Big Freedia Puts Azz Everywhere

09/16/2010

Big Freedia

“Gay rapper,” ‘strippers,” and “sissies” oddly fit into a sentence, but are even more peculiar describing a burgeoning scene in New Orlean’s hip hop called “Bounce music.” Paving the way is Big Freedia (pronounced “Free-da”), the undisputed “Queen Diva” of the genre. Here is an interesting video describing the scene that accompanies a New York Times article about Freedia.

Freedia: “Azz Everywhere
[audio: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/11598506/BigFreedia-AzzEverywhere.mp3]

SFCritic first learned of the scene in an email pitch, which described Freedia:

Freedia performs a derivative of Bounce reserved for self-proclaimed “Sissies” (a locally used name for biological men with varied and ambiguous sexual identities) that has risen to prominence in recent years and features explicitly gay and cross-dressing musicians and themes.

Fans of Freedia are familiar with her role as an impromptu dance instructor, and many women and queer people credit her with creating “safe spaces” that allow for all kinds of sexual expression while encouraging respect from spectators and participants alike. This video, filmed by Portland based production company, Intothewoods.tv, takes that idea a step further, as Freedia encourages the dancers at Sassy’s to shake not for the customers specifically, but rather for their own pleasure and expression. The result is evident in the cheering and support of the crowd. In these three songs money rains on the stage (a necessary part of the work these girls do) despite the fact that the girls themselves rarely acknowledge the crowd. No longer performing “for” the men and women who are visiting the club, the energy of the room transcends the practical nature of “stripping as a profession” and illustrates that what works the best while trading sexuality for sustenance is a genuine expression of sexual joy. Happy people having fun and being a little dirty is simply more pleasurable (and in a workplace situation, more profitable) than performances that are designed to impersonate intimacy, but rarely are.

Included within this pitch was a video performance (NSFW) which depicts Freedia on stage with several topless strippers wearing only G-strings. The video begins with Freedia, a large black male, walking onto the stage dressed in a black and red flannel shirt, a leather vest, and red rope strung around her chest. Her outfit combines heteronormative-conceptions of masculinity with dominatrix. But the blurred artistic expression is accented by her feminine hairstyle with bleached tip bangs. She exclaims “Freedia is the female version of a hustler,” while slowly rocking back and forth, building the momentum of the crowd.

Bounce seems like the Dirty South’s version of Miami bass. Miami bass, known for the heavy bass thump, became popularized by the notorious 2 Live Crew. 2 Live Crew epitomized the objectification of women in hip hop with their album cover for Nasty As I Wanna Be.

Nasty As I Wanna Be

Similarly to Miami Bass, “Bounce music” emphasizes the drum patterns, and repeats lyrics, which make it easily danceable. On “Azz Everywhere,” Freedia repeats like a floor general “Shake that ass” to the strippers on stage. In the New York Time’s article, it explains that the strippers are not dancing for the crowd but for Freedia:

“they did so in the most sexualized way imaginable, usually with their backs to her, bent over sharply at the waist, and bouncing their hips up and down as fast as humanly possible, if not slightly faster.”

The south is not the most accepting region of homosexuals in the United States, nor is rap music in general. Within this context enters Freedia. Her music and performances appears like objectification, but are explained as empowerment. Does Freedia as a gay rapper leading bounce change the feminist interpretation? In the video as Freedia leads, the camera pans to the mostly white crowd (mainly male) who stand, not dance, watching intently. It’s unclear whether the crowd is enjoying the the artistic performance, the spectacle or nude women. How does the audience affect the interpretation of the performance?

Interestingly enough, Freedia will be touring with Matt & Kim and Fun Fun Fest. What are your thoughts on this?

Here is the video of Frieda’s performance (note: NSFW, view at your own discretion)