Big Freedia (pronounced Freeda) is the self-proclaimed "Queen Diva" of a sub-genre of hip-hop known as bounce music. On any given night at one of her shows, grainy old-school samples blend with jabbing club beats while Freedia's call-and-response style vocals cause crowds to erupt in booty-fueled dance and debauchery. Speaking with the Queen Diva, however, reveals a laid back disposition, and the calming timbre of her voice creates an unexpected feeling of catching up with an old friend. An old friend who happens to lead crowds in group twerking, tours with The Postal Service, and stars in her own reality TV show.
Championing the simplistic joy of an ass-shaking good time, Freedia (born Freddie Ross) creates a party atmosphere that encourages people to shed their inhibitions, and in some cases their pants. Live shows can get pretty outrageous, where people find inventive ways to put a little ass into the music. Pushing to unchain anxiety and uptightness, Freedia considers crowd participation a priority. If the atmosphere and mood catches her, she's been known to invite fans onstage for "Ass Battles." Dueling cabooses face off--or more appropriately, ass off--to the Queen Diva's track "Azz Everywhere." The crowd generally goes wild for these gluttonously naughty interactions, where cheeks are bouncing, rolling, gyrating and occasionally tassel-adorned. Freedia admits that from time to time she contends with production managers and festival organizers to allow her fans onstage. When faced with restrictions, she rarely hesitates to engage in battles of her own.
"A Big Freedia show definitely involves crowd participation. And when I get booked on a bill, I let them know they booked me because I get the crowd involved in the show. They know I'm gonna ask them up." With a giggle Freedia adds in a low, syrupy voice, "A lot of the times I'm breaking the rules. I'm going over the head's head. If they say I can't do it, I'll say [to myself] well, fuck it. I'll just do it anyway. I go ahead and say 'Can I get some volunteers?' and they'll freak out and bring up security. But most of the time at every show I call people up and it's no problem."
Originally joining the scene as a backing performer for fellow bounce pioneer Katey Red, (the first transsexual male to perform in the genre) Freedia extended her talents into a solo project, eventually attracting the attention of Pitchfork Media. Pitchfork dedicated a 27-minute YouTube film to the performer that aired in January, documenting her daily interactions and providing glimpses into Freedia's personal life, performances, and the challenges of growing up in New Orleans, which left her with a bullet lodged in her right arm. The film accentuates Freedia's ability to come across as both a diva of the underground club scene, a hero in the LBGT community and the pride and joy of her family.
"I actually loved the documentary. There was one part that made me cry when I saw it, cause I didn't want everybody to see me in rare form, being upset with my boyfriend," Freedia says. "When I first saw it I cried, then I got over it. Everybody started telling me they loved it everywhere I went. That's what kinda made me think 'it's ok, it's ok, you're human. It is what it is.' Everything besides that little part was very natural, and I was loving it."
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Big Freedia is a diamond in the rough that doesn't need polishing. Raw music, engaging vocals and unapologetic star quality culminate to form unforgettable, hypersexual live shows. Unlocking Freedia's charm to the masses could hold the key to her growing popularity, and with the reality series "Big Freedia: Queen Diva" airing on Fuse network September 18th, it stands to happen fairly quickly.
When asked about her music playing a role in equal rights and the LGBT community, Freedia shares that coming into the spotlight allows her to encourage every type of person to believe in their dream, and looks forward to using bounce as a platform for progress. Her recent success not only bodes well for bounce, it's providing Freedia an opportunity to bring people from every background together through unexpected vehicles: bounce music and ass-shaking.
"It's definitely helping to open people up and be more versatile in their mind, thinking, and their outlook of people and their outlook of life...The [bounce] movement that's going on right now, it's because we bring all walks of life together. We all be on one dance floor, in one room, having a good time."