New Orleans rapper Big Freedia believes anyone can learn to twerk — even grandmothers.
"We twerk in New Orleans from zero to 99," Big Freedia says over the phone last week from her hometown.
The butt-bouncing/pelvic thrusting dance move — made infamous in recent years by Miley Cyrus, and of course that viral video where a woman twerks against a door and catches on fire — is just one of the moves in Big Freedia's booty-popin' arsenal. Last year, she even made a video (see below), aimed at bringing everyone into the twerking party.
Unfortunately, the how-to is less of a break down of the move (in a variety of positions) and more of an athletic showcase. Proving just how challenging all that shaking is, one of her students admits at one point: "Yeah, my ass ain't doing that."
Thankfully, Freedia, a 40-year-old male drag queen who uses the pronoun "she," doesn't actually care if you come to one of her shows and get to work twerking, her talented crew of backup dancers mostly have that on lock. Instead, experiencing the concert is all about feeling the music, releasing your mind and responding to her call to move in any way you can. Freedia even admits that the show is 90 percent about dance and 10 percent her on the microphone. She says that through performing, even through the must grueling of tour days, she is free.
"When I’m on stage and able to be free-spirited and do what I do, I’m able to be myself," Freedia says. "Even in my everyday life, I do what I love, who I love and I do what I want. I’m not regulated by no one. I live my life out loud everyday."
And she's constantly on the move right now. Over the phone, Freedia sounds exhausted. She's been involved in the New Orleans Pride festival, and she's readying to film a music video then leave on tour in the next two days, which includes a stop at the Grog Shop on Saturday. She also recently released a single with Drake, something she didn't believe was happening until the paperwork was officially signed.
She says that every opportunity to bring her style of bounce music to the rest of the world is a win, and that Drake wanting to include her was thrilling. Since the early-aughts, Freedia has worked to spread the gospel of the New Orleans-style of hip-hop. Beat heavy, her infectious tunes rely on repetitive yelling and plenty of advising people to release their inhibitions. Her sing-songy voice is harsh yet strangely calming. She is someone you want to follow, and someone you won't forget.
Her newest EP, 3rd Ward Bounce, offers up that signature promise of fun but also digs into everyday problems her fans may encounter. The first single, "Rent" for example, is a booty-bumpin' ode to freeloaders getting their comeuppance.
"A lot of people take people for granted," Freedia explains. "A lot of people want to live for free, and you have to pay your half. Maybe they can’t pay money, but they can pay in other ways."
But even with world tours under her belt, a Christmas record, a feature on the recent Beyoncé album and six seasons of the Fuse reality show Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce, the artist isn't quite a household name outside of Louisiana. But she says she never expected that when she started out.
"We were doing this for fun from the beginning," she says. "It was not a dream. I was raised doing gospel music. Once it was the thing, bounce became a passion of mine. Letting my hair down, letting people have fun, and I haven't stopped."
Freedia says that a few years ago, she kept getting questioned about who she was by fans and critics alike. So in the opening moments of 2014's "Explode," she addresses those who didn't know her.
"My music it makes me feel good about what I do and the culture I represent / People get confused about if I am he or she / I am more than just Big Freedia, Queen Diva, Freddie Ross / I am me / I am the ambassador representin' for New Orleans and for bounce music / Too many things in my head sometime / It just all makes me want to explode," she says in the song.
But now, nearly two decades into her hip-hop career, she's done explaining.
"If you don’t know who I am, then you don’t know," she says. "I don’t have to explain that anymore."
Big Freedia, Zoe Lapin, 9 p.m. Saturday, June 16, The Grog Shop, 2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., Cleveland Heights, 216-321-5588. Tickets: $16 ADV, $18 DOS, grogshop.gs.
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