While publications continue to focus on the seeming gender-bending present in Big Freedia’s art and that of the “sissy bounce” community (a term these artists reject), Freedia—the stage name of Freddie Ross—counters. The respect she’s earned worldwide as, arguably, Bounce music’s foremost ambassador is the product of a relentless work ethic and genuine love of the music, not a novel image. The track record speaks for itself. On top of performances this year at both SXSW and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, she set a Guinness world record for twerking in New York last September, recently launched season two of her Fuse reality show, Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce, and just dropped her first major label album and the best case for bounce music going mainstream in Just Be Free, on June 17.
Free’s 10-song set is brief yet relentless, packing an astonishing amount of energy that never lets up. To skirt the legal trouble traditionally sample heavy bounce music usually brings, Freedia worked hand-in-hand with her producers while in California to craft an album that avoided litigation yet retained Bounce’s frenetic soul. Of course, Bounce’s heavy reliance on samples has long hindered it from breaking outside the Crescent City, but thanks to Freedia’s vision, this Hip Hop subgenre, which has long been a regional gem, may finally be ready to flirt with the mainstream. With Just Be Free the NOLA legend and bounce music ambassador may have finally inspired a mainstream embrace of the sound that Mardi Gras built.
Why Big Freedia Calls Her Reality Show A Double-Edged Sword
HipHopDX: Season two of your reality show, Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce, recently premiered on Fuse. Is the idea of cameras capturing your everyday life still tough to adapt to?
Big Freedia: You can get used to it, but you can never get used to somebody invading your privacy. They can be flies on the wall sometimes, but then there comes a time when you know they’re there. There’s up and down moments, but I’m quite used to it now, whichever way it does go.
DX: Do you think the cameras inspire you to push harder?
Big Freedia: Hell yeah. Definitely. You try to make sure that everything is on point. Everything from every little piece of hair to your eyes. It pushes you...inspires you to do more and to come up with more creative ideas.
How Freedia Created The World’s First Sample Free Bounce Record
DX: How did you and your producers work to make music that retained the soul of Bounce but allowed you to not run into a bunch of legal issues?
Big Freedia: We worked our ass off and re-created all the sounds that I wanted. It was a process. Me and my producer, we left town from New Orleans to go complete the album in California. We just freestyled different ideas. The producers and I would work hand-in-hand to create the beat in the studio together because we didn’t want to go into any legal issues. We wanted this to be the first clear, worldwide Bounce album without any problems. I just had to protect myself on every level.
DX: What’s been the response in the bounce community? Have they been inspired by that production approach on the new album?
Big Freedia: I know that I’m paving lanes and opening doors for different artists that’s coming after me, so I know I’m doing a wonderful job. I’m not really worried about what the Bounce community has to say, but I do have the support of lots of people here in New Orleans – producers, DJs, fans, other artists. Then there’s those haters as well. That comes with the territory.
Big Freedia Explains New Orleans Support & As A Bounce Ambassador
DX: With misogyny and homophobia still present in parts of the Hip Hop culture in general, I could see you being vilified had your music emerged from a different scene. What is it about the bounce community, that’s enabled you to find so much support?
Big Freedia: I think it has a lot to do with the individual in the artist itself. We have tons of bounce artists here, and I was the first to bring it worldwide. That definitely has a part to play, [along with] the push and the drive behind the artist who’s trying to make things happen.
I’ve really worked really hard to get bounce music to the next level, to make people aware of it and to take a chance on just getting out there and busting my ass. I am the ambassador of the game; being gay has nothing to do with it. A lot of women feel very safe by me. They feel protected when they’re on my stage. That’s why they can dance and not feel threatened, unlike if they would get up there with Rick Ross or one of the other Hip Hop artists out there. They would feel like they’re being looked at. They will feel like they’re probably being ridiculed. It’s how you do things. You give people the respect and equal opportunity to express themselves through bounce music. Men are able to come up on stage and not feel threatened by me as well. Everybody’s having a good time–we’re all dancing and partying at a Big Freedia show.
DX: You said, while talking about girls dancing at your shows, “If they feel like they can step out on that limb, I’m gonna step back on that limb with them.” With the word “twerk” now part of the mainstream consciousness, but do you believe people over-sexualize the idea of twerking? Are people overlooking a message of empowerment?
