Between the right’s recent vilification of Common and Rhymefest as violent, misogynistic thugs (the two are actually more granola than gangsta) and the orthodox wing of hip-hop fandom that remains suspicious of any MC who doesn’t dress in Timberlands and Dickies, it seems that a lot of people are clinging to retrograde ideas of how a rapper should look, talk, act, and think. Fortunately there are artists doing amazing work outside of those confines—and making massive revisions to hip-hop’s rulebook in the process. For this week’s Artist on Artist, local rapper, producer, indie-rock fan, and proud bisexual man Emanuel Vinson talks with Big Freedia, the glamorous transgendered queen of New Orleans bounce, a regional rap style focused in an almost obsessive way on the female booty. Big Freedia & the Divas (with Rusty Lazer) headline the Do-Division Street Fest Sun 6/5.
Emanuel Vinson: Like a lot of people, I was first introduced to you through the “Y’all Get Back Now” video that was on Stereogum. I want to know how bounce originated in New Orleans.
Big Freedia: It started over 20 years ago. It was way before my time—all those people came before me, the DJ Jimis and the DJ Irvs.
You’ve been doing it for at least ten years. Do you feel like you’ve changed musically in that time?
Definitely, because not only has the music changed over the years, we’re changing for the different generations. We don’t do it the way we used to do it when I first started. It just keeps elevating and getting even better.
Bounce used to be slower, right?
Yeah. The new generation of kids wants to shake it even faster and even harder, so the beats changed. 10th Ward Buck actually changed that for us when he came out with the song “Faster.” The beats per minute for a song changed immediately.
You said on Carson Daly that when you started out you had intended to change the way people thought about gay people in New Orleans, which is something I can totally identify with as someone in Chicago who is not traditional genderwise or sexually. Have you seen your effect on people take hold in your time as a bounce icon?
Definitely. It paid off, all the hard work that I put into being that gay person that people can come up to and open up to and have an open mind about and not just judge by what you see on the outside. Give them a chance and you never know what might be on the inside. I definitely changed New Orleans.
Now that you’re on the national scene, is this the level [of attention] you imagined for yourself when you first started?
No, I never thought it would have reached this far. I just was doing it to make people have fun. We actually started playing in our neighborhood, beating on walls and coming up with crazy ideas. It started at a block party. People were like, “Get on the mike.” Me and Katey [Red], we would get on the mike and our names just started raining and ringing. People just started calling, and then the record company came and found me. That’s when I knew it was getting more serious. We never would have imagined in a million years that it would have taken off to this level. I’m making sure that not only do I work hard at what I do, but I be that icon for New Orleans. When I started, I wanted to be like all the other bounce rappers that I grew up listening to: Partners-N-Crime and Ms. Tee and Cheeky Black. All those were legends to me. They still are legends to me.
When my music and my creative projects started coming together stronger, I started also feeling more support from people around me, which is still happening, and that gave me the courage to change myself and become more confident and take chances. Do you think you would have been the same person, as confident and outgoing, if it wasn’t for music and having this career?
Before I really got into bounce, I still was a very confident person with a very strong personality. I was a choir director. I was in the choir for a very long time; that was my scene as a child. I was always confident and very strong and stood firm in what I believed in. Before I became Big Freedia, they would call me Big Freddy. Little small things that happened in my lifetime, as a child, led to becoming Freedia.
At the beginning of one of your songs, “Gin in My System,” you mention Lil Wayne referencing one of your lines. What was hearing that like?
Oh my god, when I first heard it I was like, I can’t believe he did that! At first I was a little bit pissed, and then I was like, no, I’m actually happy because Lil Wayne just said my shit. He representing me, so I took that in stride. I used it to my advantage. I need more rappers to say more of my shit!
What’s the relationship between non-bounce hip-hop in New Orleans and the scene you’re in?
They definitely cross over a lot. Bounce is New Orleans all the way. In New Orleans, you can’t have a show without at least having one bounce artist on the bill, because people want to feel that beat. They want to hear it, because that’s New Orleans. We cross over a lot with the different hip-hop artists who come in, even the majors, because for the opener, they want something that’s gonna give y’all something that really gets y’all going and gets y’all hyped. I’ve opened for Lil Wayne, Snoop Dogg, many of them.
You have an interior design business back home. Are there any other projects you’re excited about, or is bounce the only thing you’re focusing on at this point?
The decorating is always gonna be there; it’s something that I do and something that I learned. When I’m not in the studio I always do jobs because it frees my mind from all the other things, and it’s another creative process. I’m working on a reality show as well, and a documentary. So there’s a lot going on with me right now.
Next week: Sam Prekop and John McEntire of the Sea and Cake interview pioneering electronic composer Morton Subotnick.