It's Big Freedia's World and We're Just Twerking In It
The self-proclaimed Queen Diva of Bounce Music talks about queering hip-hop, bringing her party to the world, and why she's not worried about Azealia Banks.
BuzzFeed: New Orleans has such a rich musical history, and since you are, in some ways, a pioneer, could you talk about where bounce music came from and how you came into it?
Big Freedia: Bounce music has been around for over two decades. All of the generations listen to it, from the young and old. And it's something that people can really get down to at a party. There was two guys, DJ Jimi and DJ Irv, who actually helped create the sound of bounce music at a block party where these two sounds were sung over the "Triggerman Beat" and the "Brown Beat." They clashed two sounds together, and they created a sound, and different rappers started rapping over those two tracks — and the evolution started from that. It's been around ever since. There's tons of artists that's been in the game since then. From DJ Jubilee to Lady Red and so forth and so forth. And then in 1998, my friend Katey Red was the first transexual man to come out with bounce music. I backgrounded Katey for about two years, and then I started my solo project, and I've been in the game ever sense.
BuzzFeed: I know you just finished touring. And you have the single out with RuPaul and the The Queen Diva documentary you did with Pitchfork. You're even on NPR. Do you feel like everything is accelerating in terms of your career?
Big Freedia: Oh, definitely. This is my year. It's the Chinese Year of the Snake, which I am, so it's definitely my year to make things bigger and better.
BuzzFeed: While you were touring, did you find that any city in particular really took to the music — like you almost found a second home for bounce music?
Big Freedia: Oh, New York, of course. L.A., San Francisco. All of those places, they're quite aware of my music. They love my music. The shows are getting bigger and better. Even in Boston. And Canada. But New York is like a second home to me.
BuzzFeed: What was it about New York that you liked so much?
Big Freedia: The crowd and the energy in the room. It's just something special every time I go there. And most of them know it's like a second home to me, so we really just party. It's just something special that happens in the room.
BuzzFeed: I can't wait to see your show the next time you're in San Francisco. One thing you've spoken about is the influence of Katey Red and how you're a groundbreaker yourself in terms of queering hip-hop. Do you think a lot about being a queer voice, or a trans voice, when you're creating your music?
Big Freedia: Definitely. That's in my spirit. It's in my nature, so it comes automatically during my recording process. I'm always wanting to queen out, and the best place I can do it is in my music and in the studio. (laughs) So I'm definitely using that to my advantage.
BuzzFeed: I grew up in the South myself, so I know how important it is for queer kids to have spaces where they can loosen up, queen out, and be themselves. What's the queer following like for you in New Orleans? Are people coming out to you at your shows?
Big Freedia: We have a very strong following here. The queens are very supportive of the music. They help the music go online a whole lot. They bring the clarity and tell the DJ, "Oh, you've got to play that." (pauses) One second, I'm in the drive-through. I'm pulling up to the register now but keep going.
Big Freedia: You can go ahead.
BuzzFeed: Oh! Well, this is a really interesting moment in hip-hop. You're becoming a more familiar name. Azealia Banks and Zebra Katz are also changing the way we think about gender and hip-hop. Do you consider yourself to be a part of a movement in a way?
Big Freedia: I am a movement; I am an icon. I represent gays and lesbians all over the world. It's about people expressing themselves without being judged or put in a category. People are starting to open up more. The president, other rappers, the world. So change is absolutely happening, and I'm proud to be a part of the movement.
BuzzFeed: Lately Azealia Banks' comments about language and using the word "f**got" have stirred a lot of controversy.
Big Freedia: I've heard.
BuzzFeed: What are your thoughts about that?
Big Freedia: If she's gonna be down for the family, she has to be down for the family. She can't be using derogatory terms. It's going to make her lose a whole lot of her fans. And it's stupid on her part if she's trying to build something and stand in support of gays and then screaming out "f**got." The fans will deal with her, in that sense. And we'll let that ride like that. She has to be mindful of what she said and how she said it. And that's just how it is.
BuzzFeed: As bounce music is becoming more and more popular, I can't help but think about other crossover phenomenons like the "Harlem Shake." It's become something entirely distant from its origin. Are you worried about bounce music being appropriated?
Big Freedia: No, because when I'm thinking about what we're trying to do here, I'm also keeping in mind that I have to stay original. I have to remember what's carried us for so long, and I can't change that. We can do some things to make it mainstream, but we also have to still give them the rawness and the beat. In the backdrop of it all, we'll still be making the raw and the raunchy and the ghetto with the beat. In some ways, though, it's already changing just with the new generation. The kids want to have it a little faster, a little more pumped. We just have to remember to keep the flavor of the gumbo and the roots of it.
BuzzFeed: Do you think of bounce music as a kind of gumbo?
Big Freedia: It's always a mixture of all types of things. And gumbo has that mixture of all types of flavors — meats and shrimps and crabs. And the music is like that. It's got the bells and the drums and claps and the beat and the bass. So I'm thinking about New Orleans when I'm making the music. I want the music to represent where I'm from, even as I prepare to take the party around the world.
BuzzFeed: So, what's next for Big Freedia?
Big Freedia: I'm in the recording process of my new reality show with Fuse TV. I'm finishing up the album that should be dropping any given moment. We're just finishing up the paperwork. I'm getting ready for my international tour.