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December 11, 2018 11:50 AM

You may remember Aja from that epic death drop during RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars, or because of their viral confrontation with fellow queen Valentina in season 9.

Either way, the genderqueer hip-hop artist hopes to soon be known for much more than meme-able moments.

Aja, who uses they/them pronouns, isn’t sure how a nonbinary rapper known for performing in drag will fare in the “transphobic” and “misogynistic” world of hip-hop music.

“There’s really never been a person in the hip-hop world who is brought to the forefront who can flip between those [masculine and feminine] energies,” they say. “So I don’t know how the respect will go. I feel like I’m doing an experiment in a way.”

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With the release of their new single with rapper Shilow, “Jekyll and Hyde,” the former Drag Race star is pleasantly surprised by the music industry’s reception of their hard-hitting style — though they say it’s not what’s typically expected from drag performers.

Aja’s social media critics, however, haven’t been as welcoming, the artist says. “When a lot of people found out I was making music, a lot of people didn’t listen to my music at all,” Aja says. “I kind of saw posts online like, ‘Oh this is a joke. I’m tired of these drag queens coming out with music and it sucks.’”

Aja has learned to use the block button, turn off notifications and focus on making music they’re proud of. They’ve also learned to use haters as fuel to work harder, even addressing them directly in a “Jekyll and Hyde” lyric: “I drop the wordplay and say, ‘They think that it’s funny, don’t joke with my money. If you’re paying this much attention, it means that you love me.’”

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The road to accepting themselves, and being able to shake off negativity, hasn’t always been easy. After living as a trans woman for a year, Aja learned what it meant to be genderqueer from the LGBTQ+ community in Brooklyn. They realized that was the piece of their identity that was missing. “I didn’t really know that there was a spectrum. I thought it was you were either one or the other,” they say. But now they know that labels aren’t as important as they thought: “My gender is my business, and it doesn’t really matter.”

Nine months after RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars, the rapper says they wonder if competing on the show was a good idea. They’re grateful for the platform the show gave them, but as they gear up for the release of their new album Box Office, they feel the need to differentiate themselves from other former contestants who have pursued music.

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“I do identify more as a musician, but to the world, I’m really just a drag queen right now,” Aja explains. “The pressure is on me to release an album where, you can say what you want, you can laugh at me for doing drag, you can laugh at me for wearing wigs and how I look, but you can’t come for my raw talent.”

Aja’s single, “Jekyll and Hyde,” is available now. Box Office will be released Feb. 7.

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