Photos by Puja Patel. Words by DJ Rusty Lazer
New Orleans Sissy Bounce queens Big Freedia and Sissy Nobby graced the Northeast this past week – their whirlwind of a tour included back-to-back shows in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Philadelphia.
“Sissy Bounce” is the informal name of a sub-genre of Bounce Music, which is huge in New Orleans. Bounce in general dominates the radio and can be heard coming out of every [third] car on the streets. It’s the music of the block parties, night clubs and post-second line parties. Everything about it is defined by New Orleans. All of the call and response, the shout outs for the wards (our version of boroughs or neighborhoods), even the tempo, which lags about 20-30 bpm behind most popular dance music…it’s lazy, but always moving. [Sissy Bounce] has been around about 10 years and began with a hit single by Katey Red called “Punk Under Pressure” (Punk being slang for gay). Bounce has been around longer and some artists are a little bit sensitive about being labeled “Sissy”, or considered “gay by association”, so Big Freedia and other “Sissy Rappers” go to great lengths to define themselves as Bounce Artists first, Sissy Rappers second. Sissy Bounce describes the life and loves of the folks who create it.
Being gay and out in New Orleans is difficult, but respect for creativity and the ability to rock a party permeates the culture. No one here can deny the Sissy’s ability to entertain. In fact, it’s always seemed that this city gives you more the more you give of yourself, and being weird is generally much more acceptable if you’re unapologetic. Katey tends to sing about what it means to be a Sissy in a town like New Orleans…”I’m a punk under pressure, when you’re finished leave the money on the dresser.” Big Freedia leans toward the call and response type of party music trading lines with the crowd and singing about loving life and living fully.
Sissy Nobby is the first to really pioneer the bounce ballad and is probably the most popular currently, with her song “Consequences”, but all the Sissy Rappers have had songs at the top of the local charts. Katey’s first single I already mentioned, and Freedia is most well known for the song “Gin In My System”. In his most recent single Lil Wayne “borrowed” the lyric “I got that Gin in my system!” from Freedia’s hit, and she’s already put out another song in response to that. Bounce artists are generally very prolific (in songs, not in recordings necessarily, a problem that definitely needs a solution, in my opinion) and the songs they create literally come up from experiences they’re having day to day. The language of New Orleans is constantly evolving, and bounce choruses are like dipping your toe into an ever-moving river of throw away comments and street slang.
Big Freedia got her start in bounce as a backup singer and dancer for Katey Red. But before that she was the choir director at her high school for the last two years of her primary education. She’s a bit of a natural leader, and the fact that she makes the most “call and response” type of material probably stems from this. Her first hit was a song called “An Ha, Oh Yeah” followed soon by “Gin In My System.” You can literally walk into almost any place in New Orleans and shout “I got that gin in my system!” and will immediately hear “Somebody gon be my victim!” in response. She performs weeklies at 5 clubs 6 nights a week, several shows on the weekends, and runs a personal business decorating parties. She has a crew of about 20 and has decorated the Mayor’s Mardi Gras Ball for over 4 years.