You think you know AJA? Well, think again. From drag royalty, to fashion icon, to rap trailblazer, few artists can compare résumés with this fierce entertainment juggernaut. In anticipation of their brilliant new album 'Crown', Dreaming caught up with AJA to discuss fan expectations, spiritual reinvigoration, and their bold new direction...
AJA is a fearsome warrior. Respected by those who fight their fight and ready to unleash their deadly arsenal on all who oppose them. Those familiar with AJA the queen, and AJA the artist, know that there aren’t many differences between the two. AJA doesn’t need to crank their personality up to 100, or get into character - Their natural demeanour is already at 110. In an industry based on illusion, AJA is reality. A living doll that embodies freedom at its most potent - whether that freedom is lyrical, political, or sexual is solely determined by AJA themselves. In short, absolutely nobody on the face of planet earth will ever tell AJA what to do and live to tell the tale.
“I’m unintentionally trailblazing. I’m not really trying to be different. I’m just doing what I want to do. I mean that as someone who has this huge platform for drag. Any day that I want to put on a wig and twirl, someone will be there with a cheque. People can believe that I’d fizzle out, but if I didn’t stop doing drag I would be working for the next 30 years. And I know that because I have presence and talent. Which is why I believe in myself enough to go in another direction”.
Don’t act like you don’t know who AJA is. Born in Brooklyn New York, and of Puerto Rican/Nigerian heritage, they began their legendary drag career as an eager sixteen year old. Since then their rise to the top has been unstoppable. With a mixture of natural skill, and dedicated hard work, the founder of the famed Haus Of AJA has become a true legend of New York night-life. Oh and then there’s Drag Race, where AJA's firecracker personality and sickening looks won the hearts of millions of fans worldwide. During their celebrated runs on season nine and All Stars Three, AJA was a human highlight reel who delivered stand out moments every time they took on a challenge. It takes real courage to shake up a formula that’s worked so well, but AJA had done just that. Their new album ‘Crown’ is a bold statement of identity, completing the metamorphosis from drag icon to rap star.
“Girl, Going from one act to another, not everybody is going to be on board. I’m an artist by default, all I’m doing is changing my canvas. I spent so many years curating characters that I really yearned to express my emotions through my art. Learning more of about who I am inside made me feel like I didn’t need drag to represent who I was.”
As the old saying goes, heavy is the head that wears the crown. AJA began to contemplate that there was something more, and, as they began to search for meaning, a whole new perspective was uncovered. One which led to AJA focusing on the beauty of their own gender-queer identity and non-binary truth.
“I came to realise that what I was trying to do in drag was literally just me. I don’t want to identify with this construct of gender, my spirit goes masculine and feminine ways. Of coarse, you can be non-binary and still do drag - you can be anybody and do drag. Bitch if you are alive you can do drag. But for me the only reason I was doing drag was for the medium to present what I wanted to present. I’m a queen 24-7. I don’t have to put on make up to wear my crown. I wake up with my crown, I go to bed with my crown. It’s equal parts liberating and frustrating, and I give kudos to the people who can figure it out”.
It’s evident from the opening track that this is a very different AJA record. The braggadocios pomp of ‘Box Office’ gives way to an introspective and mature demeanour. This is AJA rapping from inside out, and harnessing the power of self-understanding. Tracks like ‘21 Roads’ and ‘Tough Love’ are intimate to the point of catharsis, as Aja leads a group healing session by letting themselves be truly vulnerable.
“I feel like box office was an album of distractions for me, while crown is everything that I was actually going through. I feel like I created this fantasy world and this messy unbeatable person. When you listen to ‘Crown’ from front to back, it’s me telling a story of me overcoming depression, suicidal thoughts, and learning to love myself. It’s literally my secret happiness journey.”
Make no mistake though, AJA is still a badass. ‘Crossbow’ is an aggressive reminder that the enlightened assassin is the most dangerous one, as AJA unleashes bar after bar with lethal intent. The fierceness and fun that AJA built their reputation upon is well represented here too. Tracks like 'Black Ariel' and 'Like Lightning' are real floor-fillers, crackling with ball room inspired energy. Once the pandemic has passed, AJA is planning the mother of all live tours to truly capture the ‘Crown’ experience.
“Bitch, let me tell you something, I have such a sick show that I want to do for this album. Usually the thing is I have all of the creativity but none of the budget, but this time I’m envisioning my biggest fantasy and I don’t care how much it costs. Bitch I have the format, the plan, and I’ll be ready”.
Throughout this record it is abundantly clear that AJA has levelled up their game exponentially, with songs such as 'White Couture' displaying some truly world-class mic skills and a commanding presence. AJA already possessed all of those attributes, the difference is that 'Crown' takes those elements and refines them in to something truly powerful, breaking down barriers to unite rap and queer culture.
“I’ve had some people say the meanest shit because I decided to do rap instead of what is expected of queer people, like pop or club music and whatever. I don’t even like that type of music so how can I make it? I do like house, but the truth is that what people are listening to these days isn’t my thing. I need to follow my heart and do the genre I want to do. Rap music is a part of black culture and being queer doesn’t always align with black culture. So going into this field I am met with a lot of resistance, because a lot of my fans from Drag Race are white gays and white moms. But that’s ok because I’ve had the realisation that it’s like I’m starting at the bottom again. And If I have to create another following as a POC, queer rapper then that’s something that I have to do”.
AJA is an artist at the very peak of their creative powers. With a new-found focus, and full control of their own destiny, AJA's kingdom is well on the way to becoming an Empire.
“I went into this risking it all and knowing that I may lose everything. But if that’s the price I have to pay for my own artistic integrity, and to have complete ownership of my identity, then so be it.”
Stream 'Crown' on all major streaming sites. Keep up with AJA via their official Instagram
You can listen to AJA's interview here
Special thanks to Matt at HeartSpadePR.
"I went into this risking it all and knowing that I may lose everything"