The bounce queen’s latest EP marks her return to the unctuous, mechanized mother tongue of New Orleans.
Big Freedia is the gender non-conformist darling of New Orleans bounce music who has made waves in the crossover markets of cable television (as the star of the Fuse series “Big Freedia Bounces Back”), mainstream pop, and rap. Freedia’s star has risen since her bellowing timbre laced Beyoncé’s “Formation” and the 2018 Drake single “Nice for What.” Her success is a testament to her ability to beat the odds. She has grown from the Third Ward’s Melpomene Projects to become the most popular ambassador of bounce music—a hybrid of electronic and rap named for the action it elicits from anyone with a little junk in the trunk—on the international stage. The wins Freedia has enjoyed, however, have been countered by legal trouble and family tragedy and it would not be a stretch to wonder whether Big Freedia had enough gas in the tank to bounce back. True to the hometown tradition of resilience, 3rd Ward Bounce marks her return to the unctuous, mechanized mother tongue of New Orleans.
Freedia’s five-track 3rd Ward Bounce EP follows her 2016 holiday album A Very Big Freedia Christmazz as the polychromatic fruit of her first major label deal with Asylum Records. Though lead single “Rent” draws parallels between the lyrical content and Freedia’s housing-related legal issues, the song is more a close cousin to Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor,” demanding reciprocity from people that pay her little more than lip service. That sentiment is the wide foundation of the project. Though “Rent” delivers its message through the lens of a relationship with a freeloading paramour (she dresses down with the adlib, “Bitch, I’m your landlord”), the point could apply to anyone that has ever taken Freedia or the artform of bounce for granted. Big Freedia’s response, appropriately, is “Talkin’ talkin’ talkin’ talkin, yada yada yada yada.” It seems fairly simple as far as she is concerned. You either you show up for the party or you don’t.
Big Freedia dials back the crisp exploratory pop on 2014’s Just Be Free to embrace the wobbling down-home slappers that have long been her bread and butter. Leveraging the momentum of the 2017 Mannie Fresh collaborative track “Dive,” Freedia pairs with singer Lizzo on the bubblegum and bass-tinged “Karaoke.” She’s back at fighting weight when she says, “I showed up on time/Leave hoes shook inside,” at which point Freedia drops the title track—a hometown roll call that should assuage any fears she’s gone Hollywood. Then there’s “Bomb,” plied with a cacophony of electronic claps that drown the mix, and heavy-handed in its borrowing from the traditions of trap, Miami bass, and EDM.
Big Freedia rebounds and caps her homecoming with the Goldiie-assisted “Play,” which picks up where her “Formation” monologue left off. In an attempt to ride the wave of that gigantic look just a bit longer, Freedia pens a song that reinforces the “I did not come to play” mantra of the latter. Conflating a cheap attempt to extend the shelf life of the moment with a signature drop wastes an opportunity to double down on the ace writing that opens the EP. The soulful run on the refrain is a familiar crutch by the end of the release. While it would be refreshing to hear Freedia carry a project without a singer, the addition of a crooner has historically proven effective in making rap (and bounce) palatable to pop consumers. Given Big Freedia’s stated intention to slay, the decision is an understandable concession on an otherwise solid release that makes the proliferation of New Orleans bounce music her top priority.
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