If Katey Red is New Orleans’ queen of transgendered bounce rap – and she is indeed – her two spawn, Big Freedia and Sissy Nobby, are perhaps more well known these days. After years of success at New Orleans’ block parties, rap clubs, gay clubs and even Jazz Fest, the duo of Freedia and Nobby – who will perform with Katey Red at this year’s VooDoo Fest — crashed Brooklyn New York, via a weeklong six-show tour booked and navigated by New Orleans DJ Rusty Lazer, aka Jay Pennington, also known as the former drummer for ballad-rock band, A Particularly Vicous Rumor, not to mention many rag-tag Bywater second-line krewes.
For reasons no one wanted to explain, Nobby left New York after the first show and came back to New Orleans, leaving Freedia and Rusty Lazer to rock shows at legendary New York venues with some of today’s hippest electronic artists, including Spank Rock. While her partners took New York, Sissy Nobby sat down for an interview with AntiGravity at gay barbecue joint, Bywater BBQ. Several days later, AntiGravity picked Freedia and Rusty Lazer at the airport for a second interview.
AG: So, VooDoo Fest; what do y’all have planned?
SN: I’m performing with Freedia. I’m gonna perform a lot of the songs that I have out right now. I know it’s gonna be a blast cause when Freedia and I get together we always give a wonderful performance.
AG: Lately you all have been playing both sides of the tracks, meaning, the all Black clubs like Ceasar’s, but also more rock-n-roll places like One Eyed Jacks and Dragon’s Den. Tell me about some of the differences.
SN: Well there’s a very big… Well, not really. Both crowds they dance they shake. The crowd at the Dragon’s Den is not really like a… How I can say this. They know the song but they don’t really respond back to it. When you in Ceasars they sing along with it. But I hadn’t even heard of the Dragon’s Den and One Eyed Jacks. I didn’t even know about them. Rusty Lazer, who sometimes DJs for us, has opened the door for us to a whole new crowd.
AG: That first One Eyed Jacks show must have bugged you out then; it was so packed and just silly fun.
SN: Yeah, to see a whole different race of people just dancing. It made me feel good.
AG: It’s hilarious watching all those white girls get nasty.
SN: Oh yeah, I love it.
AG: You also play at JazzFest.
SN: This was my first year. Katey Red does it every year. It was amazing, the response, the energy of the crowd, and to be on the stage with these two other legends – Big Freedia and especially Katey Red, performing with them really bugged me out cause I really look up to them two.
AG: It seems like JazzFest would be one of the few situations in town where you’d be playing for a mixed crowd, people who didn’t know what to expect and — it’s almost like you’re opening yourself up to, people who might get pissed…
SN: Right, right. But we had all good responses. Nobody was bashin. The crowd, they loved us.
AG: Yeah, when the little kids in my rap class are talking about you – and that’s really how I first heard about you all — then you’re pretty much woven into the fabric of the city. Are you doing an album or anything, any recordings?
SN: I produce the music you hear when I’m performing. I make the beats. I use this computer program called Acid Pro. I use a lot of samples from famous bounce tracks and put the parts all together and make a brand new song from it.
AG: You don’t have an album though?
SN: I have a few underground albums, none that are in stores, plus I have a mix tape just called Sissy Nobby’s Mixtape. I am working on an album right now with a label called Z-Group Entertainment, I just signed with them. I am working hard to be the first gay artist to go national, and I think Z-Group gonna get me to that next level. They’ve got me upcoming shows in Miami, Atlanta, and I’m going back to New York.
AG: Tell me about your relationship with the queen of transgendered bounce rap, Katey Red.
SN: Katey Red is really the one who inspired me. I was gonna rap anyway, but it was gonna be this closet thing, I guess. But when Katey came on the scene so flambouyant and full-blown, I’m like ‘Hell, I can do this!’ I was gonna try and closet my image I was just like ‘Damn, I’ma just come out too!
AG: You perform like 4 to 7 nights a week.
SN: It’s died down to about 4 or 5 nights. But on a weekend I might do 10 to 15 shows?
AG: 10 or 15?!
SN: In one weekend. Like, 5 Friday, 5 Saturday. Cause we don’t perform just at clubs; we do block parties and school events.
AG: Yeah, I figured the kids in my class didn’t hear about your from hanging out at Ceasar’s. Ceasar’s is supposed to be a pretty hardcore place, I hear. I wanted to go out there and see you play but some of my black friends suggested I don’t.
SN: Oh no. No no no. No. It’s a nice place but… I couldn’t tell you.
AG: How long are these performances?
SN: Maybe like 15 minutes. With Jay, oh god. Oh god. He just go song after song until Freedia and I lookin at each other while we’re performing like, ‘More songs?’ He have us play like 45 minutes. But usually we just give em 3 or 2 songs.
