Big Freedia's voice is steady, strong, and commanding. It is powerful even when she isn't yelling out instructions on how and when to shake your ass in her songs, or showing up in Beyoncé's 'Formation' ("I did not come to play with you hoes," she exclaims as Bey, dressed all in black, nods her head to the music almost like a woman possessed in the music video. "I came to slay, bitch."). It's strange and thrilling to hear the same voice coming out of my late-model smartphone on what, if I'm being completely honest, has been a less than thrilling Thursday.
She's not working, so she's not "on," but her delicious New Orleans accent—a lilting way of gliding over certain words, a "you know" interjected here and there—and that power still comes through.
"A whole lot of irons in the fire, just trying to put them out one by one," she tells me.
It's Pride season, and Big Freedia, also known as The Queen of Bounce—the New Orleans-originated form of dance music informed by call-and-response, often sexual shout-outs, and jagged throwback rap samples—will be coming to Baltimore as the Pride Block Party's headlining act this Saturday in Charles North at 9 p.m.
Freedia, who has been performing for nearly 20 years, tours and performs often—her website lists performances back-to-back-to-back, often each day in a different state—and many of those events are at various Pride events around the country. Pride celebrations are important, Freedia says, because they take you out of your everyday life, and invite you to have fun.
"You know, even if it's for a day, even if it's for a weekend, people get to let their hair down and it gives them a chance to refresh themselves and go back to their normal lives after," she says. "Dress however they want, do whatever they want, without being looked at in a certain way, and they just get to take the edge off for that moment, and get to show their pride and express themselves through dance, through music, through enjoyment, through life. And then they can go back to their normal lives and deal with their everyday adversities."
She says she takes her job as an entertainer very seriously—especially at Pride events.
"I just want to feel good about what I make and what I do," she says. "I just want to have fun with the music that I put out and I want to feel good about it when I complete a studio session. And when I finish hearing the recording, I want people to get excited like I'm excited."
Freedia has performed here in Baltimore plenty before, at the Y Not Lot for free back in 2014 and at other venues around town. She's also friends with Baltimore's TT the Artist and hopes the two will collaborate soon. She says one of the best things about traveling so much is the exposure to all kinds of regional music. It gives her the chance to expand her own creativity and try different things.
"Even if it's underground music, even if it's a main music from that particular place. It just shows you that there are so many different types of talent around the world and music that we can be able to express ourselves through," she says. "Even in New Orleans we have bounce, we have jazz, we have hip-hop, we have a wide variety of different music, so when I get to go to all these different places . . . hear all these different sounds, they keep inspiring me and then it also can help artists who like to cross over and do something different to be able to collaborate with all these different people."
Freedia's got a lot going on. Besides music, she has a reality show, "Big Freedia: The Queen Of Bounce," on FUSE, which will start its sixth season this September, and she's also working on a cookbook. Given all that she does, how she takes care of herself and maintains seems important—and it turns out, prayer and self-care are a big part of that.
"My main thing is through prayer and, you know, asking God to continue to give me the strength to be able to do what I do, because I mean so much doing this to so many people. And by me doing this for such a long time, it kinda comes naturally. When I need to recharge I push my team to give me a few days off, just be relaxed at home, eat whatever I want to eat. Go maybe enjoy a movie, maybe take a few days off and be with my family somewhere out of town, just take a break and just refresh myself," she says. "But it don't take much for me, you know, three days, two, three days tops just to recharge up, and I know I gotta keep making people happy and making them shake those asses."
Beyond the constraints of work, it's never been easy to be a gay person of color, less so now (the week we did this interview, Betsy DeVos failed to directly say that she'd protect LGBTQ students from being discriminated against by private and charter schools that receive federal funds). Freedia is able to keep it moving in spite of the Trump regime.
"After having to go through what I went through as a kid, fighting to be who I was then, I always said when I became an adult I would not be apologetic to anyone. And when I got accepted by my mom—being who I am and being myself—I was like fuck the world, there was nobody else I have to explain to, nobody else I had to take criticism off or take bullshit from. Once mom gave me the OK, the person who brought me in this world, everything else was a non-factor."
She also has advice for young LGBTQ people, who could possibly be attending their first Pride this year.
"Be humble, be yourself, have fun. Live life every day because you never know when it could be your last moment. Just take your time as you grow," she says. "Sometimes we take a lot of stuff a little bit too seriously but sometimes you have to laugh at it or look back at it and say, Child, I got to keep on pushing forward."
Freedia applies that same positive message to herself. Asked about how she manages her recent rise to mainstream success, she says that she tries to keep a level head.
"I'm still just a human being. I still love my people, I still love my fans because without them I wouldn't even be in the position to be on a song with Beyoncé or to be even bigger or to get to the next level, so I just remain humble and stay grounded," she says. "I continue to pray and put God first and trust and believe in him because God puts all of us in a position where he wants us to be . . . and I was chosen to what I do for bounce music, to take it to that next level and to bring it around the world so in my process I continue to remember where I came from and to remember just as big as I got it can be gone in just a second."
She sees nothing weird about talking about God in the same breath as talking about bounce music.
"God loves all of us no matter who we are," she says. "No sin is greater than the next. I come from church, my background is church, I grew up in the choir, I was choir director for many, many choirs so it's my background. No matter what walk of life you are, no matter what you do, what kind of music you do, God loves us all. He's not judgmental. He don't judge us for the things that we do, he looks at our heart and he judges us off our heart and I have a heart of gold, I bring joy to people and nothing's wrong with shaking a little ass, along with twerking. I don't think it's hurting anybody. I don't think anybody's getting killed from shaking their ass."