“Charlotte is one of my favorite cities anywhere,” Big Freedia says. “My fans are strong here and so welcoming to me and my team, so when I was invited to Pride, I was like, ‘Yaass!’”
With her booming voice, infections enthusiasm, and vibrant personality, the brash 44-year old nonconforming, nonbinary rapper is an entertainer, influencer and de facto musical ambassador for her New Orleans hometown.
In short, Big Freedia is a larger-than-life personality, and her signature style imbues everything she touches.
Rapid-fire, elliptical and self-consciously arty, Big Freedia’s 2022 video for “Drop/Shake Ya Booty” is also one of the most ebullient, life-affirming recordings you can find on YouTube. When you watch Big Freedia and assorted dancers of all shapes, sizes, sexes and ages stepping, whiplash turning and twerking to the repeated exhortation to “Move your Body!” it becomes impossible not to bounce along.
Emerging from New Orleans housing projects in the late 1980s, bounce is a sprightly strain of hip-hop that embodies the soul and verve of the city. A mix of joyous call and response vocals, booming 808 bass beats, sexy and sometimes salacious lyrics and shoutouts that echo the chants of Black carnival revelers known as Mardi Gras Indians, the genre is, above all, big — and Big Freedia is the anointed Queen of Bounce.
Big Freedia was once Freddie Ross Jr., a self-described heavyset-choirboy in the Crescent City. Freddie came out to her mother and became Freedia when she was 12. Coming out fostered increasing confidence, a much needed commodity when being Black and gay in the South was not nearly as accepted as it is today. In high school, Big Freedia started singing with the prestigious Gospel Soul Children of New Orleans and became assistant director of her church choir.
By 1999, Freedia was a backup dancer for her friend, transgender bounce rapper Katey Red. Then Katrina hit New Orleans with the force of a biblical flood. Artists scattered and were forced to travel to gain fans and find exposure. Embracing a punishing schedule and unflagging work ethic, Big Freedia busted out of the traditional Southern hip-hop scene, finding support in queer-friendly punk and dance music scenes. Interest from Diplo, RuPaul and other tastemakers followed.
Bounce Music’s Rise to Mainstream Success
In the process, Big Freedia propelled bounce into the mainstream, primarily as samples in chart-topping hits, but she achieved so much more. After releasing lively singles like “Gin in My System” in 2003, she dropped her acclaimed debut LP Just Be Free. The album was chosen one of the best of 2014 by AllMusic, which said the collection played “as if Lil B. Lil Kim, Beenie Man, Beyonce, and Dr. Frank-N-Furter were spliced together with all their collective sass preserved, then piled high.
Big Freedia followed up that triumph with a string of well-received EPs: 3rd Ward Bounce (2018), Louder (2020), and Big Diva Energy (2021). She collaborated on high-profile projects like Beyoncé’s Grammy award-winning “Formation” and Drake’s “Nice For What,” and covered “Judas” on Lady Gaga’s Born this Way: The Tenth Anniversary album. Throughout this musical journey, Big Freedia has stayed true to bounce’s booming beats and exuberant, call-and-response shouts.
At the same time, she published her 2015 book, Big Freedia: God Save the Queen Diva! and starred in six successful seasons of her reality show Big Freedia Bounces Back on Fuse TV.
In 2023, she garnered an Album of the Year Grammy for her songwriting prowess on Beyoncé’s Renaissance album, for which Big Freedia’s “Explode” was sampled on Beyonce’s “Break My Soul.” That same year, and just in time for Pride, Big Freedia dropped her sophomore full-length album, Central City Freestyle, which AllMusic proclaims is, “triumphant and declarative.”
For Charlotte Pride, where Big Freedia will headline the Main Stage on Saturday, Aug. 19, the artist hopes revelers and attendees gain a sense of relief and release from her music.
“Times are hard for people right now — for everyone,” she says. “I hope when people come to a Big Freedia show they can escape for a little while and recharge.”
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