspoken person. I have a lot to say, and theses sort of campaigns, especially when they’re picking artists for the campaign, it’s really about people who want to inspire other people and who are just unapologetically themselves. It really was a compliment for them to request me. To be in it was an accomplishment, and I hope I get to do more endorsements, hopefully sometime soon…and not even relating to pride because it’s more than just June and July. A lot of us have so much more to say. But I am very grateful for H&M and that campaign. It was very surreal, getting to walk into stores all around the world. I was touring when the campaign was active and I got to see myself on huge billboards. I got to see myself in Times Square. I got to see myself in almost every single store that I went to, it was surreal.
Drag Queens have become icons and heroes for the queer community. Growing up, who were your heroes?
When I was growing up, honestly …. It’s gonna sound really bad but I didn’t have many heroes. I also grew up really lonely, so I didn’t really look up to many people but I think if there was one, that person who really did speak out to me would have to be… honestly, anyone that was really, really weird. So people like Björk, people who just went to the beat of their own drum, didn’t really care what other people had to say, designers like Vivienne Westwood, those type of people who were so like punk to me because they were like, well everyone’s doing this, so I’m just gonna do this.
You’ve created a career beyond the Drag Race fandom, would you ever return to compete in another season of All Stars?
Absolutely not. Reality TV is not in the books for me, it doesn’t really have anything to do with my career and where it’s heading now. I’m just so focused on the music and I feel like being on reality TV again…a competitive series would just throw me off. Because I don’t feel like my art is competitive, and I also feel like you can’t really compare what some of us do. I just feel like the show’s main purpose is entrainment because the reality is, art is subjective. It’s just like this: there’s some people invested in the art of drag and there’s people who use drag as a medium for the art that they’re actually invested in. If you put 15 people in a competition and 10 of them are invested in drag but 5 of them are invested in drag as a medium, and then those 5 are the only 5 that make it to the end, that show is not about drag. I feel like it’s always about the person who can sell their art the most, those people who can sell their art the most aren’t really invested in drag. They’re more interested in selling their art. They’re using drag as a medium… and then what happens is, they win and then they’re stuck and bound to having to present the image the fans want. I don’t really do this for other people. I do this for me and I do this to uplift others. So I don’t feel obligated to fit any type of mold because I don’t feel like I was born to do that. Let someone else who doesn’t have a backbone fill the mold. I just wanna live my life and I wanna be happy, and if I can make other people happy and uplift them while I’m being happy, that is when you’re feeling really good.
Box Office is out now, available for streaming and download. Aja will be touring across the US, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. More details can be found on Aja’s website.