Wednesday night I was mulling my options about what exciting way to spend my evening. Since my brother won’t let me come to his house to play Battlefield 2 – Bad Company, I was weighing whether or not to go to the Support Your Local Actresses event (which I’d said I would but suddenly wasn’t feeling), watch Departures or The Isle, or have a low-key game night. My friend Karen Lee offered a solitary vote for game night, but after another friend, Anne Kelson, offhandedly said, “There’s some Nola thing going on at El Cid,” I received a sudden jolt of energy. Of course I was intrigued. She told me someone named Big Freedia was performing. My Lenten abstinence of booze was thrown out the window (again).
Big Freedia and Katey Red A fan modeling what may quite possibly be the sissiest shirt ever
Big Freedia (née Freddie Ross) is a New Orleans rapper from off Josephine in the 3rd Ward. About fifteen years ago, Freddie hooked up with a Melpomene resident and fellow Walter L Cohen student who called herself Katey Red. Freddie was a cheerleader and Katey a baton twirler. The two began rapping together as duo, Big Freddy and K-Reddy. Katey Red signed to Take Fo’ and was the first openly gay rapper on the bounce scene. Big Freddy became Big Freedia and performed backup vocals and danced as part of Katey’s posse. In 2000, Neil Strauss‘s article, “A Most Unlikely Star,” appeared in The New York Times.
Despite the media exposure and the national popularity of New Orleans’ Cash Money and No Limit, by 2005, bounce and its sissy off-shoot seemed like they were never really going to move beyond New Orleans in a big way. After Katrina displaced thousands of New Orleanians, the expatriates’ beloved music seemingly began to crossover in Houston, where many had settled. I watched from afar with excitement and glee when Latino Houston musician Chingo Bling hooked up with 5th Ward Weebie and morphed Hotboy Ronald‘s bounce hit “Walk like Ronald” into “Walk like Cleto,” but when, as Eric P. Poptone, I DJed what was falsely billed as a Katrina benefit (all the benefits went to the bar), I was angrily berated by a particular hipster-wannabe for, although undeniably “keeping it real,” supposedly playing music that “no one is feeling” — this despite grinning and grinding going on with the more down-to-earth visitors to the dance floor.
A couple of years later I wrote, “Sissy Rap – tell me what a sissy know” about the sissy scene for Eric’s Blog. In August 2008, Sissy’s premier historian, Alison Fensterstock wrote “Sissy Strut” and afterward offered me some helpful corrections and additional info. In September, XLR8R followed suit with “Sissy Bounce” which included a fashion spread. That year, Ben Ellman of New Orleanian hippie funk jam band Galactic collaboed with Katey Red. When Galactic went on tour, they took Freedia with them. Galactic’s 2010 album was heavily indebted to the bounce and sissy scene, featuring contributions from Cheeky Blakk, Katey Red, Sissy Nobby and of course, Big Freedia. In 2009, the “mother-daughter” pair Big Freedia and Sissy Nobby performed in notoriously cutting edge Williamsburg, Brooklyn. There, a mere eighteen years after TT Tucker & DJ Irv cut the first bounce record, the trendsetting crowd was on board.
What, in this internet age, took so long? Are audiences finally tired of mainstream hip-hop spending the last twenty years mired in a cesspool of self-seriousness, stupidity-valorizing thug posturing and hideous, de-humanizing uniform of style-less, over-sized clothes? Did the miserable, newbie, proselytizing backpackers finally grow tired of delivering the same boring sermon about the elements of hip-hop to a crowd old enough to remember Dana Dane and Whodini?
Naturally, after performing in the East Coast’s most famous scenester enclave, Big Freedia and DJ Rusty Lazer came to Sunset Junction, a 500 foot stone’s throw from Silver Lake, Williamburg’s supposed West Coast franchise. I had heard a few mentions about how bounce was the latest “hipster” accessory but I was still surprised and delighted by the size and energy of the crowd. Rusty Lazer, from what I recall, played classics, including songs by the likes of Jubilee, Juvenile, Magnolia Shorty. To my surprise, someone called out a request for Josephine Johnny. My reserve worn down via gin and dancing, I randomly approached strangers curious about how they’d come to bounce. As a response, I was more than once treated to an unnecessary historical lecture about brown beats and triggaman by Sierra Nevada-drinking beardos. Others were just curious. A few didn’t seem like they knew. Whatever, even if Queen Diva isn’t likely on heavy rotation back at their cribs, almost everyone seemed to really enjoy themselves and it was refreshing to see a crowd largely made up of white Angelenos for once not standing stock still with their arms folded.
If you missed it, one of the next stops for Big Freedia a d Rusty Lazer is a bounce showcase at SXSW, where they’re scheduled to play a bounce showcase with Jube, PNC, Ms. Tee, Magnolia Shorty, Katey Red and Vockah Redu. Anyone want to carpool?
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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