As an LGBTQ star currently working in the music industry, Big Freedia knows that she is a loud, proud voice for queer people everywhere. And she has no intention of changing that.
“I never tone nothing down,” she says with a smile.
Freedia sat down with Billboard staff writer Taylor Mims as a part of Billboard’s “Inclusivity and Coming Out Stories” video series, presented by Captial One, to discuss how she broke into the music industry, what it means to be a queer artist working today, and the way forward for LGBTQ artists.
Growing up, Freedia says she saw herself in artists such as Michael Jackson, Sylvester, Dionne Warwick, Diana Ross and many others, especially gospel singers. But when Freedia saw her friend Katey Red beginning to produce and release bounce music, the rapper says she instantly knew what she wanted to do. “Katey needed some support and a support system, and so we started helping Katey and backgrounding for her,” she says. “Eventually, I started doing my own thing in 2000, and things just went a whole different direction for me.”
That “direction,” as it turns out, was straight to the top. Widely hailed as the “Queen of Bounce,” Freedia has brought the once-underground art form into mainstream consciousness with her energetic tracks and infectious personality. But as Freedia recalls, it wasn’t until after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005 that people began booking her in order to bring the sound of New Orleans to the public.
“People wanted me to bring a sense of home to all of the different places that people were displaced at,” she recalls. “People were really into the music and were like, ‘What kind of music is that? Oh my god, I like that music, teach me how to bounce!’ And so it just really got all over after Katrina.”
But early on in her career, Freedia says that while she was helping get the word out about bounce music, she was also struggling with the reality of homophobia in the music industry, especially when it came to getting her music in front of audiences. “We weren’t treated equally, being that we were gay,” Freedia recalls. “We were working for chump change. Over time time, things started to change, but in the beginning, it was not so easy. It was not so accepting. People were in shock that they had these gay artists out in New Orleans that’s doing bounce music and making the girls shake all over.”
Because of that struggle, the bounce superstar says that she’s become more outspoken for her community, and tries to use her platform to spread positivity wherever she can. “I see myself as a little beacon of light that comes from the struggle,” she says. “People can see my story and know my story, and know that through hard work and determination, anything is possible … I’m steady knocking down doors and breaking down barriers.”
Check out the full interview with Big Freedia above, where she discusses Pride season 2021, the effect of the pandemic on live performance, her advice for artists coming up in the industry and more.