By Percy Crawford (@MrLouis1ana)
(AllHipHop Features) Big Freedia, born Born Freddie Ross, has the test of times. Being an openly gay artist from New Orleans, Louisiana isn’t an easy task, neither was the 2-days she spent on the roof of a house during Hurricane Katrina or the mental abuse she endured from her step dad as a young kid, but through it all, Freedia is still here, still smiling and definitely still dancing. Releasing her first single in 1999, she embarked on a career that has spanned for 20-years. She received national exposure appearing on HBO’s “Treme” as well as a performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live in 2012. One year later she received her own show on Fuse TV entitled, Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce. The show has become Fuse’s #1 rated reality show. Bounce music is an upbeat dance themed genre originated in New Orleans. Freedia, has mastered the art of entertainment through her music. Her shows are like Mardi Gras on stage and fans from all over the world have gravitated to her sound. In fact, it became so popular that Beyoncé sampled her voice on her popular hit “Formation,” as well as Drake on his hit, “Nice For What.” Freedia continues to change the perception of her one bounce track at a time.
I had a chance to talk to the musician turned reality TV star to discuss her difficult journey to the top, bounce music, her TV show as well as her new book.
AllHipHop.com: Did you ever think you would see bounce music reach such an international level of fame?
Big Freedia: No, I actually didn’t. So many things have been going on over the years and I have just been sitting back watching the growth; the rise of the whole community and New Orleans and just all around. It’s just been an amazing ride.
AllHipHop.com: You are spearheading the bounce movement right now. When you pick up your phone and it’s Beyoncé on the other end or it’s Drake on the other end and they want to work with you or sample your music, how surreal was that for you?
Big Freedia: It means that I was definitely going in the right direction for me. It was just something special for just the culture of New Orleans itself and bounce music. It put a stamp on my career even more for all of the hard work that I put in. It’s a great feeling to be a part of both projects. I’m still in disbelief after even hearing it a million times. It is a wonderful feeling, no lie.
AllHipHop.com: People that ride with you really ride with you and I know many felt like Drake should’ve had you in the video and some voiced their displeasure of you not being in it.
Big Freedia: That’s definitely what it was, but the decision of me adlibbing the song was deciding after the video was already shot. They felt like the song needed something else, so I was the last button to the song.
AllHipHop.com: Little ole you from the Josephine in New Orleans, Louisiana has the #1 watched show on Fuse TV. The accolades keep coming for you, what does this one in particular mean to you?
Big Freedia: This one in particular, steps me into the TV world and helps me to connect to a lot of families and people in their homes. I’m very grateful for the platform, for me to be able to reach out to people. It shows that celebrities have everyday lives and we go through normal shit just like them. I opened up my heart and me and my family allowed it all to be shown on TV; my mother and her story. And it helped some people along their journey. It gave them strength, it gave them and encouragement. They see what I went through and they see how I handled mine. Just being able to let people be themselves and be free and be who they are. They saw that in me throughout my TV show.
AllHipHop.com: When you saw how involved the show was going to be, did you second guess your decision to do the show or were you ready to open up and let an audience into your life?
Big Freedia: Well, first season I was very nervous. I was very careful about how I did things and how I moved. The second season I was ready. I grew within that first season. The second season I became the executive producer and kind of helped with the story, so I learned really quick and I started to learn even more as the time went on over the years. I had become a pro by the third season. It was all natural.
AllHipHop.com: I love the show because you keep it in New Orleans, and you put an emphasis on showing our culture as opposed to renting out space in another state or something like that. I think that was important.
Big Freedia: Yeah, I definitely gotta keep it New Orleans, you know?
AllHipHop.com: For sure. You referred to bounce music as liberating. How so?
Big Freedia: It’s a music where people can express themselves through dance and not be judged while their dancing. I empower a lot of ladies and guys when they come to a Freedia show. Just the vibe on the stage, the whole atmosphere is very liberating, and it changes people’s lives. It lights up rooms and it gives people hope; even if it’s just for a moment. It does something to my crowd and that’s very liberating.
