Big Freedia: “Everybody Has a Butt, No Matter What Size It Is”
New Orleans bounce isn't subtle music: Loud and direct, the genre is known for its distinctive beat and repetitive vocal hooks. Oh, and its fervor for ass-shaking. (Listen to DJ Jubilee's landmark "Back That Ass Up"—or any bounce track ever created—for proof.) New Orleans' Big Freedia lends her own twists on the theme in "Azz Everywhere," “Make Ya Booty Go,” and “Y’all Get Back Now," songs she's performed all over the country (including D.C.) to crowds whose enthusiasm for rump-shaking sometimes outweighs their skill.
Big Freedia, whose insane work ethic and hectic performance schedule was documented in a 2010 New York Times piece, stops at the Rock & Roll Hotel tomorrow night on yet another tour, this one to promote two new films and upcoming album: Almost Famous, a documentary about her life; Big Freedia Presents: Twerk Bounce & Pop, a dance instruction DVD; and Da Idol, her first proper full-length record. In 2011, Freedia dropped a Scion A/V Presents EP; in January 2012, she performed for a national audience on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
Before she flew to Switzerland for a film festival, I talked with Big Freedia about her upcoming projects, the dancers that join her onstage, and the origins of “Back That Ass Up.”
Washington City Paper: How was 2012 for you?
Big Freedia: It was a blessing, you know? A lot of work and dedication to what I do and my craft, but it was a blessing. Saw a lot of friends. I did make through the year, but that’s how I feel, it was definitely a blessing for me to be able to make it to the next year.
WCP: Are you doing OK? I know you had to cancel some tour dates last year.
BF: Yeah, I’m doing real good.
WCP: Good. What do you see ahead in 2013?
BF: Nothing but bigger and brighter things. We’re stepping it up a whole lot. Getting ready to leave on tour in less than a week’s time. Which is really exciting. We’re starting the year off already with a big bang.
WCP: What’s this documentary all about? Is it just kinda following you around?
BF: Yeah, about New Orleans and about my life. My background. Just where I come from. My family’s on it. And the people in my circles. Yeah, it’s about my life.
WCP: You’ll be in D.C. on Jan. 23 at the Rock & Roll Hotel. Do you have many experiences with D.C.?
BF: I have performed there before and the show went on very much.
WCP: Awesome. What’s the live set up like? Do you tour with a DJ or musicians?
BF: No. You know, DJ, dancers. I have a film guy. Manager. You know.
WCP: So you’re gonna have some dancers on stage on this tour?
BF: Oh, definitely.
WCP: How did you get that idea to have these people come on stage and go wild with you? Is that a long-standing part of your act?
BF: Oh, yeah. That’s been happening for as long as I can remember. Since I first thought it. We were just doing it a block party, so everybody would just be on one level and everybody just would have fun and get together, and it was just like a big party. And that’s how it started. That trend just went on for years and years. Getting everybody involved is definitely a part of it. I just can’t put everybody in the whole club on stage, so, y’know, some are luckier than others, to get onstage. I wanna make the whole crowd move in the whole building.
WCP: You’re bringing dancers from your home with you and they’ll perform with you?
WCP: How do you select those dancers? Just people you know with great moves?
BF: Well, they definitely gotta be qualified and skilled to dance for Freedia. But yeah they usually—they definitely been in the game for awhile. They’ve been dancing for awhile. It’s a passion that they love. It’s kinda easy to see that energy in the people in New Orleans.
WCP: If one doesn't have much of a behind, maybe a skinny butt, what should be done? Is there a move to be compensated for that?
BF: Everybody has a butt, no matter what size it is. You just gotta work it, baby. You just gotta work it. Sometimes I see the skinniest person get onstage and break it up over the biggest person with the biggest ass, so it’s all about what you wanna do and how you feelin’. You feel it—like I say, everybody has a butt, you just gotta work it.
WCP: It seems like I’ve come across a ton of songs titled “Back That Ass Up.” Is there a true originator in bounce music?
BF: Well, it comes from Juvenile, “Back That Ass Up.” And DJ Jubilee also. He and Juvenile came out with that around the same time. So, there was two versions. There was like a hip-hop version, which was Juvenile’s and there was a bounce version, which was DJ Jubilee. Yeah, you’ll hear that. You’ll hear that because it has a lot to deal with bounce music, it’s backing that ass up; bouncing that ass all around like a basketball. So you’re definitely gonna hear that.