AG: Oh, that makes more sense. So tell me about your recent trip to New York.
SN: I love New York. It was a wonderful place to go to. I wanna go back! I would love to stay out there The audience response out there was crazy! It was a full white crowd, in Brooklyn.
AG: You had a bunch of shows booked but then you came back early, after only one show; you mind talking about that or?
SN: Um. Family emergency? (laughs) Family emergency, that’s all I can say.
AG: You play out of town much?
SN: Yes! I am playing this Sunday at a club in Houston called the T-Spot – it’s a gay club, of course. Labor Day weekend I performed in Donaldsonville, Louisiana. Before that I was in Mississippi. I’m going to Hammond this weekend, Slidell. Ooh, so many places.
AG: All gay clubs?
SN: Well, they be callin me to play at the straight clubs. But the price that I’m axin for they don’t wanna pay, but the gay club was willin to make a deal with me so…hear I come! I’m comin!
AG: You consider yourself more of a rapper? Or I mean, most bounce artists are more like MCs, just there to get the energy up, while a rapper has something to say and wants everyone to hear and understand every word.
SN: It depends on what club I’m at. If I’m doing a show out of town, I’m more of a rapper. When it’s in town in a club, I’m MCing it.
AG: What inspires you to write one of these more lyrical songs?
SN: Life. What I go through. Relationships. If I go through problems, I try to make into a song. My bounce songs, I try to give them a subject, not just say anything. Like my song. Like the song “Consequences,” it’s about a relationship, two people who they tryin to break them up but you can’t break them up, they in love. I also try to make it more club-ish – I want to make them dance, but not on that bounce tip, more like some Yin-Yang Twins tip.
AG: How did you meet Big Freedia?
SN: We were on the same record label, recording for Money Rules Entertainment. At the time we wasn’t really click-clacking like we are, shall I say. We had some lil issues, Ima be honest. But we kinda worked through em. It was a competition thing, cause Freedia was holding things down, the hottest thing in New Orleans and some other areas. What it mostly was was the record label showing favoritism to Freedia over the artists, and I felt a little jealous bout it at the time. It was my fault. Freedia was always just a cool person. Then after the storm I called Freedia and we started getting that buzz, and just coolin together, and it went from there.
AG: You’ve only sort of been a team since the flood? How did you all officially decide to team up?
SN: I called Freedia and said, “I want you to guide me, inspire me, I love what you do, you’re the queen of this, you been holdin it down for the longest and I need you, you know? And we just became this like mother-daughter thing.
AG: When we interviewed Katey Red she said that you and Freedia are New Orleans’ two best gay rappers, but otherwise she thought there were too many sissy rappers now biting her style. Rather than be honored that she has inspired so many others to be really themselves, she seemed sort of pissed about them. How do you feel about the big surge of sissy rappers? Like they were gonna try and steal her shit.
SN: Well, you’re always gonna have new generations comin up and you can’t stay hot forever. Katey opened up a lot of doors for all of us, and if there are a lot of gay rappers, Katey is the one to blame. Some gays are doin it cause they want to and other are doing it to get a lil name or a lil popularity, maybe as a way to kick in the door with the straight crowd. Me and Freedia do it because we love it.
AG: Who are the better ones?
SN: Vaco Redux, Shav off the Ave, and of course Caliope Priest. He was the first person I really seen at the gay club live. He’s kinda underground but he really did inspire all of us. He’s real good.
AG: When you look on stage at most rappers and the outfits they wear you think, “Well, there’s a rapper,” but when y’all come on stage it’s like an explosion of color and energy. How would you describe your fashion style?
SN: My wardrobe I try to switch it up. One time I might be a little retro boy, then I may wanna feel more feminine and do like a punk, meanin I might put these dreads up or braid em to the side, and do some fitted skinny jeans.
AG: You and Freedia work that out before you go on stage?
SN: Yeah we always try to make sure our outfits are matching, the colors or the same shoe.
AG: Have you talked to very many little kids about your music and lifestyle?
SN: Somewhat. Mostly like, gay kids, axing me about how do I get in the business. Firstly I just tell them to stay in school.
AG: I ask because my students have mentioned you – they are definitely fans — and they’ve asked me to explain your sexuality to them, but I haven’t felt like it was my place, or like I didn’t want to say the wrong thing. Have you ever had to explain that to any of the little kids you entertain at block parties and whatnot?
SN: No, it seems like they blinded or something. They don’t seem to me like they care.
BIG FREEDIA and DJ RUSTY LAZER (Jay Pennington):
AG: At VooDoo you’re playing as a trio, just like you did at that first One Eyed Jacks show Gabe Soria booked?
