Big Freedia: The Queen Diva of Bounce Music

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Hip-hop, like any other form of music, is subject to localization. Different cities have different scenes with different sounds and different superstars. These scenes go largely underappreciated in the mainstream until a local hero makes good or the sound becomes too big to ignore.

Like the San Francisco Bay's hyphy and Houston's chopped and screwed, New Orleans has its own brand of localized hip-hop. It should come as no surprise that the style is characterized by many of the things we typically associate with that city, plus Mardi Gras: Call-and-response shouting, fast beats and a big emphasis on sexy dancing. When you see the amount of ass-shaking going on, you start to get an idea of why they call it bounce music.

This weekend bounce returns to Houston via Free Press Summer Fest. And while producers like Diplo incorporate bounce into their sonic palette, there is one artist performing this weekend who flies the banner of bounce higher than anyone else: the Queen Diva of Bounce, Big Freedia.

When asked about what she's working toward, Big Freedia makes it pretty clear: "My next big goal is to keep trying to make bounce music mainstream."

Rocks Off caught up with Freedia the day before she hit the road for her current series of summer shows across the nation. It's a tour that'll take her from coast to coast spreading the gospel of bounce that has already included a headlining slot on the Beach Party Stage at Bamboozle and later features a late-night slot at Bonnaroo.

Taking a new sound to an audience of strangers at a show like Summer Fest might freak some artists out. A festival veteran, including a couple of classic performances at Austin's Fun Fun Fun Fest, Freedia understands the importance of playing shows to new audiences.

"It's always exciting. It's another chance to go out and pick up more fans," says Freedia. "I'm not intimidated, but it's definitely a challenge. It's definitely important to venture out into new venues."

Freedia should find the Summer Fest crowd welcoming. Texas is right next door to her home state, and she says she gets lots of love in Austin, Dallas and here in Houston.

The challenge is taking bounce and getting it past the regional level and into the mainstream, but bounce artists like Freedia may not have much further to go in their mission. Plenty of people have already suggested that bounce might be the next big sound, and Freedia is already seeing interest in her music pick up.

"I'm getting tons of media and interview requests. I'm getting lots of calls from people wanting to work with me," she says. "We're on the verge of something big."

There's more to Big Freedia than just the current tour. Although her primary focus is on finishing up her next album and doing shows here and overseas, she's also got her hand in a few other projects, including the movie Bounce Queen with other bounce superstars like Katey Red and Sissy Nobby.

There's also the Big Freedia Booty Battle.

Concocted by Freedia and her manager, the game is a Dance Dance Revolution-inspired workout for the fingers built by E&E. It's everything that you love about DDR, just done on a keyboard and with more ass-shaking. It's also a pretty smart promotional tactic, given how important music is to the overall experience.

The game is, at best, only a taste of what's hitting the stage this Saturday at Summer Fest.

The word "party" is thrown around a lot in music. People make party music, they want their shows to be a party and their tour is just one big traveling party. They hammer that point home by overusing the phrase so you know just how fun they really are.

Big Freedia is one of the small class of artists whose shows really do feel like a party. It's a show that thrives on crowd interaction and participation, whether it's the call-and-response shouting that's a trademark of bounce or getting people out of the crowd to get their dance on.

In some markets her crew even holds bounce dance classes just so people know what to do when the music starts. But whether you're a longtime fan or completely new to the sound, there's a place for you at the show. Parties aren't about how much you can drink or about how loud you can be, but about having as much fun as you can.

And if you learn about a new style in the process, even better.

"The shows are full of energy, high volume and definitely about having a good time," says Freedia. "It's for anybody who wants to be inspired by a new sound...and wants to shake their ass."

Big Freedia plays Free Press Summer Fest 1:30 p.m. Saturday, June 2, on Stage 3.

Follow Rocks Off on Facebook and on Twitter at @HPRocksOff.

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