Big Freedia: I definitely think they’re putting a big issue on it. It’s the older generation that want to control the world, but there’s a new generation and people want to dance. They want to be able to dance in whatever way they feel comfortable. Twerking is just another way of expressing yourself. Even when everybody twerk, everybody have a different way that they twerk. Doing the same dance move, everybody still has that different feel of how you make it look. Some people can make it look very sexual. Some people can make it look very fun. Some people can look like a jackass. I give everybody opportunities no matter how you look, no matter how you’re twerking. It feels amazing that I can be the person that says, “Hey, this is okay to do. We’re not worried what the next person has to say.” I feel really good about my journey and the mark that I’m trying to leave. It empowers people to express themselves and just be free.
People always come up to me and tell me how I inspired them to just be able to dance and be themselves. That’s important. When people come up to you and tell you about the things you’re doing, [how you] helped change their life, that keeps the energy going.
Big Freedia Beams About Love For New Orleans’ Embrace
DX: How do you make sense of the Miley Cyrus “twerk” phenomenon?
Big Freedia: Yeah, it definitely has been a good thing. People want to make it like it’s such a bad thing or whatever—twerk on, Miley. Twerk on. I just want the credit for what I’ve done and the work that I’ve put in. I definitely am appreciated all over the world. People know and give me credit. A lot of people were offended by her, saying, “Freedia, you’ve been doing this way before her. You’ve brought this around the world,” but it’s okay because she’s appropriating black culture and she’s making people aware of Bounce music. I’m totally fine with it.
DX: What part do you think New Orleans played in helping cultivate your confidence?
Big Freedia: Growing up here, you had to stand firm and believe in your dreams and what you wanted to do because it wasn’t easy. It was tough times here. Lots of days, my momma would say, “You have to get back out there and you have to fight. Stand up and let them know you’re a man just as well as them.” New Orleans definitely played a big part in making me who I am. It helped create the aura that Freedia has. Everybody who grew up here, they all went through something. It wasn’t an easy place for growing up, but it was a family loving city. It was an open-minded city. When I stepped into the game a while back, I said that I was going to help create this opportunity where guys were not afraid to go up to gay guys and be cool with them, to know that every gay guy you see don’t want you or don’t want to have you sexually but can be cool. You can shake my hand and not feel threatened in any kind of way. And I did that. I was the first queen that shook a lot of southern murderers’ and killers’ hands in New Orleans, and I still have that respect from all of them.
DX: Have you gained respect from others in the community who recognize and thank you for paving that path?
Big Freedia: A lot of them don’t really know that it was something that I set [out to do] since I first started rapping, but the people that do know pay homage to the things I did for the game.
DX: I wanted to visit a moment you mentioned in your Pitchfork documentary. You mentioned there was a period of time when you were afraid to leave the house and that this happened after you had been shot?
Big Freedia: Mmm-hmm.
DX: What was it that made you emerge from that fear and feel empowered again?
Big Freedia: Just the things that were happening around me. I couldn’t sit inside and let myself wilt away and not pay my bills. Things were starting to really get crucial, so I had to get back out and be like “Okay, it is what it is. It happened. If that moment comes again, I’ll be prepared.” I just went out and got myself a gun. I had to fight for what I believed in. I needed to make money, and I needed to get my ass back out on the road and doing concerts. I couldn’t be afraid any more. Once I also got the word that he was incarcerated, that made me feel much better.
DX: You spent time in Houston immediately after Hurricane Katrina, but you quickly returned to New Orleans. You were one of the first artists to return to New Orleans, actually. What made you need to come back as soon as you possibly could?
Big Freedia: It just never felt like home. There’s no place like New Orleans, and growing up there all your life and then being somewhere that you really didn’t want to be, the first chance I had to come back, I was out the door.
DX: Those first shows happened as part of a weekly called FEMA Fridays. What was the energy of those shows like when you first got back?
Big Freedia: When I hit the building, it was like Michael Jackson had arrived. That’s how crazy the energy was and how much they had missed me. When I would pull up, the people would go crazy. Everybody was just missing home and missing all the fun times. All those memories was coming back, and me being an artist who had been in the game for a long time – one of those faces that you’d never stop seeing – when they saw me, it was like a bundle of joy. People were jumping up and down – “Oh Freedia, I miss you.” “I can’t wait to see you rap tonight.” It was fun times and memories.
Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce airs Wednesdays at 11pm/10pm Central on Fuse. Her latest album, Let’s Get Free, is now available via Amazon and iTunes.