Her new EP goes back to the neighborhood and bounce's roots in hip-hop.
Big Freedia’s 2014 album Just Be Free presented the Queen Diva in search of her musical place. Bounce is based on a handful of samples that were rarely cleared in the past, so it has truly remained an underground, New Orleans sound at a time when the Internet internationalizes almost everything. Freedia’s management positioned her to move into the EDM/dance rock space with the Scion EP and Just Be Free, circumventing “Drag Rap” samples and placing someone as unique as Freedia in a techno’s ubiquitous tick and pulse context.
The album works, but the beats sound off the rack, and at times it treats Freedia’s voice as one more face-shredding texture akin to those in the dubstep sonic arsenal. Starting with 2016’s A Very Big Freedia Christmazzz, everything she touched has worked better. Her strong suit is her anarchic presence, which is more disruptive when situated in songs with familiar hooks like Christmas songs or sung, R&B choruses that put her music back on hip-hop’s soul spectrum. That happens on the new 3rd Ward Bounce EP, most effectively on the title track with a hook by Erika Falls, and “Karaoke,” with a hook sung by Lizzo. The latter is the strongest song on the EP and a joy as Lizzo’s deliberate, methodically paced vocal stills the song’s energy for a moment so that when Freedia picks up the verse again, the energy surges each time.
Big Freedia’s musical project has been to find ways to maintain bounce’s energy and ass-shaking beats without relying on traditional samples or repeating grooves, and 3rd Ward Bounce largely stays fresh because it does so successfully. Only “Rent” seems familiar, so much so that its familiarity seems like its point. The song encapsulates everything you know about bounce in 2:44, including verses over old school Roland 808 drum programming.
I’m a little surprised that the EP doesn’t include “Best Beleevah,” a loose track from earlier this year that gave us world bounce by sampling Harry Belafonte’s “Jump in the Line.” It was one of the high points of Freedia’s set at Jazz Fest this year, but maybe a hint of calypso was a bridge too far to work with the other songs. Or maybe it’s just good business. Dance music isn’t album music these days (actually, no music is album music these days), and Freedia’s working smart, releasing music regularly and in small batches. 3rd Ward Bounce is less than 20 minutes long, so it doesn’t run the risk of wearing out its welcome, and not collecting everything Freedia recorded in the last year adds a game element to Freedia fandom. You have to search a little if you want to hear it all.
Big Freedia's place in the world isn't what it was in 2014. She has appeared on tracks with Beyoncé, Drake, RuPaul, Mannie Fresh, Diplo, and DJ Snake, and it shows on 3rd Ward Bounce. Confidence on the mic has never appeared to be an issue for Freedia, but the breadth of her acceptance shows up in the EP's nothing to prove vibe. Freedia's on top of her game right now. She knows her talents and how best to use them, and the new music reflects that.