Earlier this week we introduced you to New Orleans bounce music, a style of call-and-response rap that often inspires women to contort into impossible positions and jiggle their generous booties. Over the past few years the mainstream American media has caught on to this underground club scene thanks to a flamboyantly gay sub-genre known as sissy bounce.
Today we bring you an interview with the queen diva of bounce Big Freedia, who started out as a back-up performer for her friend Katey Red, the first openly gay rapper in New Orleans. Freedia is one of the most respected rappers in the game, performing up to six nights a week at block parties, hip-hop clubs, gay clubs and even in her autobiographical bounce musical “Catch That Beat”.
This month she’ll embark on short North American tour and perform at her hometown Gay Pride for the first time ever. For a sense of the ass-tastic mayhem that Freedia unleashes in the club, watch the video for “Azz Everywhere” and then read our Q&A after the jump!
You’ve said that Katrina was a blessing in that it helped spread bounce music outside New Orleans to other US cities. How did that happen?
Yes, well that was due to the fact that I was displaced to a lot of different places and people were playing our music and a lot of different people were asking, you know, ‘what was that? What type of music is that and where does it come from?’ And people were like, ‘Oh that’s Freedia, it’s all about New Orleans and I’ll teach you about it.’ So that’s how it really spread out. Then I traveled a whole lot right after Katrina hit. I’d go around to all of the different places to make my people feel at home in a different home.
What was the vibe like at those shows?
The vibe in the room was ⎯ oh my god, it was magical. It was just unbelievable the amount of people that were there. The vibe in the club was so high. Some people were thin from Katrina but you know a lot of people had money at the time so there was a lot of joy going on in the room.
On the website for the “Where They At?” exhibit on bounce music has a quote from DJ Rav Smoov who says that bounce is still looked down upon in the city compared with other genres associated with New Orleans, such as jazz or brass music. Would you say that it’s looked down upon?
To a certain degree but not fully. It’s set aside from everything else that we have down here musically, as far as jazz and brass and that kind of stuff. It’s set apart from that ⎯ it’s a heavy bass, call-and-response type music where chant different slang and stuff like that. It’s based on only two different beats and we can do a million different things with those two different beats.
There are a lot of bounce performers in the city. What do you bring to the scene and how is your music unique from the others’?
I have my own style of the way that I do things when I rap. My mind is clicking a million different ways when I’m on stage performing. I’ve been doing this for a long time and it’s like, as soon as I get in a club, I can rip it off and flip the words in all kind of ways. I’m consistent more than any other rapper that’s in the game. I’ve been doing this for the last eight to 10 years in the clubs weekly. No rapper down here in New Orleans has been consistent like me, rapping and holding the clubs down for that amount of years. There are people that have came and that have left in the bounce game and Freedia has still been here all those years.
Can you tell me about your dancers? Who are they and how did you recruit them?
I have one dancer named Rocky, one is Ri Ri and one is Altercation. They interact a little bit with each other, they all get a long. They’re fabulous to work with. Depending on where I go I can only take one or two or three but we go all over and they do what they have to do to make the people go crazy. They all have their own style of dancing, something unique that they bring to the table especially when I call them out and do an introduction of my dancers.
Who were rappers that were influential when you were growing up?
When I was growing up I was all into DJ Jubilee, the Cheeky Blakk, the Partners in Crime, Mia X ⎯ all of our local rappers here. You knew all the bounce music; it was at the school dances so I grew up listening to bounce music and loving bounce music and those were some of the idols I looked up to. And of course my friend Katy Red who was the first bounce queen to come out and I definitely looked up to her, especially when she came out. It gave me a lot of confidence to do what I’m doing now.
The media makes a big deal about ‘sissy bounce’ and the fact that straight audiences in New Orleans are so accepting of gay rappers. Is that really so unusual or is it media hype?
It’s like a media term, yeah. It started from an article that we did and they just named us sissy rappers but it’s not sissy bounce, it’s just bounce music as a whole because everybody in the game is not gay. We try and distinguish that in every interview. It’s just bounce music as a whole, not sissy bounce and not straight bounce or any of that. It’s just one culture. Bounce music. Period. I’m just gay and some people are straight and that’s just the way it is.
Why do you think the gay and trans performers have received so much attention from the national media?
Because of the struggles that we had to go through to get where we’re at maybe. You know, the back slashing and the ‘oh they gay’ and the negative people and the people that was trying to knock us from the shows. All the different things that went along with why the tables have turned and why the media is on us now.
Do you think New Orleans is more accepting than other cities?
