TOMORROW BIG FREEDIA leaves on tour. "Early flight," she says. But this evening will be like any other in Freedia's home of New Orleans. There are shows to play: three of them, in different clubs across the city. It's like this six nights a week—Freedia makes parties happen.
For years, James Brown wore the crown of "The Hardest-Working Man in Show Business"—and now, with a tweak in the syntax, it's time for the title to change hands. Standing 6' 2" and speaking with a deep Southern drawl, Freedia (pronounced "Free-da") was born male, but identifies with the feminine pronoun. She's a gay Southern rapper—a confluence rarely flown in the face of rap's endemic homophobia. After a dozen years in the scene, Freedia says she finds respect among the rappers in New Orleans.
"When I started [performing] bounce music"—a distinctly Southern style of up-tempo, ass-dropping, sexually fueled party rap—"I said I was going to be a person locally, here in New Orleans, that changed the way people look at gay people, as rappers and individuals," says Freedia. "And when I tell you I achieved my goal, I really did. They respect me to the highest, everywhere around the city—the boys, the girls, the grown men, the little children. And you know, I work hard at it." First New Orleans, now the world.
When not bringing the bounce, Freedia also runs a decorating company, which dovetails perfectly with her performances (package deals are indeed available). Decorating fills the afternoons until she begins the mad dash between venues. Along with regular club gigs, just about anyone can hire her for a gig. "I'll do a two-year-old's birthday party, or a 99-year-old lady's party," Freedia says. "Whoever wants to book me, wherever you want to book me, that can happen."
And although Freedia is regarded with star-like status, her local shows are often in unusual, stage-less venues, and can even go off in a sports bar. Intimacy is part of the experience. Imagine a slow night at a karaoke dive overtaken by a wildly charismatic, colorful party rapper with backup dancers in tow. For 20-odd minutes, the place becomes a sweaty explosion, a pop-up party—and then poof, it's over. Knowing that wherever Freedia plays, a party is close behind, fans often follow her all night.
"We show lots of love here at home," she says. "It's a different story when you go out on the road." And though there is a certain something about experiencing bounce music in the city where it originated, Freedia's experience and dedication make shows pop everywhere. Brought to Portland by DJ Beyonda and Brice Nice last year, Freedia was impressed. "It was wonderful," she remembers. "[Portland] blew me away with the crowd participation."
It's that exuberant response from fans that gives Freedia the energy to make it through her rigorous schedule. "At the end of the day, I'm just thankful that I made another person happy at their party," she says. "I've been doing this for 12 years now, and to be honest, if it weren't for the fans, I would've stopped."
After the evening's three shows, Freedia will be lucky to catch a few scant hours of sleep before heading to the airport. Unlike most artists, who become stretched or exhausted while touring, Freedia sees it like vacation. "At home I'm doing six to 12 jobs," she says. "On tour, I'm doing two or three. So I get to really relax."