PW Puts DJ Rusty Lazer In The Hot Seat!

Rusty Lazer (what a great name, right?) is a New Orleans based DJ who also happens to be Sissy Bounce megastar Big Freedia’s DJ. He doesn’t just dj though, he also plays in bands. And he can throw down a serious amount of music other than bounce. The PW blog inflicted a probing interview on Rusty and he bounced back (pun highly intended) with some enlightening answers.

Q. Bounce music. Tell us a little about it. How did you and Freedia get involved in it?

A. Freedia’s been involved in Bounce probably most of her life.  As a rapper she’s been doing it for about 12 years, right alongside her gay sister Katey Red.  She got into Bounce as one of Katey background singer/dancers and took off herself soon thereafter.

For me, Bounce is something that I just couldn’t avoid. I love to dance, I love New Orleans’ various and unique cultures, and since they all overlap I was bound to find my way to it. I love to go to Second Lines, which are like 5 hour street parades that happen every Sunday with brass bands and fancy outfits and such, and Bounce music is just what you party to after the band goes home. When I started DJ’ing block parties in my neighborhood, Bounce was the only obvious choice (the girls would get mad if I didn’t play it!).

My direct involvement with it came when I started a not for profit arts exchange called the New Orleans Airlift (www.neworleansairlift.org) and a producer named Dre Skull from NYC wanted to come down and work with Sissy Nobby, Katey Red and Big Freedia.  The Airlift project facilitated the work he wanted to do, and I just naturally gravitated to Freedia’s warm energy and welcoming presence.  I was already doing shows with other Bounce rappers with questionable success, but Freedia and I just clicked, and it all led progressively and naturally to where we are now.

Q. 2) Does this music and scene have a strong connection to hip-hop or is it very a New Orleans thing, a Southern thing and not really part of hip-hop/rap at all?

A. It’s a little bit of both.  It definitely had it’s “gangsta years” and Bounce seems to move with the greater hip-hop culture, but, like everything else here, it’s got a life of it’s own.  Bounce owes more to traditions like Mardi Gras Indians and Second Line Parades than hip-hop specifically.  Though if you look at the origins of the beat, you’re talking about 3 different songs that gave birth to the music.  “Drag Rap” by a Queens, NY hip-hop group call The Showboys, > “Rock the Beat” by Derek B (a London rapper), who borrowed the beat for his song from “Brown Beats”, by Cameron Paul who was a San Francisco DJ.  So the provenance of the music is varied and rich and represents a kind of uniquely hip-hop amalgamation filtered through a truly New Orleans historical reality.  There’s nothing like it, so I tend to think of it as part hip-hop (especially the party music origins of the music) and part Dirty South.

Q. Then there’s “Sissy Bounce.” Is that specifically what you and Freedia do or is it a bigger New Orleans scene that you are part of. You’re the innovators though, right?

A. “Sissy Bounce” is merely a convenient shelf to put gay Bounce rappers on.  In New Orleans gay people have absorbed the term Sissy as a way to self-identify.  Sissies who rap, like Freedia, Katey, Nobby and many more, are seen locally as Bounce Rappers, period.  No one in New Orleans would really even recognize the term “Sissy Bounce”.  But since it’s taken hold, the artists are becoming more comfortable with it.  If they were amputees it would be called “Amputee Bounce” I guess, but it’s not really what’s important about these musicians.  What’s important is that they know how to rock a party, and in New Orleans if you can rock a party you can rule the world. It helps that the women in the crowd feel safer with a big gay rapper on the mic in these highly sexually charged environments, but that’s incidental to the Bounce music itself, which is really what the girls (and the boys!) want.

