In the understatement of at least this year, Big Freedia says Aspenites should expect her show this week at Belly Up to be “very exciting.”
“Expect a very intense show, a very high energy show,” she told me from her home in downtown New Orleans.
Freedia (pronounced “FREE-da,” sorta rhymes with “diva”) has quickly become the brazen, booty-shaking cultural ambassador for bounce music — a once-regional sect of rap from New Orleans. It’s all drum machines and fast-clap effects pedaling at epileptic tempos, with party-friendly call-and-response lyrics designed to make women bend over and jiggle.
“Come ready to shake your asses,” she says. “It’s all about ass-shaking.”
Freedia — who has a penis and an Adam’s apple and a voice that can hit Chali2na low octaves but who identifies as female — is bounce’s first breakout star. Over the last few years, she’s taken it out of the clubs of New Orleans to national tours and shows like “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
“I’m gonna rock the house to the core because that’s my job,” she promises of the Aspen gig. “That’s what I do every time and that’s what I plan on doing this time as well: Bringing the fire.”
She brings the fire to Belly Up on Thursday, Sept. 20.
A bounce show in New Orleans seems like the kind of thing you can’t export anywhere else. The bounce concerts I’ve seen, by the likes of Freedia and her predecessors DJ Jubilee and Katey Red, have peaked with the rappers working crowds into hordes of ecstatic bent-over bodies, raised skirts and fluttering butt cheeks. Freedia’s star has risen, in part, due to such feral scenes captured in YouTube clips.
A recent YouTube comment on the video for Freedia’s “Y’all Get Back Now” sums up the experience of a listener’s virgin ears getting filled with Big Freedia for the first time: “What the f--k did I just listen to? And why can’t I stop listening to it?”
Some have credited her with being a “body positive” artist, for celebrating jiggling plus-sized rumps with a sort of anti-objectification attitude, and as a pseudo-feminist force for rapping aggressively about sex from a female perspective with singalong-ready lines like: “I got gin in my system / Somebody gonna be my victim.”
The self-proclaimed queen diva’s style is impossible not to like, or shake to, it seems. These days, Big Freedia is boldly taking bounce out of the Dirty South and into uninitiated towns with more white bread sensibilities — like Aspen.
But can a place like Aspen handle her? Can our ski town’s bounce-a-dime, CrossFitted asses shake to Big Freedia?
“That makes it a little more interesting,” she says of playing for such seemingly foreign crowds. “Getting people who aren’t fans yet to gravitate toward me and to put them onto bounce music and teach them something a little bit different, that’s a little challenge that I love to take. By the end of the show they’ll be into it.”
So if you want to show up and look like you know what you’re doing on the dance floor at Belly Up, Big Freedia has a couple pieces of advice:
“Definitely practice in the mirror before you get there,” she says. “And wear some loose clothing so that you can shake your butt. But definitely practice in the mirror and watch some of the videos.”
She also recommends playing “Booty Battle,” a “Dance Dance Revolution”-styled game you can sample free on her website: bigfreedia.com.
Earlier this year Freedia collaborated with RuPaul on the single “Peanut Butter” (as in, “her thighs spread just like peanut butter”), in something like a passing-of-the-torch moment. Though Freedia doesn’t play up the novelty of her image as a gay rapper or drag performer, RuPaul nonetheless helped blaze the transgender trail in pop music for her, she acknowledges.
“It was so amazing when he called me and said he wanted to do a track with me,” Freedia recalls. “I just flipped out on the phone. It was like a dream come true. RuPaul defintiely was one of my idols and still is.”
It may have once seemed unimaginable that bounce could take hold anywhere but New Orleans, but Hurricane Katrina proved that wrong. After the storm, as bounce rappers spread around the country in the diaspora, the music started seeping into Houston clubs and points east, west and north, with Freedia leading the p-popping charge.
“It was spreading infectious-like,” she says.
The irresistible thing about a bounce show is that it’s not your standard concert where you stand around and watch a performer on stage. Instead, you are the show. The genre’s tribal call-and-response style gets everybody involved. On tour, Freedia gives rapid-fire dance instruction — shake it like this, slap it like that, etc.
So come out Thursday and put on a good show with Big Freedia.