Photo for Marek+Richard
“I am a rapper who happens to do drag”, is how drag queen Aja recently defined herself via Paper Magazine. The Brooklyn-based queen first came into the limelight on Season 9 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Although she went home early (placing ninth overall), she quickly became a fan favorite. Her legendary “You look like Linda Evangelista” speech to fellow contestant Valentina spawned countless memes and even a song. Aja immediately returned to the show on Season 3 of RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars, and quickly showed her true charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent. Now, she is ready to take the world by storm with her music, and follow in the footsteps of her fellow Drag Race sisters Trixie Mattel and Alaska. Her new EP, In My Feelings, showcases her rapping ability in and out of drag. Through six tracks, such as “Finish Her!” and “Brujería”, Aja combines intelligent references with her signature style. We spoke to Aja about her musical inspirations, her Drag Race journey, and what she wants people to take away from her drag.
KRISTEN (MODERN GIRLS): How was DragCon? (RuPaul’s biannual and bicoastal convention for all things drag.)
AJA: DragCon was amazing! It was successful; it was beautiful; it was great, except for that goddamn awful homophobic lighting.
K: How are you feeling now that your EP, In My Feelings, is finally out? Are you excited or nervous for fans to hear it?
AJA: I’m excited! Honestly, it seems like I’ve been working on it for a long time, but I started making it in the end of February, so it really hasn’t been that long. I just knew that from before I started doing drag, when I was 16, I was writing raps and they were all terrible. After growing up, and doing drag and getting to see a lot of the world, I was inspired and thought, “Let me start writing music again”. I had so much to say. I thought I would do a little introductory EP that was called “In My Feelings” because it’s really just about my emotional rollercoaster. The main theme is dichotomy. It can be happy and sad, afraid but excited; I just really wanted to put that message out there. My thing is, I’m very confident in my writing ability because I know that my references make sense. I know that my rhymes are good, maybe my flow needs a bit of work, but I think it’s still good for someone who is just starting to do this. But we all have room for improvement. I’m ready to see how far I can take this.
Photo for Marek+Richard
K: Do you want to release a full album in the future?
AJA: Absolutely! I just downloaded a bunch of instrumentals from other rappers and I’m going to release a mixtape in the summer, that’s basically just me putting my own feature on everyone else’s tracks. Sometimes I hear a track and think about how it would sound if I was on it. From there, I really want to give people my perspective on these songs. A mixtape would be good to show people diversity and different things I can do.
K: Are you going to perform any of your songs live at upcoming shows?
AJA: I definitely won’t be performing my songs live at drag shows, because I don’t really do my music from a drag point of view. I have performed my music live before, and I’m in the process of assembling a show to tour where I would be doing just my music. I’m really trying to make it amazing so I’m not rushing into it. I need to make sure my show is good.
K: The video for “Brujería” is filled with stunning witchy looks and stylistic references to your heritage, which women have inspired you either aesthetically or musically?
AJA: One of the biggest inspirations for me, in terms of writing music, is Nicki Minaj. A lot of people may not realize that Nicki Minaj is an intelligent writer. Everything she writes is super referential, it makes sense, and it tells a story. She really influences my style of writing because I always want to convey a message and put different themes into it. When I wrote “Brujería”, it was really me taking different themes that are serious and real but then also mixing them in with campy pop culture references. I wanted to show everybody that witches are among us. When I say witches, I’m thinking more how everyone is interested in being a witch, whether people admit it or not. The real magic in witchcraft is being able to be in control of your destiny. A lot of people don’t realize they have the magic in the palm of their hands.
K: You grew a lot from your first time on Drag Race (season 9) to All Stars (season 3), in your style, makeup, and mostly noticeably, your confidence. Would you credit that to the show in any aspect or just personal growth?
AJA: Honestly, my confidence never changed. I’ve always been the same person, and I feel like the only thing that changed was my spending budget. When I was doing Season 9, I was broke as hell and I didn’t have any resources. When I walked through the doors, I saw all these girls unpack their professionally-made wigs and costumes that other people designed. I didn’t have the resources for that, and I felt like I was at a little bit of a disadvantage. I feel like anybody like that who walks in the competition has to push extra hard. People always say “But that’s the competition”, but it’s not because when you have stress about not having your own aesthetic package completely put together, you are going to be worried. It’s an issue that a lot of queens have had. Like Chi Chi DeVayne (season 8), and on the current season with Monique Heart (season 10). I feel like if Monique Heart went there and she had a professionally built closet, she would have went so much further. She has so much personality, so much talent, and so much to give. The thing is, when you don’t have the costuming and you land in the bottom, there’s nothing to save you. I feel like if I had the budget, I would have done so much better. Also when we filmed season 9, I was not in the best living situation. I went to the competition thinking about what was going to happen when I got home, and if I would have a place to go. I feel like a lot of people didn’t really notice that because I feel like I came off very “in my head” on the show, but I really wasn’t in my head, I was more like, “What the fuck is going on?”.
K: That makes sense, but you also came back and killed it on All Stars (season 3).
AJA: It really just made it easier for me to come back, because I honestly felt like I just went back without worrying about stuff because I had all my costumes, and I had a home, so I had everything I needed. I went back and I was just like, “Whatever, if I go home I don’t give a fuck. Bitch I’m not here to be the best. I’m not here to be the best drag queen. I’m here to act a fool”. I’ve never attested to wanting to be the best at anything in drag. To me drag is fun.
K: I was so happy to see you come back, and honestly your “Red for Filth” Devil look is my favorite look of any queen, ever.
AJA: That look was inspired by Thierry Mugler. I kind of wanted to mix the idea of Thierry Mugler’s fancy silhouettes but with an 80s businesswoman librarian. I told BCALLA those references; I always give these really weird mixed concepts. When I put it on, I felt like I was about to just bring the hammer down. I felt like I was about to just judge everyone.
K: I just watched your interview with Mic, and I thought it was so important that you used that platform to talk about racism and bullying in the drag community. I feel like it’s rare that a drag queen gets a 45-minute interview to talk about these issues, so if people could take away one lesson from your drag, what would you want that lesson to be?
AJA: The one lesson I want people to take from my drag is to get the fuck over it. People spend all day bitching and complaining and moaning, but if you want to make a change, you’ve got to get up and do something. I just get so impatient when looking at people who just like to destroy their own lives or are the inner saboteurs of themselves. Yes, depression is real, and yes, anxiety is real. But, at the end of the day, these are emotions and things that we build ourselves. If we create that, we can destroy it as well. I believe in mind over matter. When I was growing up, I had PTSD for about six years and I used to have crazy panic attacks. And then one day I got up, and I said, “I can’t live my life like this. I cannot continue to get up and be afraid of the world and be afraid of this. Everything that I’ve been through, I will not let it be in vain”. It’s kind of hard to hear, “Get over it”. People feel like they’re entitled to feel grief and remorse. But life is precious and it’s short. I’d rather spend my time feeling happy and enjoying things. I’m not chasing happiness either. For me, the real feeling of happiness is just being content and knowing that things might be fucked up here and there or not the way you want it, but realizing that you can’t have control of every single thing in your life, and realizing that the only way to be happy is to be able to come to terms with that.
K: What does being a “Modern Girl” mean to you?
AJA: Being a modern girl to me, just means being in total control of yourself and owning your truth. Honestly, I feel like if you know what your truth is, you just live that. I’m not going to let nobody dictate me, my life, or my truth. I know who I am more than anybody else.