After two star marking turns on RuPaul’s Drag Race, Aja has taken their attention and focused it back to music, with the critically praised artists’ sophomore release Crown. As this artist themself has evolved, so has their sound and music, with Crown showcasing a stripped down and self-assure Aja. While the makeup and look has definitely changed, the outspoken performer sat down with me to talk about their new release, their post Drag Race career, and public perception to their career evolution.
Michael Cook: You are an unofficial Asbury Park resident now, after the stunning turn you did with Honey Davenport for her video for Draw The Blood, that was filmed mainly at Paradise in Asbury Park.
Aja: Thank you so much! It was nice, I took a car there and had a great nap, and we were good to go!
MC: The new album Crown is absolutely amazing, and truly unique to the performer that you have evolved into, releasing tangible and amazing hip hop music. Does it feel surreal to you?
A: I really appreciate that because I feel like there is this thing that when you are queer and then you add in the Drag Race layer into it, people niche you into what you are doing as “just drag music”. The tea is, I am a musician. I am someone who is an artist and my artistry transcends labels. I feel like I am very inspired by David Bowie, Prince, musicians who just truly did not give a fuck and put their true image to the forefront. “This is me take it or leave it”’;I am really inspired by that energy right now.
MC: So in a post-pandemic world, we are going to be seeing a new and unbridled Aja of sorts…
A: It is insane, before the pandemic and before the BLM movement, people were giving me such a hard time with what I wanted to do with my career and my artistry. Ironically, after these movements and the pandemic, people are now starting to come around and saying that they appreciate my art. I’m like..”now”? Also, I feel like we should not be gatekeeping what artists want to do. If someone wants to become a circus performer for example, and you are already supporting that artist, what is the problem? We can support Lady Gaga acting in a film even though she is known for singing, we can support actors becoming musical artists, I dont understand that why when someone is queer or does drag, suddenly it’s like “we cant have too much of that”. I mean, look at the outrage with Lil’ Nas X right now..
MC: You bring up a great point. A good portion of the outrage directed as Lil Nas X is based on the fact that he has weaved spirituality into his art in a way that makes people uncomfortable. Your own spirituality is very important to you is that right?
A: I am a very spiritual person and my spirituality has defined a lot of the choices I make in my life. I have to choose between sticking to my own personal morale as opposed to what may be considered “normal” or “moral” for other people. For example, I am a very honest person and part of me being spiritual is I am not going to lie to myself; If I feel something, I’m gonna say it. Some people may read that as abrasive, but I’m brown so add that onto that, like suddenly I am angry. I don’t tiptoe my way around entertainment; at the end of the day I know I am a good entertainer and artist. I like what Lil Nas X did; it was like saying “we’re not gonna tiptoe”. When he came out, we already know. I had told my hype man that Lil Nas X was gay, I just felt it. When he came out, I was very happy. He is a black rapper, this is representation. I was scared about the moves he would make because you can be in the spotlight and turn into a conformist. You can turn into someone who is playing the game to get by, and that is something that a lot of queer people are forced to do in music. I think it’s so important that he basically said “fuck all of you I am going to do what I want”.
MC: How do you describe the material on your new album
A: My album honestly is a collection of stories told in chronological order about my life and my road to the crown. The crown representing completion, fulfillment, an elevated sense of self, pride and self-love. It wraps into my beliefs in a way also; in my spiritual faith, we have a term called “crowning”. I feel like the people that listen to this are going to get to know me for who I am. It is not going to be easy; as it stands today, people don’t want to let go of the image they got to know from television. I implore people to give it a chance and learn to appreciate the artist; stop thinking the art is the celebrity. One thing that happened to me through Drag Race is that people think the art is the celebrity, but people don’t want to respect the person behind that or acknowledge that it is a real person who goes through things just like everyone else.
MC: Now that your own Drag Race experience is in the rearview mirror, has the experience benefitted you or harmed your creative endeavors?
A: It has been a double edged sword. I never went through wanting to be on Drag Race for many years, so I don’t relate to that. I auditioned twice, and it was like ‘if it happens it happens if it doesn’t it doesn’t”. I feel like it’s important to acknowledge that everyone that goes on the show doesn’t want the same thing. I also think it’s important to acknowledge that it is a platform and a reality television snow. People call it the “Olympics of Drag” but in reality, it is a reality television show that’s entertaining. I think people take it a little too seriously.
MC: Your name came up frequently with Kandy Muse being on the show this past season. Was it surreal seeing your name pop up in the Drag Race lexicon all over again?
A: You know, no press is bad press honestly. If they bring up my name, it is because my presence on the show must’ve been significant enough to do so. As for Kandy, I am proud of my friend who is able to achieve their dream, I know this is something they wanted and I am happy for them. I would be happy for anyone that has helped me or that I have helped be able to achieve their dreams.
MC: Self-funded projects tend to be rewarding for the artists themselves, since it truly is a passion project. Do you find that to be the case?
A: I have invested everything that I have and own into my artistry right now. I feel like people don’t see that and think because I did television, I’m rich. It doesn’t work that way. A lot of musicians have labels that pay for videos or promotion and I don’t have that. When I was touring the world it was easier, if I wanted to drop forty thousand dollars on a video I could and I did. Now it is different, now that I am sort of just being a musician, I have to self fund everything. The demand for quality content is so hard to reach. I am such a perfectionist and once I go up I don’t want to go down. It has been sort of cathartic and mind-fucking to be in a position where I achieved a high tier in one art form and then am at the bottom trying to go back up on another art form.
MC: Are you ready to get back on the road and perform for the masses?
A: I am fully vaccinated and ready to do something, to be on stage. I miss performing a lot, being on stage is one of my favorite things. I was fortunate to use my platform to tour my music for almost two years. I am curious to see how things are going to go afterward. I have changed my act and refurbished my image. People think that “Aja doesnt do drag” so they won’t get quality looks or performance and that its “done”. I’m not done, I am literally changing the way I look and doing different things, but its still the same quality of entertainment. It’s such a silly thing but it’s true; I’m not here for a long time, I’m here for a good time. I have one life to live; I am not going to waste my time molding myself to what other people expect of me and want me to be. I am gonna do what I want regardless. That is a hard thing for people to do, people want to please the system or they want to achieve happiness through monetary gain or what they equivocate to success. For me, success is being happy. I have been there, had a million dollars in my account; for me it is not satisfying. You can have all the money and all the fans and still be miserable. My happiness has come from being able to uplift people, share my story, and help people heal their wounds. With my album Crown, I want to show people that I am not just wearing my crown, but you can wear yours as well.
MC: You’re a multi-layered and fascinating performer. What does Aja celebrate the most about Aja?
A: I feel like I have a lot of layers and people don’t get the opportunity to get to know me. Deep down though, I am really stripped of ego and I am a really humble person,. I feel like what I like to celebrate the most is other people. For me it is all about helping other people realize their potential. I know that I am “it” and I have star quality but it s not about me anymore. It’s about me sharing that star quality and that moment with other people.
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Buy Aja’s latest album ‘Crown’ here