BF: Sorta. At One Eyed Jacks we weren’t really a trio because we had other things we were obligated to that night, so we couldn’t all three be on stage at the same time. We were taking turns, and Nobby and me were on stage together – if we’d had three mics. Plus, we all had other gigs. I had to do me, and run out – I had two more gigs that night — and so did Nobby, so Katey was able to hang back and stay on stage a little bit longer.
AG: You all perform almost every night of the week. Can you give the people here your insane schedule?
BF: I have my regular Saturday at Club Fabulous, around Orleans and Claiborne. It’s a laid back hip-hop bar, we just party and have fun, people get drunk and do what they do and dance off the music. Monday I Bottom Line. Tuesdays I do Caesars on the West Bank by myself. Wednesday is my only off night. Thursday night is Platinum 3000. Friday I’m back at Caesar’s for Big Freedia Night. Then Sunday I do The Duck Off, and also Maison Musique on Frenchmen Street.
AG: How long are your performances?
SN: Depending on the crowd and what’s requested of us, we do about 30 to 45 minutes. It depends on the setting, it may be 15 to 20 minutes. Long as you rock you party it doesn’t matter how much time you up there; it could be 5 minutes, long as you rock it.
AG: What was JazzFest like for you? You were obviously the most alternative act there.
BF: Oh they picked us up in a van and drove us to the stage when it was time. It was a real good experience. It was so many people who knew us, so many supporters in the audience. That particular day they had a lot of high school children out there and they like, lost their minds. They were chanting behind us, they was dancing. Also a choir I used to sing with – and who I still do sing with when it’s reunion time – Gospel Soul Children, they were singing at the Jazz Fest at the same time as me and they all came over to support me as well. It was really just everybody I knew, so it was a blast.
AG: I guess the homophobes were all watching Jimmy Buffet or Dave Matthews at that time. I guess that’s one way the little kids in my rap class have found out about you all. They don’t go to Caesars.
BF: No they don’t, but their friends and their parents go to Casear’s. Block parties, teenage parties. They might have some school event that we go to. There’s the teen clubs like The Chat Room, a few other spots in the East – the teen clubs really change a lot, or else it’s a promoter who switches venues, rents a venue for a teen party.
It’s just the new thing, the new hip-hop, we’re right in that category: local music to hold it down for our people and represent em. They’re really excited that they have someone from home who can really hold it down and do what they like, and represent what we do here.
AG: Tell me about your relationship with Katey Red.
BF: Well Katey and I been friends for over a decade. We actually was introduced by friend Adolf, who we call Addy. He introduced us and we started getting close and after that it was just us three. Then after Katey started rapping in 99, I started becoming her background vocalist to help her out and get the party hype. And maybe like a year and half after that I became an independent artist on my own. But we had a couple eyars to know each other and get acquainted.
Jay Pennington: Did you all go out?
BF: No we didn’t go to clubs, we just walked around the neighborhood together. Then when she started rapping we were in the clubs 24-7, traveling all over, different parts of Louisiana, Texas, different parts of down south, all of it booked by Katey’s record label, Take Fo’.
AG: How did you get hooked up with Jay here, DJ Rusty Lazer.
BF: He came up to me at a second-line. I was the queen of a second-line club, The VIP Ladies, and I was ridin on the back of a cart. I gave him my card and from there we started working together, taking the music in a new direction. You have to be open-minded to a lot of different things. He’s given me real connections to real, genuine people who want to help me go in another direction. He worked hard on this trip and this tour for me, non-stop, every show was successful. He had his friends at every show, who had all their friends there. He got the word out and opened doors for me all the way from New York to Philly. I can’t thank him enough for that and can’t wait to do it again.
JP: I feel like, live, there are also possibilities to re-structure the show that are a little more hook-based. This time we did a thing where we just played the straight instrumental “Triggerman” beat and let Freedia really rap – a lot of people don’t know that about Freedia, and it gave people a whole other perspective. I want to show people that bounce isn’t a two-dimensional thing. And while I don’t necessarily want to modify it, there were a lot of New Yorkers on this trip, like the dudes from Spank Rock, who wanted to bring new beats to Freedia.
AG: Spank Rock is a pretty big name right now.
JP: Yeah, and he made the shows in New York. He tripled the audiences. He was that extra hook to make sure they come. He chose to go on first and hand the mic to Freedia and say, “This is who we really came for.”
BF: And as soon as he did that the crowd just went crazy a little. Bounce just fits so well in New York, where rap was born. He said one of my slogans to introduce me – “You already know!” – and it just flipped the crowd out.
JP: Now they want to do some recordings with Freedia, exchange some bounce beats. I think during VooDoo they’re going to come down and we’re going to get some studio time and make something interesting happen. And I’m gonna try to get Spank Rock on as part of VooDoo, or do some kind of show at All Ways on Halloween maybe. But Spank Rock isn’t necessarily big in New Orleans; it’s like Baltimore club music and, for New Orleans, it’s just too fast. People up there in Philly, they dance for like 20 minutes or a half hour, whereas when I DJ in New Orleans people dance for four or five hours. So the beat’s gotta be slower just so they can pace themselves.