I’m no innovator myself. The true innovators of “Sissy Bounce” are Katey Red (the original sissy rapper), Big Freedia and Sissy Nobby (though they’re certainly not alone!). What I’m doing is helping to amplify the voices of Bounce Music generally (I work with many different kinds of rappers) and working with Freedia directly to help her forge a new path for herself that includes national and international success and brings the greater culture (gay and straight) into people’s consciousness.  I do make tracks, but I’m a drummer by birth, so I leave the knob twiddling to producers like Blaqnmild (Freedia’s main producer), Blaza, Peacachoo, J-Dawg and so many more (though I love to do re-mixes, and just did one for Matt and KIm’s song “Cameras” that was really fun to work on!).  They’ve been making this culture pop for years, and I’ll put my stamp on the sound over time as well, but for now I’m working mostly on helping Bounce culture serve up it’s unique kind of liberation to a wider audience.

Q. Are you a Sissy Rusty? Are you, are you, are you, are you, are you (words fading out and echoing into infinity, in your mind, in your mind, in your mind, in your mind).? ;)

A. New Orleans is the place I chose to live after a lot of searching.  And the reason I chose it is because no one really cares what I want or who I am.  Friends change their names, styles, orientations and desires on a daily basis, and that’s what I like.  I prefer a life with as few boundaries as possible.  Sissies personify that for me, so that’s one group I roll with often, but I am by no means limited to that.  I revel in ambiguity.  To give you an example, I call Freedia a she, but her best friend (a stud named Tim, or Kim, depending on the day) calls her a he.  We see no confusion in this and Freedia doesn’t either.  That’s what I like, so I guess that’s what I am.  An adopted Sissy?

Q.  As a dj, Rusty, is Bounce your sole focus, or are there other types of music that you like to spin, that you feel part of or are drawn to?

A. I love all kinds of music, and though many people say that, I would say that I mean it with a vengeance.  As a musician I’ve played for years in a very emotional piano/drum duet (A Particularly Vicious Rumor), an 11 piece creepy lounge band (El Radio Fantastique), several brass bands, an old-timey new wave group (Crooks and Nannies)…and I’ve spent considerable time as a street musician performing Traditional Jazz from here to China and back (literally).  I love everything.  But as a DJ I focus on what moves people most, and since dancing is such a big part of New Orleans livin’ I stay close to New Orleans music.  Brass bands (old and new), 50’s to 70’s R&B and Soul, 20’s and 30’s “hot jazz”, 80’s and 90’s hot jams, you name it.  Anything that moves bodies moves me.

Q. When you get out on the road, are there places where you feel at home, that have the same energy as N.O., or that you simply love playing in?

A. New York City is the first place I ever really DJ’d Bounce (besides some weird late night get-downs in rural China), and I would say that it is my second home musically.  Austin has been really receptive (there are a lot of transplants from New Orleans living there now), and San Francisco and Portland have been amazing!  I would have to say Montreal with Lezzies on X was probably one of our most emotionally gratifying shows, but we get love everywhere we go so it’s hard to nail down any one place as a favorite. No place has the same energy as home, but that’s not to say it’s any less exciting.  It’s just always gonna be different when everyone knows the words, knows the dances, knows the proper responses to Freedia’s shout outs.  But time and persistence will make that more and more possible I’m hoping. :)

Q. What’s next for Freedia and Rusty, where next, where do you want to go with the music and the live experience.

That’s a huge question!  Specifically, we’re working on a full length record, 2 or 3 new videos, and a lot of touring!!!  Freedia and I have a lot of ideas for the live show but they all require money that we’re just not making yet.  Trust me, there’s more to come!

Personally, I want to show Freedia and our musical family how wonderful the world is.  I’ve scrounged my way across the globe already.  I’ve been fortunate to have been welcomed into the private lives of people from extremely different backgrounds.  I think I know what people want, and I want them to have it.  And what I’ve seen mostly is that people want to feel free, want to feel liberated.  But since the reality of this life is that everyone can’t go everywhere and feel everything, sometimes it has to come to them.  So we’re going to continue traveling, continue working to show people that movement itself is a kind of freedom, even if you can’t leave your city or your neighborhood.  That’s the way I see it anyway.  All for beauty, or all for nothing.

Thanks Veedubya! Great questions!

Veedubya.

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