Big Freedia Bounces His Way to Pride

After losing countless loved ones to violence and drugs, suffering the hardships of Hurricane Katrina, and dealing with the day-to-day challenges of growing up gay and black in the South, it's a wonder rapper Big Freedia (born Freddie Ross) hasn't bounced out of the Big Easy. But in his new memoir, Big Freedia: God Save the Queen Diva!, the Bounce innovator — who dropped his debut LP Just Be Free in 2014, and continues to raise ratings on FUSE's hit reality show, Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce — credits New Orleans' bounce music scene with his salvation.

He's excited to bring his trademark bounce and booty-popping to the Main Stage at Civic Center Plaza on Sunday. SF Weekly spoke to Big Freedia about SF Pride, the struggles of gay blacks in the south today, the Charleston church shooting, and twerking with pride.

What can we expect from your SF Pride set?
The show is definitely going to be a lot of energy. We come in to bring it and to make people happy. It's Pride, so we want everyone to have fun, be free and turn it up with us. Unfortunately, my set is not too long, so I'm gonna have to bring it really quickly.

What did you learn singing in the choir that you bring to your career today?
Mostly the interaction with the fans. In choir, I had to interact with my actual choir, and same thing in bounce music. Now I'm interacting with my fans, and my fans are like my choir. They're my backup singers, and I'm the director and still have my choir behind me. Now it's just a big bounce choir. 

In your new memoir, Big Freedia: God Save the Queen Diva!, you speak about some of the struggles you experienced growing up amid extreme violence and surviving Hurricane Katrina. How has bounce helped you weather this storm?
Growing up in New Orleans is really rough, and being black and gay is even more rough. So definitely my mom kept pushing me out there to stand up and be a man and be whoever you choose to be and be the best you can be at it. That kept me encouraged and in positive things and away from negativity and off the streets.

I started in gospel, but once I discovered bounce, it was another type of joy that I brought to people. Bouncing around different clubs, the sound of my voice would do that for a lot of different people. Over the years, I've grinded and grinded and started busting my butt show after show and then started getting recognition and the props I deserve for the hard years of work I put in. Bounce music is dedicated to where my story is now and helping me on that journey. I started meeting tons of other people in that world. But it was still a kind of feeling of bringing excitement and happiness for people. It was the same thing with gospel: happiness and a feeling of a spirit. Bounce music does the same thing, but in a different sound of music.

You're in a minority of male rappers that truly elevate women.
I definitely bring some stability to women and let them feel free in their space and let them know that they're protected and can be themselves. That's important to a lot of my fans, and creating that safe space for the women has always been my thing. Even when I started rapping, if boys were trying to touch the girls on their asses or slapping them on their cheeks, I would protect the girls. I will continue to be that way.

As the star of the most viewed show on Fuse, Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce, you undoubtedly keep the channel's electricity running. Why are you so watchable?
People love the interaction that I give. They respect my hustle and my grind. People respect me, in general, because of my character and who I am. So I stay humble and continue to do things off the grace of all of the blessings that He's put in front of me.

We've seen some of your ups and downs with your boyfriend, Devon, on the show. What is your current status?
We're good for right now. But today is a rough day.

Your hometown of New Orleans has certainly had its unfair share of rough years. What's life like in The Big Easy today?
It's still going through so much stuff with all of the killings and the nonsense violence that happens here. We're really pushing and praying for the city to make some positive things happen. But it's New Orleans and it's home, so you know the things that've been happening since you were a kid and come with the territory. For example, you might see a person today and then they're gone in the next hour or so. But it's New Orleans, and I love my home and there's no other place I'd go to bat for.

How has the Charleston church shooting impacted you?
It's just very disturbing. All of the things that've been happening around the world, all of the tragedies, all of the disasters — it's really disturbing that you see all of this, and you're like, “Is this even real? Is this happening?” You think you're in a movie when you see all of this stuff. My heart goes out to all the people and their families who have to put up with this stuff in different cities. We just lost a police officer who was killed here. Within the weekend that I was gone, we lost 10 people. You never hear anything positive; you always hear the negativity and see the bad things. It makes you frustrated to even turn on the news.

In 2015, how hard is it to be black and gay in the south?
Well, it definitely has changed. People are very much more open-minded. The spirit of people around gay people has changed. There will always be homophobia or some person who will have an issue with it because they have issues with themselves. But for the most part, I don't get any slack. People respect me and the gay people that I'm around, because we continue to work and grind and hustle.

One of my fans hit me up on the DM and said, “I don't know how to deal with people picking on me and calling me 'gay' and so forth.” My advice to him was when I was young and people used to say, “Oh, you fat faggot,” or “You fat sissy,” I would say, “Thank you” and keep walking. It would shock them that I would turn it around. They thought that I would fuss with them and battle, but I would say, “Thank you” in the nicest way with the biggest smile on my face. It would mess people's heads up. There are always ways to get around stuff and still be yourself and not entertain them with the foolishness, because things are happening so quickly, and you can have your life taken just for an argument or looking at someone the wrong way. So I want my gay people to stay mindful of their surroundings and think about how they're interacting with people or responding, because some people can't take responses and end up getting violent.

What makes you proud?
Just being myself, all of the hard work, all of the love and support, my family, my grind, and my hustle make me feel proud.

Speaking of grinding, a lot of your fans are probably going to attempt a twerk during your SF Pride set. What advice can you give them, so they don't end up looking the fool like Miley Cyrus at the 2013 VMAs? 
Practice makes perfect. I tell people that using the mirror helps to see your body and the way that you can make it move. You can do a lot in the mirror with your body motions. Practice and use the mirror to create what makes you feel comfortable, sexy, and proud. 

Big Freedia plays SF Pride's Main Stage at Civic Center Plaza on Sunday, June 28. Free;

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