This article previously appeared on Crossfader
Aja is at the top of the game with the recent release of IN MY FEELINGS, an EP that explains the rapper’s framework and beliefs. Gaining notoriety through the drag universe, Aja is now using drag as a tool to further complement a musical career. Most people identify with Aja as a drag queen, but that was just the first step, and blurring the gender binary is on-brand; now, Aja’s career is transforming. I was able to speak with Aja a day after the IN MY FEELINGS release party, kicking off what’s hopefully a long career in music.
Nikki Reifler: Do you have intentions of performing the full track list of this EP?
Aja: I definitely plan to take this EP on tour, but I won’t necessarily be performing it as a drag artist, but as me. The EP was not really written from a drag perspective, it was written from me as a person. When I think of Aja, I don’t necessarily just think of Aja as a drag queen, I think of Aja as someone with a very blurred gender binary.
NR: Since Aja is not solely a drag artist, what does IN MY FEELINGS say about you musically and personally?
A: I drew inspirations from so many places, and one thing I really like to explore is emotional dichotomy. I feel like a lot of people will tell you that it’s not ok to experience two different emotions at once and I feel like the real beauty of life is that adrenaline you feel when you’re on an emotional rollercoaster. When I wrote IN MY FEELINGS, I really had that in mind.
NR: You have the song “Brujería” which reflects your practice of Santería, could you talk about this track and its Afro-Caribbean style?
A: When I wrote “Brujería,” it was giving an homage to Afro-Caribbean practices, but also playing with witchy references in pop culture as well, just to make it relatable for everyone. I wrote the track in a fun way, but in the music video, I put in a lot of symbolism. In the world, I feel a lot of Afro-Caribbean practices are misrepresented and a lot of people think “Oh, you worship the devil! You sacrifice chickens!” and crazy shit like that. Through the video, I wanted to show there’s a lot of beauty and culture that goes into these practices that the world doesn’t understand, because every time they look at that person wearing all white, they see them wearing devil horns.
NR: In your videos, I notice you feature yourself as a boy, which establishes you as a male rapper who happens to do drag. Does this play into where you want to take your career?
A: I really want to get signed onto a label. I love doing drag, but for me I’ve never been into the idea of being the best drag queen in the world. For me, drag has always been more of a platform to express my other talents. Before DRAG RACE, I didn’t really have the money, I’m not a big comedian or a method actress, I’m just someone who danced around in clubs to pay the rent. Now that I have the money after having the platform, I can invest in the things I really want to do. The two things I love to do are music and burlesque, that’s what I’m focused on now. My idea of being a performer is all about fashion, execution, and attitude.
NR: You’re using drag as a tool, but not something to rely on?
A: Right now, the goal for a lot of drag queens is to get on DRAG RACE. The real goal is what you do after that. For me, I didn’t have to think much about it. I wanted to do music before I ever started doing drag, I actually have an archive online of really terrible rap songs on a Tumblr. website I hope no one ever finds. I accomplished what I wanted to do in drag, now I want to explore my other dreams. Now that I have a platform to do it, it still includes my expression of drag and gender. Why not let me explore what nobody else is doing?
NR: Were any of the songs from IN MY FEELINGS written before you set to do this EP?
A: Nothing was prewritten, it was very, ya know how Lady Gaga says, “plane, plane, club, another club, another club?” That was me on tour, and it was hopping from the plane right to the studio to record a track I had just written on the plane. For the writing process, most of the songs were written in two or three hours. I was literally being a crazy brainstorming person. When I was writing the songs, if I didn’t ask to have the beat to be a certain way, I would think, “What should I make this beat?” and I would make the theme. For example, in “Ayo Sis,” I wanted to pay homage to the feminine entities in my life who I look up to, then I’d make a clever punchline that represents that person. There’s a part in “Ayo Sis,” “I stay getting fly like Amelia / Cruising on these bitches, me llamo Celia,” like Celia Cruz, who obviously wasn’t cruising on nobody. It was a crazy process, and I’m starting to work on a bigger, full-length album and I’m really taking the time for people to see my work ethic at my full potential. I couldn’t help it, I needed to put out something now.
NR: “Ayo Sis” has become identified as your catchphrase, but what does it represent?
A: The term “Ayo, sis” was a joke between me and my friend, then it turned into calling everyone your sis. The real thing there is referring to powerful females as my sisters, saying I’m a feminist. The whole gender thing right now is not equal, but I was raised by women, so it’s something I hold close to my heart.
NR: What references do you channel?
A: Each song has a different vibe, for example, “Finish Her!” has the videogame vibe, but “Bitch I’m Kawaii” has a way more anime vibe. Then “Art God” has a classical vibe and samples Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” but a trap remix that goes into a house breakdown, something I’ve never heard someone else do.
NR: What do you listen to that has shaped your style?
A: I love referential rap. I used to read a lot of books, so when I hear rap and pick up on references that only someone who spends 12 hours on Wikipedia should know, then I go, “Werk!” I really love Nicki Minaj’s raps, she’s always including such a fun wide range of references. I love Tyler, the Creator who is so aggressive and rude with his raps, and he’s not afraid to channel his raw emotions. I really love Azealia Banks’ music, I think she has great flow and she’s a walking instrument, always making sounds with her mouth. I don’t want to rap about lip gloss and lace fronts, I want to rap about real shit.
NR: IN MY FEELINGS is phase one of your career, where do you see your career going and what are fans going to be expecting?
A: I really want to tour with my music and do more music videos, I’m a visual whore. I want to do some mixtapes, I want to show how I would’ve rapped certain songs. And I want to get signed!
NR: Why does everyone need to love Aja?
A: I’m someone who is 100% authentic, I don’t feel I’m one-in-a-million, I’m one in a billion. I give everyone the benefit of the doubt, I love to give back to all my communities with a positive message. No matter what obstacles get in my way, whether in being a queer person or person of color or anything, I will override that with resilience. Most people start their music career with no exposure, and I’ve started after being exposed through national television. If I don’t get noticed, I’ll be very surprised, and I say that in a hopeful, wishful way. I just put into the universe what I want to happen.
NR: What should we all look out for on IN MY FEELINGS?
A: I just want people to listen to the EP and get curious. I want you to look up those references, break them down, and tell me what you think it means. I can’t wait to see what everyone thinks. A lot of people have said the same thing, they were very surprised thinking it was going to be about lip gloss, high heels, and YASSS. The album is legit real music talking about real shit.