BIG FREEDIA IS SHAKING BOOTIES AND TAKING NAMES.
The evolution of "bounce music" in New Orleans has been a strange one. For more than two decades, New Orleans DJs have been using the same two hip-hop samples to get parties moving — the Showboys' "Drag Rap (Triggerman)" and Cameron Paul's "Brown Beat." Repetition bred innovation, and MCs eventually began adding dancehall-style vocals over the samples, incorporating NOLA-style Mardi Gras chants and hypersexual lyrics. The genre became known as "bounce," a reference to the ass-shaking reaction of women in clubs.
In the past few years, the style's reputation has grown, with gay bounce MCs moving to the forefront of the scene, creating a sub-genre in the process: sissy bounce. Enter Big Freedia (pronounced FREE-da), a 6-foot-2 bounce MC and interior decorator who has defined the sissy bounce sound. Freedia's 13 years in the game began in the early '90s, working as backup vocalist and dancer with Katey Red, a transvestite former prostitute who began hitting clubs as a bounce MC. Freedia's popularity around New Orleans took off, and now she plays multiple shows in a night, six nights a week in the Big Easy.
The relentless work is paying off. Her "Go Homo" tour (a play on rap's "no homo" epigram) is bringing live bounce music to Phoenix, Paris, London, and Amsterdam, exposing cities to the emerging style.
"It's a lot of energy, and it's just more of a mixed crowd [on the road] versus here in New Orleans," Freedia says.
The "mixed crowd" refers to the addition of members of LGBT communities, as well as white hipsters, attending his shows. Just years ago, bounce was exclusively the dance music of black parties in New Orleans.
The reason for the style's emerging popularity isn't hard to figure. Search for Big Freedia clips on YouTube and you'll get the idea. It's all about scandalous booty movement, with women wearing short shorts and skirts, placing their hands against the wall or ground, and vigorously working their butt muscles.
It's this suggestive female dancing that caused New Orleans men to flock to clubs dominated by sissy bounce MCs. When Hurricane Katrina forced New Orleans residents and their taste for bounce music — at the time dominated by gay MCs — out of New Orleans and into the rest of the world, Freedia found herself playing to a whole new audience.
But bounce has subtly been informing mainstream taste for years, predating Freedia's rise. Beginning in the mid-'80s, New Orleans DJs like Mannie Fresh would spin hour-long versions of "Triggerman" with their own 808 bass drum samples incorporated into the set. Across the nation, hip-hop picked up on the 808 drums and heavy bass throbbing in Louisiana. Bounce made its way into popular rap consciousness in 1999, when Juvenile's hit "Back That Azz Up" made the charts. The tune, produced by Mannie Fresh, mimicked the sounds and tempos of — you guessed it — "Triggerman." More recently, Southern rappers such as Hot Boys, Big Tymers, and Three 6 Mafia incorporated Bounce elements into their music.
As hip-hop wages its own internal struggle with homosexuality (see Lil' B's I'm Gay (I'm Happy)), Freedia doesn't concern herself with the implications of her sexuality and burgeoning popularity.
"But I don't get any slack from the hip-hop artists about any of that," Freedia says. "You know, I'm in my own world and they're in their own world, and it's just that way."