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Big Freedia & Sylvester : 25 of music’s most underrated trailblazers across the queer spectrum

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Big Freedia

Hailing from New Orleans, Big Freedia is often credited with popularizing bounce music – the Mardi Gras-influenced energetic sound, where twerking also originated – alongside other LGBT hip-hop artists like Nicky da B. After releasing her debut album in 2003 – while not transgender, the rapper’s preferred pronoun is “she” – Freedia started building momentum and popularity outside of the Deep South, thanks to subsequent releases (Big Freedia Hitz Vol. 1 featuring the insanely addictive “Azz Everywhere”), tours with Matt & Kim and The Postal Service, musical collaborations with RuPaul – peanut butter, anyone? – and Diplo. In 2013, she starred in the Fuse docuseries, Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce (later renamed Big Freedia Bounces Back for its sixth season). Freedia’s most mainstream attention, however, came in 2016, when she was heard speaking on “Formation” by Beyoncé, who invited her and Messy Mya to perform ad-libs for the song. “I did not come to play with you hoes, ha-ha. I came to slay, bitch! I like cornbread and collard greens, bitch! Oh yas, you besta believe it,” she snarled in the music video. Freedia has since collaborated with Mannie Fresh and can be heard on Drake’s “Nice for What,” becoming one of the few openly queer rappers to reach her level of mainstream success. S.L.

Sylvester

While the “Queen of Disco” is a title most commonly bestowed upon Donna Summer, it also applies to Sylvester, who was a fixture of the disco scene and an icon of the gay liberation movement that spawned out of San Francisco. After brief stints with the Disquotays and the Cockettes, Sylvester first emerged as a solo artist after Jann Wenner offered the singer to record a demo album in the early-1970s. He later found commercial success – both in the States and abroad – with the release of his second solo album, 1978’s Step II, which features the now-iconic dance tracks, “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” – a song that is ubiquitous with pride and any film about the Seventies – and “Dance (Disco Heat).” The album proved his superior falsetto rivaled many of disco’s black divas and that he could do androgyny better than David Bowie. When his success waned a few years later, his backup singers left him to form the Weather Girls (yes, of “It’s Raining Men”). Ultimately, his career and life was short-lived – he died in 1988 of AIDS-related complications at 41 – but Sylvester’s sound can still be heard today, most recognizably in artists like Prince, RuPaul, New Order and Hercules & Love Affair. Yasssss, queen. S.L.

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