Big Freedia on New Orleans and First Major Label Release ‘3rd Ward Bounce’
The dirty south’s conquest of American hip-hop was well underway in the mid aughts, with songs suddenly sprawled, drawled, and syncopated in the shifting tectonic of crisp, needle high hats. Trap is everywhere now, and before that it was crunk — Lil Jon, all the amped beats, the hype man screaming, the raunchy chanting, and overall, unhinged, off-the-wall energy. All of this derived from southern hip-hop over time, but the specific birthplace, and the only home of pure, unadulterated, bounce music has always been New Orleans. In the late ‘90s, NOLA artists from No Limit and Cash Money Records brought some bounce flavor into the mainstream, but this was only a tease.
Real bounce has been a specifically provincial New Orleans phemonomon. It’s part of a scene that makes “twerking” look like ballroom dancing. The city also has a longstanding tradition of outrageously unabashed cross-dressing performers. Big Freedia is not just a musician, but a character, dressing is full women’s attire and drawing crowds of all backgrounds with her wild animated performances, and is typically greeted with fanatic enthusiasm whenever she openly walks around her city.
Freedia played a major role in reviving her hometown after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, becoming a regular performer at the very first club the reopened. Her unique voice, embodiment of specifically New Orleans character, and overall engaging personality led Beyonce to sample her voice at the beginning of her immense hit “Formation.” Recently, Drake has followed suit, sampling Freedia’s voice at the intro of his new hit single “Nice For What,” a song meant as a homage to New Orleans.
Having just released a new EP, “3rd Ward Bounce,” Big Freedia spoke with Entertainment Voice to discuss her new music, touring experiences, and putting New Orleans bounce music on the map.
It’s been four years since you released your last album “Just Be Free.” How is your new EP, “3rd Ward Bounce,” different from that album?
This album is my first major label release so there was more of a budget and time to think it through. I was able to get guests and some really amazing producers as well.
Your song “Rent” makes an analogy between rent and relationships with the lyrics, “It’s the first of the month / I said enough is enough / I committed to you / You should of paid me in love.” It seems such a well-fitting comparison. What gave you the idea?
I think we all have those relationships — in love, business, family — where you feel like someone is just taking too much and not giving back. That was the idea behind this song.
You’ve talked about how good food often serves as a catalyst in the recording process, and that you ordered 100 hot wings to start off the recording session for you song “Karaoke,” featuring Lizzo. Did all that spice make its way into the song audibly, and if so, how?
No, but food is a passion of mine, so I like to make sure everyone is fed before we begin recording.
There is a lot of ass-shaking in bounce music. Being from New Orleans, the “bounce capital of the world,” how is the energy and response different from your fans around the globe when on tour?
It’s funny, it’s no different. And that’s the beauty of Bounce. I can be in New Orleans or Brussels, and the crowds always have amazing energy.
You’re currently touring Europe. Which country in Europe gets the most hyped at your shows? Any crazy stories?
I love them all but this year, I really loved England. They are starting to know me there now and you can tell by the crowd energy that they are ready for me.
If you had to answer without thinking too much, how would you describe the typical Big Freedia fan?
There isn’t a typical fan. My fans are black, white, male, female, straight, gay, old, and young! For real!
Beyonce’s 2018 Coachella set was the most legendary performance in the festival’s history, and it began with her song “Formation,” which samples your voice. How did you react to this?
I get chills every time I hear it.
You are featured at the beginning of Drake’s song “Nice For What,” which draws inspiration from New Orleans bounce music. How big of a deal do you think such collaborations like these are in expanding bounce to a wider audience, and what do you think is the next step in really making the style blow?
I think it’s wonderful that mainstream artists are influenced by Bounce. We have a long tradition of that in New Orleans. The next step is a Big Freedia radio hit!
There has been much progression in recent years regarding the broad acceptibility of LGBTQ culture. Was there a particular moment when you suddenly felt things had changed, a catalyst of any sort?
It’s been happening over the years slowly, so it’s hard to say there was one moment. And we still have a ways to go!
New York City recently passed a law that fines restaurants $500,000 if they refuse to refer to customers by their desired pronoun. How important do you think pronouns are and what do they mean to you personally?
Really? I haven’t heard of that. That’s crazy. To me personally, they aren’t important. I am happy to be called he or she. But, I understand that others might care and want to be called he or she. I think it’s their right to identify how they want.
“3rd Ward Bounce” is available June 1 on Apple Music. Big Freedia’s tour runs from June 8 to Oct. 18.