Um, well I would say in a sense. We started in that here and it’s like the only case that’s starting to get known or this type of event that’s going on with gay guys empowered in their music. It’s accepted a lot of the places that I go. I have not had any slack on being accepted from the places I’ve been thus far.
Who are your favorite up and coming bounce artists?
My favorite is my daughter Sissy Nobby. She’s not up and coming, but she’s not on the same level as I am either. We’ve known each other for over five years and when we both started gettin’ hot we thought we might as well work together as a team. You can give them even more drama. When we give them the mother-daughter it’s like the roof is about to be on fire in the building for real.
Big Freedia and Sissy Nobby perform at One Eyed Jacks in 2009.
Do you ever have rivalries with other artists?
Well I mean they have artists that do what they do and say what they say, but I’m respected all through out the city. I’ve been putting in so much groundwork in the clubs, there’s not really nothing that they can say. No type of rivalries like that that I will say.
Right. I’d read one interview with Katey Red where she said she had a rivalry just for publicity purposes.
Yeah with Vockah Redu. Yeah they did a publicity stunt but it got out of hand.
Because it got serious. [laughs]
So it turned into a real beef?
Yes it turned to a real beef. There was all type of fighting and it was Katey with these girls and Vockah with these girls so it was a mess. It was a big controversy and I was kind of in the middle of it because at the time me and Katey we were rappin together at the Big Freddie K and Vockah and Sha was doing a duo at the time and it was just a big rivalry.
Did it ever come to blows?
Yeah! I told you that, they had real fights!
What’s the craziest show you’ve played?
I mean like, people climbing all up on the walls, people puttin’ their feet upside down, people all up on they head. It gets crazy. You can literally throw your shirt away once the club is over. It’s just like soaking wet and just so nasty.
You need to put a clothing budget in your rider when you go on tour.
I need to now! Especially the way we’ve just been like working so hard. Every show that I did in New York I was soakin’ wet ⎯ drenchin’!
Have you ever been injured on stage?
No ⎯ actually I was injured right before I was about to go play a show at SXSW in Austin. I was going to the airport and my shoulder came out of place from my laptop just sitting on my shoulder. But no, not injured at show. I would hope that I wouldn’t be injured at a show by anyone because the whole club would be on top of they heads. [laughs]
Has anyone else hurt themselves dancing upside down?
Like fell down?
Yeah because they’re all in kinds of crazy positions.
I never had a girl fall over but it be like: they fall, they drunk, they start and they go back at it again. The type of person that I am, if you was on the floor dancing to me and you was working real hard and you fall and everybody see, I could say something that’d make every body forget you even fell. That’s the type of act I do.
What would you say?
I would probably just be like “come on baby! Pick you back up let’s do this!” [laughs] Like she’ll get down on her head and I’ll just make her work harder. “Back on ya head! Work up ya legs! Back on ya head! Work up ya legs!” Just something to make ’em get high.
When I interviewed LaBelle, Patti LaBelle talked about how she gets so into performing she’ll injure other people on stage. When she reunited with LaBelle she actually punched Sarah Dash in the face with her microphone during a radio show appearance in Philly. Does that ever happen to you?
Well, yeah. I done stepped on people’s hands thousands of times. Now that’s one thing that I can’t control:. If there’s too many girls crowding around me and I’m on the stage, I got to move some type of way. My feet can’t just be standing in one spot. Some of them bent over, their hands on the ground, I done stepped on they’re hands. I don’t know about injured though. Or like, somebody will bump my elbow and hit me in my mouth with the mic and bust my lip. [laughs] That ALWAYS happens. Always. And then you know somebody might be behind me or something and I might not see ’em but it’s nothing major. Nobody have to call the ambulance. Just enough so you can laugh off and keep going.
Big Freedia June 2010 tour dates:
June 17 – Montreal, CA @ Lambi with Lesbians on Ecstasy – 9 PM
June 18 – Toronto, CA @ Wrongbar – 12 AM
June 19 – Toronto, CA @ The Garrison – 2 AM (after Quintron and Miss Pussycat)
June 20 – Toronto, CA @ Yonge Dundas Square – 6:00 PM to 6:40 PM
June 24 – Brooklyn, NY @ CRUSH Fest – Public Assembly (70 N. 6th St. BKLN)
June 27 – New Orleans, LA @ New Orleans Pride – French Quarter 6 PM
June 29 – New Orleans, LA @ Oz – Rusty Lazer 10 PM – Big Freedia 12 AM – Katey Red 1 AM
June 30 – Calgary, CA @ Sled Island – Royal Canadian Legion #1 – 1:30 AM