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We Got The Beat: Big Freedia

Big Freedia the Queen Diva

Big Freedia is first in line of possible contenders for bringing sissy bounce into the mainstream for the first time in its decade+ existence.

Back it up (no really, more on that in a moment). Sissy bounce? If you’re confused, or from anywhere outside of New Orleans, let’s go to the beginning. It starts with bounce, New Orleans’ original brand of hip-hop. Begat in 1992 with the release of “Where Dey At” – a repetitive call-and-response song that many artists (including Big Freedia) have cited as the song that inspired them to start making bounce tracks themselves – bounce starts with a whole lotta’ sampling of two songs: Derek B.’s “Rock the Beat” and the Showboys’ 1986 “Drag Rap,” popularly known as “Triggerman.” MCs shout instructions and catch phrases to crowd, mostly encouraging everyone to shake their asses as much as possible. Bounce took over the NOLA club scene for years, with only one hit breaking through to the mainstream: Juvenile’s “Back That Ass Up” in 1999.

1999 was also the year a transvestite MC named Katey Red released her first full-length bounce album, and a different strain of the music was born. This era was the beginning for several gay and transgendered rappers in New Orleans who identified as “sissies”; the bounce music they created becoming known as “sissy bounce.” Among the first of these sissy bounce MCs were mainstays Sissy Nobby, Vocka Redu and, of course, Big Freedia.

All that was in the early ’00s – where has sissy bounce been all this time? Well, uh, pretty much the same place it started: in small, packed clubs around New Orleans where dancers of every gender, race and sexual orientation come to shake their derrieres in the air to the serious booty beats. The music is made for this special purpose; the commanding beats and the dance moves embodying them are insanely infectious.

Big Freedia – Azz Everywhere

But then somewhere in the past couple years, that started to change.  Big Freedia began to travel around the country, hitting the festival circuits, appearing on The Late Show With Carson Daly and getting written up in New York Times Magazine. The production value on Freedia’s music videos went from nil (as with most other bounce artists, a la Mr. Ghetto’s “Walmart”) to the sleek finish you’ll find in “Y’all Get Back Now” (if you only watch one video in this post, make it this one):

Big Freedia – Y’all Get Back Now

The hip-hop community hasn’t been entirely welcoming of the gay MC scene, a part of the reason sissy bounce has remained underground for so long. At shows, there will be legions of girls shakin’ what they momma gave ’em right alongside the guys (Big Freedia herself being an absolute master of ass shaking, truly giving any number of girls or guys a run for their money), which not everyone has been ready to accept. For some, it is a welcome and essential counter to the often womanizing, homophobic lyrics and behavior of most mainstream hip-hop. Others argue over the validity of the movement; whether it is empowering or actually hurtful to women. Big Freedia and other bounce artists, along with probably everyone who has ever gotten up at a show and had the time of their life shakin’ it, will definitely tell you that this is about empowerment – taking their sex- and body-positive messages to anyone and everyone willing to listen and to, of course, get down.

Although I’d be wrong to tell you that Sissy Bounce has been completely underground since its birth. Peep big-time artists such as Beyoncé bitin’ on bounce in tracks like “Get Me Bodied,” not to mention countless signature dance moves. Before Beyoncé fans blow up the comments, she’s said so herself:  Beyoncé introduced the song at the New Orleans Essence Music Festival in 2007 by saying, “I stole this from y’all.”

Beyoncé – Get Me Bodied (Timbaland Remix)

While on tour, Big Freedia holds classes with dancer Altercation in how to best dance to bounce music (it involves a lot of bending over and shaking it, if you hadn’t guessed). Classes include a lecture/group discussion portion that focuses on race, class, gender and sexuality. Big Freedia herself has become an academic subject of sorts, with term papers and theses being written solely on the culture of sissy bounce and sexual identity in hip-hop.

While still outside of the mainstream, Big Freedia and sissy bounce are taking big steps: note her latest collab with Spank Rock, a track titled “Nasty.” The two acts are slated to tour together this fall as a part of the Check Yo Ponytail set.  Tour starts October 20 – I’ll be at their October 21st show in San Francisco!

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One Response to “We Got The Beat: Big Freedia”

  1. Valerie Valerie says:

    I LOVE me some Big Freedia! I’m so glad to see that whole movement is slowly breaking into mainstream. The Spank Rock collabo is awesome!


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