A fast, crisp pulse fills starts off the track. An even faster counter beat comes on, like a soul clapping crowd, followed by a strong voice commanding you to “Move ya ass” and “Shake ya y’tootsi.” Then the track switches, keeping the beat solid but reshaping the rest of the torrent of sounds into airhorns, trumpets, records stretching and anything else to fit the hyper-sexual energy. The vocal commands remain strong: Time to shake it, because Big Freedia the Queen of Bounce says so.
This is Just be Free – the aptly titled EP from Big Freedia, a New Orleans artist whose name has become both synonymous with twerking and gender bending. As a gay male from New Orleans with an affinity for fantastic weaves and exquisite purses, Big Freedia might be mistaken for an anomaly without a lane. He lies somewhere between a New Orleans Mardi Gras performer and a strip club ringmaster, with strong shades of Drag Queen theatrics and a hardcore rapper swagger. Hailed as the “Queen of Bounce”, he emerged from the streets of New Orleans to bring the high-energy, twerk-centric music to the world. After years of building a fan base through energetic stage shows including dancers with mind-boggling twerk skills, Big Freedia is enjoying a moment of more mainstream awareness. The sound, the movement and the message all transcend the narrow definition of bounce music, largely due to the persona of Big Freedia herself.
When commanding people to shake their asses over the course of 10 songs, a lesser artist would begin to seem stale. Not Freedia. The lyrics are so confident and the beats work so well with Freedia’s verbal soundscapes, that every track feels like a new sermon in the Church of Twerk. Tracks like “N.O. Bounce” blend horns over a Dancehall beat for a unique and playful sound. The inclusion of a trap remix of “Mo Azz” is right on trend, and the slower beats allow a darker side of Freedia to come through.
Big Freedia has found a niche as a pioneer of a growing genre of sexually ambiguous or “weird” artists. Gay black men are especially having a small surge of acceptance, with acts like Mykki Blanco, Le1f and Stromae making cracks in the heteronormative glass ceiling. The aggressive beats and the confident vocals act as a retort to a culture that is too often marginalized or even threatened with violence. Just be Free isn’t just an album title – it’s a command and a mantra.
Through bounce music – and twerking – isn’t for everyone, the wide appeal is a testament to the innate human desire for expression. For those whose sexuality and ratchet tendencies are shackled, shaking, and wiggling is a welcome release.
This is the soundtrack to those freeing moment of liberation. It comes fast, it comes hard and it’s graphic. But it doesn’t objectify – it empowers. Freedia doesn’t sound like the famed Mystical like “Shake Ya Ass”. He isn’t demanding you perform for her, he is inviting you to perform with her. This is a key distinction. And no one gets that like Freedia, who owns every stage and every track with a larger than life confidence that stretches longer than a 36-inch weave.
For those who are offended or concerned about the levels of brash or alternative sexuality in these lyrics – I ask you to think about the most popular songs on urban radio today. Hoes not being loyal and “pushing your panties to the side” are two lines from hits that most 13 year old girls in my neighborhood would recognize. It’s would be a different world if Freedia’s version of sexuality – where the feminine is allowed to be dominant – was more common on the radio.
I doubt we will hear “Where My Queens At” on the radio anytime soon. But, for now, I’ll keep listening, and practicing my hair-whip-twerk-walk combo in the mirror, waiting for that day.