Big Freedia brings bounce back to L.A. on Tuesday at the Echoplex
It's taken a while for the rest of the country to catch up to the second wave of raunchy bass and break-neck pace of New Orleans bounce music currently rumbling the city. In the last couple years, the gritty, good time hip-hop ringing through the Big Easy has made its way through the indie underground to become one of the music blogosphere’s shiny new toys. After receiving national attention during the music's first wave in the early '00s, which arrived via landmark New Orleans labels No Limit and Cash Money, the influential booty music movement has been taking the sound to new heights (and bottoms) courtesy of a diva with a powerful package.
Enter Big Freedia -- one of the genre’s most visible and unique gay rappers. With a barrel of sweat-soaked energy, a lionesque baritone and an asymmetrical rainbow haircut, the man born Freddie Ross has become a ubiquitous MC on a six-days-a-week performance schedule. Chances are if you’re new to bounce, he’s the one that brought it to you. And in recent years, Freedia’s role as the genre’s flamboyant ambassador has him traveling all over.
“They blew my mind last night in Bloomington [Ind.],” Freedia said in a recent phone conversation. “They knew the words before I taught it to them. They came with their little high booty shorts on with their .... ready to shake.” Criss-crossing the country on his latest Go Homo Tour, Freedia (pronounced Free-da) drops a sparkly anchor once again in L.A. on Tuesday night for a show at the Echoplex with Limp Wrist, a gay queencore punk band from Albany, N.Y.
Born from raw sexuality, call-and-response lyrics and two select drum samples (referred to as the “Brown Beat” and the “Triggerman”), bounce’s primal party appeal has become, for anyone under age 50, as synonymous with New Orleans as jazz.
Freedia began regularly traveling outside his hometown in 2009, bringing with him dancers and a live DJ, Rusty Lazer, playing to audiences on the East and West coasts alongside (or onstage with) artists such as Spank Rock, Ninjasonik, Japanther and Monique. Many Angelenos got an introduction to Big Freedia during choice slots at the 2010 FYF Fest at Los Angeles Historic State Park, in addition to previous visits to La Cita and the Echoplex.
For Freedia, the journey into hip-hop started nearly 15 years ago with his stint as a backup singer for longtime friend Katey Red, bounce music's first openly gay rapper. In a culture of sweltering block parties and underground club gigs, Katey’s early popularity paved the way for Freedia to become a recognized face in the “sissy” community of gay, transgender and sexually ambiguous rappers when he decided to take center stage. (Some call the subgenre sissy bounce.)
“It’s a very family-oriented community,” Freedia said. “Most of us in the bounce game have someone that looks up to us from a younger generation, so we may call them our gay son or gay daughter.”
Aside from releasing music since 1999 (including ubiquitous club hits such as “Azz Everywhere!” and "Gin in My System”), Freedia’s hustle expands beyond the mike. Parlaying local notoriety into an in-house marketing mission involves everything from self-releasing albums ("An Ha, Oh Yeah" in 1999, "Queen Diva" in 2003 and “Big Hitz Vol. 1” in 2010) to managing his own party decorating business on the side. Despite hip-hop’s history of homophobia, Freedia said his work ethic, business savvy and showmanship have garnered the respect of straight and gay rappers and fans in the bounce scene.
“I feel like I’m sort of breaking that ice around the world. People are opening up and it seems no matter what your sexual preference may be, if you’re an entertainer, you’re an entertainer.”
A child of New Orleans’ 3rd Ward neighborhood, Freedia grew up as a gay man in a poverty-stricken area of the Crescent City, a reality made bearable with a pair of strong parents and the opportunity to sing in his church choir. His passion for singing followed him through his teen years, even earning him a spot as a young choir director at Walter L. Cohen High School, his alma mater, a position he says allowed him to travel around the country and the world while instructing young groups of high school singers.
“That part of my life gave me a lot of exposure to different types of music,” Freedia said. "Once I decided to cross over into becoming a rapper it was easy because I already had such an extensive background in making music.”
Currently at work on his third album, Freedia’s live shows continue to command booties of all ages, races and colors, turning the music's fan base into a melting pot as hot and sticky as New Orleans itself.
“It feels really good to be on the forefront and represent New Orleans and to teach people about our bounce music and our culture,” Freedia said. “Nowadays, the shows are no different then when I’m at home. It doesn’t matter where I am now, the girls come to the shows with their little booty shorts like, ‘I’m ready for you, Freedia.’ ”
-- Nate Jackson
Big Freedia performs Tuesday at the Echoplex with Limp Wrist, Yadokai and Rough Kids. 1822 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 413-8200, www.attheecho.com 7 p.m. $8, all ages.
Photo: Big Freedia Credit: Danielle Levitt