Big Freedia’s Pandemic Perseverance

Big Freedia at the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles in 2017.
Reuters/Mario Anzuoni

The patron saint of New Orleans, Big Freedia, is irrevocably known for her contributions to the rump-shaking sub-genre of rap known as bounce music. Still, she also has a penchant for homestyle cooking, community development, and legacy-building. In other words, the sky’s the limit for the self-proclaimed Queen Diva.

Though not overnight, Freedia seemingly unlocked the code for industry success. In less than a decade, she graduated from belting “Gin in My System” into the night air at local block parties to performing it to sold-out stages across the globe. She has developed a reality TV series, released a memoir, and turned heads with titillating dance-focused performances in lockstep with the release of banger after banger.

When the world skidded to a halt one year ago, Freedia had plans for a cross-country 26-city tour with Ke$ha. Like everyone else, her plans changed. The tour was canceled along with all other in-person appearances. Still, she seamlessly pivoted and adapted to the contactless new world order, keeping the masses fed and entertained via Friday Night Shakedowns, Kitchen Gospel Sundays, private twerk lessons, Watcha Cookin’ Wednesdays, and Garden Cookouts. Her objective throughout the COVID-19 crisis has been to keep herself, her team, and her fandom inspired.  

“Every day, I want to keep things going for myself and try to help my team,” Big Freedia told Gay City News during an interview. “The pandemic has been a crazy rough journey, but during this past year, through prayer and God’s grace, we made it through — well, some of us have — and I want to focus on being able to still tell my story.” 

When probed about the source of her inspiration, Freedia indicated that she draws her influences from the usual places: books, film, dreams and the like. “Sometimes it comes from a conversation or something I saw on a billboard while driving, or when I see someone do a funny dance that doesn’t have a name for it,” she said. “It depends on the day, the mood. I’ll pull inspiration from anywhere, for sure.” 

Speaking during Women’s History Month, Freedia also credited the women in her life, citing “my sister, all of my cousins, all of my aunts, and all of the women who helped raise me.”

“My mom was my biggest inspiration, and she was the one who really helped to carry me throughout my life and my career,” said Freedia, whose mother died of cancer several years ago. “And shout out to the divas who are out there doing the thing and shining bright. From Beyonce to Oprah to Kelly Price to Mia X, there are so many women who are doing powerful things, making noise, and holding it down for the culture. Shout out to all the women in the world.”

Freedia’s memoir “God Save the Queen Diva!” charts some of her motivations and brings readers into her world and elaborates on celebrations, challenges, and healing. Published six years ago, the book doesn’t recount recent successes or devastating losses. On January 24, 2018, Freedia’s younger brother, Adam Ross, was fatally shot in New Orleans’ Central City neighborhood. Ross’s death and other gun violence incidents, including a 2004 shooting Freedia survived, propelled her to create a deeply personal documentary, “Freedia Got a Gun.” 

The film investigates the burgeoning gun violence epidemic within New Orleans’ Black communities and offers a sympathetic glimpse into the heart of the turmoil. The documentary highlights the aftermath of the violence (the memorials, vigils, and the prayers), the community impact, unaddressed trauma experienced by youth, its connection to the prison industrial complex, and a plea for Black communities to take a stance against the bloodshed. 

A recent New York Times article entitled “Why Does Louisiana Consistently Lead the Nation in Murders?” expands on ties between poverty, the rate of guns recovered/traced, and the statewide murder rate. Louisiana is among the nation’s poorest states, and high rates of poverty, disproportionate racial segregation, and job discrimination are deeply intertwined with the inheritance and legacy of violence. In New Orleans, high murder rates have plagued the city for years.

Gun violence, however, isn’t the only matter Freedia hopes to tackle in the form of a documentary. She disclosed plans to create a documentary focused on her life and intends to publish a few children’s books, including one that centers on gender and identity.

“The most important advice that I can tell someone, especially a young queer artist or someone in the LGBTQ community, is, first of all, you have to love yourself before you can go out and expect the world to love you,” Freedia said. “Be humble, be patient, be kind and get love and acceptance from your parents and once you have the confidence, go out there and conquer the world.”

When asked about the state of Black excellence, Freedia correctly asserted that it is nearly impossible to discuss the resurgence of Black Americans in art and media without discussing the impact of Black Lives Matter and the death of George Floyd, who Freedia knew personally. Floyd twice worked security detail for her in Minneapolis and would often ask when she would take him on the road.

“There’s definitely a rise in Black excellence, and that has to do with the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as my friend George Floyd,” Freedia said. “They started a big trend across the world that’s helped to recognize the strength of Black people. We have had a lot of support from our allies, who are around us and in our circle, who want to see us do more and help us win, be great, and continue to be excellent.”

We all have to continue to work together, to help each other, be creative, and be more visible,” she said. “Each day, someone does something different to continue that growth process. It’s just one step at a time. I’m just happy to see a lot more of my Black folks doing things on TV, writing more, and doing more in general.”

Freedia has an abundance of projects in the works, including a screenplay adaption of her book, a sequel, and plans for Hotel Freedia, which will be a hotel and restaurant located in Freedia’s hometown of New Orleans. The combination venue will be a feel-good hot-spot “jumping with volume, people and music.” Visitors will chill, laugh, and enjoy incredible food.

“Yes, honey, you get to come and eat down,” she said.

Additionally, Freedia is dropping a cannabis line on 4/20, aptly called The Royal Bud by Big Freedia. With a laugh, Freedia said, “It’s definitely that royal smoke that will take you to a castle high.”

Freedia also teased a new EP, scheduled for release this summer — but details are under wraps for now.

 “It’s dealing with something very big,” she said.

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