Postcard from Josephine Street

Big Freedia talks growing up in New Orleans and the roots of Bounce

Sasha Kopfler’s Big Freedia mural at the Art Garage. New Orleans. 2017. Photograph from Rawpixel.

Most of the time when I’m handling business or doing the things that I need to do for my music career, I’m Freddie by day, and I’m Freedia by night. ’Cause you know, when Freddie gets into the office, Freddie don’t play.

I am a male. I identify a lot of times with different hairstyles and the glorious nails and sometimes makeup. So people get confused sometimes whether to say “he” or “she.” But I’m comfortable in my skin and I know who I am.

I grew up with a mom who was a hairdresser for over 20- something years, a dad who was a truckdriver and a stepdad who was a truck driver, and they did their best to keep us from all of the things that was going on in our neighborhood. We saw it all—drugs and violence and poverty—and it was very important for me to be able to be optimistic. To be able to move around all of that and get out of the neighborhood and do something different with my life.

We lived in the Third Ward near the Melpomene housing project. On Josephine Street were all different types of little houses. We had a two-bedroom shotgun right on the corner.

When we would get out of school, I would go get my friend Adolphe, who lived down the street, and we would go to the Melpomene by our friend, Katey Red. We would get on our skates. We would ride our bikes. We would play jacks. We would play cards—some of the things that you just don’t see these days. A lot of times, these kids are on social media real heavy, or they are into video games. But we were into doing things outside. Things you had to make up and have fun with.

I was a happy, fat kid and I loved to eat. I embraced it. I was very neat. I was a very clean, big guy. I was happy with my size. The thing that helped me to change my size was that my mother would complain sometimes about the amount of money it would cost for the clothes. When you are a bigger person, it costs more because they are using more material.

I was picked on for being chubby. I was picked on for being gay. Me and my step dad had a moment where he was like, “You big for nothing,” and I actually picked him up and flipped him upside down. He was basically saying that I was big and soft and didn’t have any nuts to stand on, and I had to prove him wrong. And everybody in the house was just blown away by it. I got a lot of respect out of him after that day. It was time. I left him as a clump on the floor.

On Sunday mornings, I would be ready for church before anybody. I wanted to hear the music. Hear the preacher preaching. Go get the Sunday school lesson. Go get the donuts after Sunday school. My godmother was the choir director, so I became her assistant.

Being that I was also a young, Black, gay kid, they had Sundays where I felt very offended by the sermon, about being a homosexual. I would step off the choir stand. The organist was gay as well, so me and him would be in the back, and we would just feel like it was the light on us this Sunday. Some of the mothers of the church would come and reassure me. My godmother would say, “Baby, God loves us all. He doesn’t judge us for who we are.” That was the most important thing that I remembered.

We grew up listening to all the jams that came on the radio at that time. Jodeci and Levert. It would be Michael Jackson, of course. It would be Prince. It would be Patti Labelle. The O’Jays. My mom’s favorite was “Happy Feelin’s” by Frankie Beverly and Maze. It is just something about those words, “happy feelings.” We all want to feel happy, and to be able to express it through music is very important. When they made those hits, they made those hits.

Bounce is an up-tempo, heavy bass, call-and-response type of music. It is a repetitive bass that just keeps on knocking. These particular DJs who created the sound of Bounce here in New Orleans were the pioneers.

When we first started, I was just having fun. We didn’t expect to be rappers or to be in the music limelight. We were just doing it as kids. Beating on the electric machines in the project hallway. We would beat on the staircase rail. On our chests. Oh my God, I have grown. To be an icon in the Bounce game and for New Orleans now, it is just something special.

We have created a lane of our own. A music that is special to New Orleans, just like a lot of other music here in New Orleans. I have a vision to see it everywhere. As categories on music charts. At awards. They have all these different awards for country music, rock, jazz, R&B. Bounce deserves it.

For tourists, New Orleans can feel like America’s best playground. Whether it’s Mardi Gras, JazzFest or just a long weekend in spring, it’s a city to visit, to let loose and to be entertained. Come with us to encounter a ...

Related Content