AG: Freedia, in New York when Nobby decided to take off, were you intimidated at the idea of having to do those shows by yourself?
BF: No. It was a bigger challenge; I had thought it was going to be our team, the combo package. I didn’t expect her to leave. But we separate all the time anyway. In the end if was no biggie at all.
JP: And in the end it helped people focus on Freedia.
AG: When I asked her why she left she kind of evasively laughed and said “Family emergency.” Why did she leave?
BF: Off the record?
AG: Well, I’d prefer the on-the-record version.
BF: Then “family emergency.”
JP: For me, I don’t think I was nearly as mad as I was sad, and disappointed. Despite all my hard work I didn’t care – I had Freedia there and we killed it. But I was sad for Nobby, because it was a really big chance for her.
BF: Yeah, after those shows they were talking about bringing me to Philly, to Baltimore, L.A., Australia, so many people coming up to me offering me shows, asking me, ‘Can you play here for me.’ It was amazing.
JP: She misses the raid on American Apparel; they gave us a key to the store and let us tear it up.
BF: They saw my show and called me the next day like, ‘We want to give you some stuff, and dress you.’ They let me go in the store and pick up everything I wanted, no limit. I tried to change Nobby’s mind but I couldn’t.
JP: We were following her all the way to the plane, texting once she was on the plane! ‘Don’t just let this go it’s a big opportunity!’ And also, ‘make sure that your reputation is sound as a person who is in New York to work.’ I did 4th of July with Freedia who’d had an extreme personal tragedy that time, the kind that would definitely give you a free pass on your show for, and she just got up on stage and went for it. But people need to know that they can count on you no matter what.
BF: Only god helped me up to do that 4th of July show, cause I was totally out of it. But I do this for my people, who love it just as much as me. It’s such a good thing to make people feel good at a party or DJ night. It’s a wonderful feeling. So even though I was sad on the 4th of July, I made people happy. And that makes me happy, and keeps me alive.
AG: How many records have you made?
BF: Big Freedia the Queen Diva was my first album, a double disk, by Money Rulz Entertainment. But I had many singles before that and after that, and other releases.
AG: Who makes your beats?
BF: I usually record with Black-n-Mild, or Blazer, or J-Dog. Some of them have studios in their houses or there’s a studio they all created on Tulane and Carrollton.
AG: Do you use your singing talent much in your own music?
BF: Of course. Maybe in a song I might sing a breakdown to get it together, or else I might just sing on a bounce beat, or sing the chorus like on my song, “If Your Girl Only Knew,” and a new one I have that’s called “For Your Dick’em Baby”
AG: How were these New York shows you’re just getting back from?
Jay Pennington: At the Glasslands show in New York, in Brooklyn, after the very first song, the screams from the girls – which it was almost all girls at that show – the screams from them were so loud it was painful. I had to put my hands over my ears; I felt like I was in that footage you see of people freaking out at old Beatles concert.
AG: Had you ever played in New York before?
BF: Yes, and the shows are insane; the energy levels were very very high. It was something new for them, shocking – people were coming up to me at all the shows, ‘Dude, I haven’t seen nothing like this, you really killed it!’ What I’m used to at home, everyone really call and responded, following and knowing everything I say, and in Brooklyn it was like putting em on something new, and teachin em new ways to dance, and showin em how we get down in New Orleans. They were really surprised, but they loveded it. It was a very good experience.
AG: Not many people come to Brooklyn and show them something new.
JP: And the thing for me was, when you look around the room, every single person is smiling. Even the people who are decidedly not going to dance, period, even they’re looking at each other, smiling from ear to ear. Just joyful. Freedia really broke down the New York bullshit, cut through it for a lot of people.
AG: You have a more lyrical rap style you employ as well?
BF: You mean instead of just the chanting. Yes, I rap about life and things I’m trying to accomplish, and things I go through. “For Your Dick’em Baby” is more fun and dirty. “I Ain’t Takin No Shit” is more of a straight rap: Playa hatin motherfuckers always tryna be slick / sending hoes at my tray tryna get a little dick / keep your eyes on these hoes cause they wanna be you / y’see they watch what you wear and the way you rock your shoes / and your dos, and your dudes, showing nothing but love / when I walk up in the club I get drinks and hugs.
JP: And you can tell from that rap, it’s kind of that older style, like what it’s like to be you style – and that’s the thing in New York. That, I’m the baddest motherfucker on the block kinda shit, so they went batshit crazy. I had people coming up to me saying, “That’s that old New York shit! That’s how it used to be here!” People loved it.