AllHipHop.com: There are moments on the show where you are in other countries and getting a lot of love. You were even like, “This is crazy.” Do you remember that moment where you knew you had made it?
Big Freedia: That moment for me was just walking up the street and tons of people knowing who I was. It was people that I had never met and different cultures of people. That’s when I was like, “Oh yeah, this shit has definitely changed lanes.”
AllHipHop.com: People see the end result, but they don’t see the journey there. You stayed on the roof of a house for 2-days during Hurricane Katrina and that ended up being a gift and a curse for you. The conditions being the curse, but you ended up in Houston getting your music out down there which obviously paid dividends.
Big Freedia: Yeah definitely! There is always a journey to get to the other side. Katrina was definitely a part of my story. Years prior to that, I had already been working since 1998, so it was a long time of hard work and consistency is what it takes. I kept that up and that’s what I did. Katrina helped push it a little bit further and it started to make people know who we were, that we were from New Orleans. Our music was being played all around the world and I started to travel all around the world and things just took off for me. It was unbelievable. My name was buzzing.
AllHipHop.com: You also have a book out, “God Save The Queen Diva,” again, another method of you opening up your doors to us. What made you go the book route to compliment the show?
Big Freedia: Just being able to tell my story from a different light. The TV tells one side, what you see in an everyday social media light tells another side, and then my backstory to kind of fill in all the gaps to give my full story. It took the book to do that; to be able to fill in all of those gaps. A lot of people will see the dancers that I have now and say, “Oh, the originals.” No baby, you don’t know the originals. The originals were in 1998. That’s the originals. So, people don’t know the full story. They think they be knowing everything, but they have no idea.
AllHipHop.com: In the book you talk about your childhood. It seems like church was your escape as a little kid and music is your escape as an adult. Is that an accurate assessment?
Big Freedia: Oh definitely! A lot of people use their music to get through whatever they are trying to get through; everyday situations. I definitely use my music and my performance, when I hit the stage to be able to let out all of my frustrations, to be able to refresh myself and do whatever I want to do. I do it all through my music.
AllHipHop.com: You don’t have any somber songs, you don’t have a song where you can let out your emotions. You type of music, you have to have a switch that goes off because your music is upbeat, there is a lot of dancing involved and there are no slow moments. When you’re having a bad day, you still have to go out there and be on. Is that difficult sometimes?
Big Freedia: Yeah, but that’s when you’re a great performer. Through whatever it is… it’s like you said, it’s a switch and you have to hit it. Whatever all of the bullshit is before you hit the stage, you gotta leave it where it’s at and you have to pick up the room and go. That’s what I can do. There are some days that I don’t even want to get on the stage. I’m like, “I don’t feel like it. I’m tired. I’m stressed,” or whatever, but then it’s like, “If I don’t get on that stage I ain’t going to make my bag.” That changes real quick because I gotta get my bag.
AllHipHop.com: You do a lot of work in the community and you are real in tune with your fans. Fan interaction is an important part of what you do.
Big Freedia: That’s the most important thing that I can do because without them there would be no Freedia. That comes to the top of the list. The fans, the supporters and the pushers of the music and the TV show; all of that. It takes the support of them to get us where we are.
AllHipHip.com: Going back to the book for a second, when people read this book, what do you hope they take away from it?
Big Freedia: Overall, I think they will see the journey that I have overcome of being a choir boy, in the music industry to being an icon in the music game. And, you know, just changing some things along the way and helping to shape up some things for New Orleans and for the culture of bounce music and taking it around the world. There are so many pointers that they can take from my journey. Some people can compare or relate what they have been through. A similar situation that I went through and maybe they could use that to guide their situation. There are many things that I think people could relate to because the book is so relatable. Every family has somebody in their family that is gay and if they read this book, it would probably help them to understand a little bit more of what we go through starting off young as a kid.
AllHipHop.com: Keep doing your thing. You have kicked down many doors and I’m sure you are not done. I appreciate your time.
Big Freedia: I appreciate you for doing this interview today.