Aja Offers Track-by-Track Commentary on Killer Debut Hip-Hop Album ‘Box Office’
We all should have known in May 2018, when Brooklyn-based Drag Race stunner Aja dropped a six-track EP called In My Feelings, that this queen would be back for more. And today, Feb. 7, is that day, as the debut full-length Aja album, Box Office — 15 tracks of well-crafted rhymes and killer collaborations — has arrived.
The debut single from Box Office, “Jekyll & Hyde” — released with a music video on Feb. 1, which you’ll find below — offers insight into what you can expect from the entirety of this Aja album: skilled verses spit with years of mastery underlying them, a take-no-prisoners attitude that has become Aja’s calling card and, not least, guest appearances by exciting names, including Shilow, Rico Nasty, Lady Luck, fellow Drag Race alum Shea Couleé and the powerhouse that is CupcakKe.
And while the past half-decade has seen countless contestants step out of RuPaul’s Werk Room and straight into the studio, feeling the music industry is either their true calling or their ‘calling of the moment,’ few queens are able to hit the appropriate mark. Meanwhile, this Aja album is a welcomed exception.
“I feel like the album is really my personal testimonial. It’s me talking about my life and my experiences,” Aja says. “Box Office is me giving the listener a ticket to see my life. And I decided to make a full-length album because, I mean, what else does a musician do, you know what I mean? I wanted to put out a complete body of work so people see from my point of view.”
That point of view — of a nonbinary performer-artist with a Black and Arab identity, adopted into a Puerto Rican household — shines through on this Aja album, already being hailed for its skillful execution.
Hornet sat down with Aja ahead of the album’s release, diving into the new LP, Box Office, track by track, and pulling from Aja the personal significance and story behind each number.
Here’s what our favorite queen had to say about each track on the debut Aja album, Box Office:
So, “Tutankhamun” is the opening track of Box Office, and it’s literally just about rebirth. Like, you know, I’m not literally saying I’m a pharaoh, but I’m thinking about tying in my Egyptian heritage and giving a story about rebirth. And I think it’s the best way to start the album. It’s like letting the listener know this is a new time in my life. The old me is dead.
“Decepticon” is all about embracing my own narrative. You know, the Decepticons in the Transformers movies, they’re the bad guys. And I do realize, as someone who is trying to create my own narrative, people are going to antagonize me. It’s kind of me starting to embrace the fact that people can antagonize me but it doesn’t necessarily make me a bad guy.
3. Monster Jam
“Monster Jam” is me literally comparing myself to a monster truck. It’s me admitting you don’t really want to get in my way because I’m gonna run you over.
4. Breakfast at Tiffany’s (with Shea Couleé)
The big point of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is black excellence. It’s all about embracing this sort of majestic quality of being a person of color, which I think was completely absent from Breakfast at Tiffany’s the movie. I thought it would be interesting and fun to take the idea of such a classy movie, such a classy place and classy brand, and I really wanted to get someone on the track who I thought embodied all of that, and Shea was just the perfect person.
5. Willy Wonka
“Willy Wonka” is pretty much a story about me realizing that I have this golden ticket, this opportunity to take control of my life, and realizing that people are jealous of that and people want that same opportunity. But in the true story of Willy Wonka, the reason Charlie made it was because Charlie was just grateful and not an asshole. And I feel like it’s kind of the tale of the industry — that if you’re nice, you go places, and if you’re an asshole, well, you just turn violet and explode.
6. Rocky (with Lady Luck)
“Rocky” definitely has a New York undertone. It’s very much about being the underdog but still coming out on top. It’s very inspired by the Rocky Balboa movies, and Lady Luck is a legendary freestyle rapper. But people are always looking over her in a way that they just don’t give her the respect that I feel she deserves. I feel like she really embodies that change story. In the drag world, I’m not an underdog. But in the music industry, I definitely am.
So you know how people are always saying these snakes are in the grass, and blah blah blah? To me, “Slytherin” is about knowing there’s snakes in your life — snake people and people who want to see you down. Instead of wanting to viciously destroy them or see them down, you charm them so you can use them the same way they’re trying to use you.
8. Chango (with Winstar & Momo Shade)
“Chango” has a religious undertone of Santería. Chango is the name of an African deity from Santería. He’s an African king. Winstar is an upcoming Reggaeton artist, and Momo is someone who I grew up with who is also in my religious practice. And we kind of came together to give this very Latin-influenced track. There’s a lot of duality in the theme of the track, because the influence that it has represents both masculine and feminine energies, because I think for people like us who represent both of those things, it really just ties in well.
I think a lot of people didn’t really get to see or hear the vulnerable me at all from my EP. And “Ghost” delivers a very vulnerable point of view to the listener. “Ghost” is all about the fear of rejection and being ghosted. So it really just embodies that sort of narrative.
10. Jekyll & Hyde (with Shilow)
“Jekyll & Hyde” is the first single of the album. It’s really just a song about having those two voices on your shoulder. And I really wrote “Jekyll & Hyde” with the intention of letting people know everything I’m doing, I’m doing on purpose and I do have these two voices, and I’m going to do whatever the fuck I want regardless. There’s this one line in the song where I kind of steer away from the crazy punchlines and metaphors and I kind of just flat out 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.” And I say that because, you know, people love to hate, not realizing that hate is just a different form of loving you.
“Yōkai” is the translation for demon in Japanese. It’s a song I wrote about my battles with social media. It’s kind of like my version of Nicki Minaj’s “Chun-Li.” It’s like, people are always trying to make me the bad guy and trying to write my narrative for me. But “Yokai” is about me expelling those demons, and saying, “You know, you’re trying to make me an asshole, but I’m really just kind of a cool person.”
“Anarchy” is a song of reformation. It’s really another vulnerable song where the listener will learn a lot about me. It’s all about me as a queer Arab, as a queer black person, saying, “This is who I am. You can’t write my narrative.” I compare America and the world to a cult, and I shout all these movies that have similar cultish vibes. My thing is I’ve never fit in to this type of monotonous standard, and I never will. So this song is really just me saying, “Stop trying to make me fit in, because I’m not going to and I don’t want to.”
13. Clowns (with Rico Nasty)
I feel like there’s this certain expectation for someone like me who’s been on reality television and who has done drag in the big media. And drag is a big part of me as a person. And I feel like people sort of expect you to be a clown by default. “Clowns” is kind of like me mocking the people who try to mock me. And I put Rico on this track because Rico Nasty’s one of my favorite rappers. On the track, she has this kind of cocky, nonchalant but still pretty angry way of saying, “You know I don’t give a fuck. You’re the clown.” And that I feel represents the track 1,000%.
14. Safari Zone (with CupcakKe)
“Safari Zone” is the second to last track, and I think it’s the one on the album that starts to really stamp that, you know, I’m not going anywhere, and I literally say on the track, “You could never ever run from me / They will never have enough of me.” I feel like me and CupcakKe, we kind of just went beast on the track, which is the point because we’re supposed to be like animals.
I did a show with CupcakKe a few years ago. She reached out to me on Twitter, and then we got together. But this time I went through her manager and was like, I did it really professionally. I wanted to make sure she felt comfortable. I just knew that we’d have good chemistry, and I think on the track we have great chemistry.
15. Kill Bill
“Kill Bill” is the closing track. I wrote this track on Christmas, and I thought to myself, how can I add to this album something that says I got my revenge? And, you know, nothing says revenge more than Kill Bill. When I hear the track, I always think whoever listens to this album, they’re gonna know that I really shitted on everyone who said I couldn’t do it.
The Aja album Box Office is out now.
Featured image of Aja by Kristopher North Karzen