WCP: Were Juvenile and Jubilee’s versions related or was it just a coincidence that they came out around the same time?
BF: They were kinda related, yeah. They were kinda related because there was some issues behind that back then, what they were fighting over that—that phrase, “Back That Ass Up.” I think Juvenile won over Jubilee, only because Juvenile was with a bigger record company, with Cash Money. You know, money talk and bull crap walk.
WCP: I love the Jubilee version.
BF: Me too. That’s classic, baby. Both of them was classic, but you know, like I said, they were both diverse, as well. One was a hip-hop version that would have the club hyped, as well, and then you had that bounce version that would just get all the girls backing that thing up for real. So they had two different dynamics to it.
WCP: How did bounce get started? Are you familiar with how it got its start?
BF: Yeah. It started over two decades ago with DJ Irv and DJ Jimi. Two DJs, two local New Orleans DJs. They kinda started playing with the Triggerman beat and the Brown beat and then started putting it together and history was made for bounce and for New Orleans. And it went on and on and on.
WCP: When did you start performing?
BF: I started performing about 2000. I actually started background for Katey [Red] about 2000, she came out in ‘99. I was background with Katey for about a year and a half or two years, and then I started my own solo project then. Doing my own thing.
WCP: You started making music in 2002 or something like that?
BF: Actually, I had—once Katey started developing hers, I started my process of comin’ up with my different slangs and all of that. It was in the process of, y’know, me transitioning from background into being on main stage with her, I was in my recording process, as well. So, I was recording in 2000, 2001. And then it just started happening.
WCP: How do you make your music? Is it just you, or do you have a lot of people involved? What’s the process?
BF: No, it’s just usually me and the producer. Me and the person who makes the track. Now since y’know my music has grown from where I used to be at, there’s a few more producers involved and, y’know, my manager’s involved, setting a lot of different things in place. You know, the publicist—everybody’s involved. My whole team’s now involved in making sure everything’s connected and running right with the music. My lawyers, everybody’s involved now, from where I used to be. It used to be just me, my manager, and the producer. And we would just put it out and make it happen.
WCP: When you’re making the music, what do you contribute? What’s your part of the track?
BF: My part of the track is coming up with the ideas and writing the song. Funding everything. I’m the project. I’m the brand.
WCP: What have you been doing over the years, when you’re not making music?
BF: Oh, just working, you know. Either on the road or on the mic somewhere. Still doing music. And I decorate on the side as something else that I do, as a passion of mine. That’s what I do. I interior decorate or I’m making music or on somebody’s plane, getting jetlagged.
WCP: What were you like growing up?
BF: Let’s just say that I was most likely to stand out.
WCP: Do you feel like your personality, which is so strong in your music—you’ve had that for a long time?
BF: Oh, yeah, definitely. Very much a people’s person and very into—I was into everything. In high school, in middle school. I was always on some type of team or student council or yearbook staff or—yeah I was always an all-around type of person in my community, as well as in school.
WCP: What is Da Idol going to be like?
BF: It’s gonna be very interesting. I’ve stepped it up a whole lot and made a lot of diverse decisions with this album to make it more universal and pop off even more. So, I think it’s going to be very interesting and I think my fans are gonna love it.
WCP: Are you having many guests on that LP?
BF: Not too many.
WCP: Any you can share?
BF: We’re not trying to give everything away. But yeah. It’ll be coming out soon, though.
WCP: And I heard you have a dance instruction DVD coming out?
BF: Yes, as well.
WCP: What are some of the moves you teach?
BF: You gotta come to one of my dance classes so you can see.
WCP: So, is the DVD just like a filming of one of your classes?
BF: Yeah, it’s just like if you came into one of the classes. It’s like a workout-kinda DVD. To kinda give you the instructions on how to do the dance and then you’ll do the dance, then you can do it with us.
Big Freedia performs with Glitterlust, Abdu Ali, and DJ Sanitize Jan. 23 at 8 p.m. at Rock & Roll Hotel, 1353 H St. NE. $16 in advance, $18 at the door.