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Freaknik: The Wildest Party Never Told

Source: Hulu / hulu

HipHopWired got the exclusive opportunity to talk with the filmmakers behind the highly anticipated Hulu documentary, Freaknik: The Wildest Story Never Told.

Freaknik: The Wildest Party Never Told

Source: Hulu / hulu

For those in the know, Freaknik was not just a party that gathered nearly every Black person down in Atlanta, Georgia, every spring, but it was a veritable cultural moment. When word broke late last year that there would be a documentary about Freaknik, many immediately wondered if it would focus only on the wildness that came to be associated with the event.

But in Freaknik: The Wildest Story Never Told, we get a clear-eyed and compelling account of Freaknik in all of its aspects thanks to testimony from numerous people including Jermaine Dupri and Luther “Uncle Luke Campbell” (who are executive producers), Lil Jon, 21 Savage and more.

HipHopWired got the chance to talk with producers Jay Allen, Nikki Byles and executive producer Terry “TR” Ross about their experiences in making this documentary and their perspective on Freaknik as it makes its premiere on Hulu March 21.

HipHopWired: How did this documentary project get onto your radar, and how were you all involved?

Jay Allen: So Nikki and I were a few years younger, and we didn’t get to attend Freaknik. But we’ve always heard the stories of Freaknik from family, cousins and friends. Because we live in Atlanta, we always talk about what it would have been like to be there. And then we realized that we wanted to really tell the story. So she and I put together a pitch deck. We put together a sizzle [reel], we got all that stuff together. And then we were trying to figure out what the next steps were. The first thing that Nikki did was, she got on the phone and got Uncle Luke involved.

Nikki Byles: I just happened to reach out to someone and said, “Hey, I need Luke and please let me talk to him.” And so based on that, we ended up telling him what we wanted, and he ended up flying to Atlanta to meet with us. And after we went over everything, he was like, “Yep, I’m on board. Let’s get it.” Then, we spoke with Terry, he added JD [Jermaine Dupri]. Because you definitely need both. And he looked for the ambassador of Freaknik. And you need JD for the music.

Terry “TR” Ross: Well, not only that, but you need JD because he’s one of the most pivotal people in Atlanta right now. So we needed him for that too, not just for the music. I mean, they call him the “mayor of Atlanta.”

Freaknik: The Wildest Party Never Told

Source: Hulu / hulu

Jay: Terry helped us fill in some of the gaps. So we went to LA, sat down in the studio with Terry, and just talked to him about what our vision was. And we told him we had Luke and this is what we’re trying to do. And from then, Terry jumped in and really helped us grow this thing, and also that we could start to take it to market.

Terry: So, basically they brought it to me. And I was extremely interested in it. I thought it was compelling. Because first and foremost, that was the reason why I moved to Atlanta, it was because of Freaknik. I had (Mayor) Kasim Reed – whom I went to Howard with in D.C., and I was from D.C. – Kasim Reed, he’s an Atlanta native. And he said, “You guys need to come to Atlanta for this thing called Freaknik.”

And we’d never heard of it, so we decided to go to Atlanta, and we put on this huge concert for Freaknik. And after that, it was just like, “Yo, I want to live here. I want to move here.” And so we decided to move there. This has come full circle because this is my first film project. Freaknik being the reason I moved to Atlanta, and Freaknik being the first film project I did was really amazing.

When Nikki and Jay brought it to me, I went, “This is something that needs to be told, because the story had never been told the right way.” I said that we need to get the people that have been in Atlanta that’s going to make the documentary where people are going to be authentic and really want to get into it. So me, Nikki and Jay, we met with JD, we met him at a Starbucks.

Jay: I want to highlight how we met him at the Starbucks. We met him outside of a Starbucks where Nikki sat on the ground and typed everything. Me and Terry pummeled him with questions, and it was in the middle of COVID and JD had like four masks on. (Laughs) All this happened in the middle of Atlanta in the middle of COVID.

Terry: Then we decided it would be best to, you know, get some of the tastemakers in Atlanta and start interviewing them. Who did we interview first, Chaka (Zulu)?

Jay: The first was Chaka after JD?

Nikki: Yeah, because we had to get them all in while TR was there.

Jay: Yeah, I think we had Kasim, Too Short, Kenny Burns –

Nikki: For some reason, I remember speaking to Mannie Fresh. (Laughs)

Jay: There were many people in there, yeah. (Laughs)

Terry: KP and Shanti Das, who was very instrumental in breaking OutKast because they broke in Atlanta during Freaknik. She was at LaFace [Records]. Rico Wade of Dungeon Family & Organized Noise.

Jay: You’re the only one getting this story. No one else has asked this, so just know this is an exclusive right here. (Laughs)

HipHopWired: So in terms of interviews and the experience of getting testimonials from folks that attended and those who were in opposition – what was that experience like talking to everyone and getting their recollections?

Jay: Before or after we started filming? Because that’s two different sets.

HipHopWired: After, because as you said with the teaser, there were those that were kind of wondering “Well, what’s going on? What is this going to be?”

Jay: I think when Terry talks about this – we weren’t passing out checks for people to be a part of this. Terry was really picking up the phone. Nikki was really picking up the phone. And these people were coming to sit and talk and tell us their Freaknik stories and help us piece it together. For the love. For the love of the people that have a relationship to it. And that’s how we were able to make the story come together.

Terry: Everybody’s story was different, especially Too Short’s, Lil Jon’s, and of course, JD. Because JD wasn’t even old enough to attend Freaknik, so he would just hang outside in the parking lot and just pass out his tapes. And that’s pretty much how Shanti said they broke OutKast, because they had these tapes that they were passing out, and then people were playing them in their cars. Because there was nowhere to go, you couldn’t move. (Laughs) So they would pop the tape in and they were just riding up and down the street and people were bumping OutKast.

Jay: And these are people that are legends now, like Shanti. Yeah, she’s one of the biggest women in music entertainment. Kasim Reed was just an early law student then, and Kasim is literally explaining to us how the government was working back then. One thing that didn’t make it to the documentary that was super interesting is how important Southwest Atlanta was to all of this coming together. And it was a really incredible story. Because Shanti, Kasim – there’s a group of mayors that all come from Southwest Atlanta. And they really just broke down the story. So you’re literally seeing the people that are the biggest leaders in their industries—from music to executives to politics—really be at the forefront of what Freaknik was and what it became.

HipHopWired: Building off of that, how happy are you guys with the reception that you’ve gotten so far with this documentary, showing such a cultural moment for Atlanta and the South overall?

Terry: I always say this: Atlanta wouldn’t be Atlanta without Freaknik. It would not be the same. Freaknik made Atlanta what it is today. Hands down, no doubt. Because people came from all over the country to Atlanta and then stayed. So you started getting a bunch of Black people from different parts of the country that came down and started having their own record labels. We built our record label out of Atlanta, we had a record label called Noontime.

We had Jazze Pha, Brian Michael Cox, Ciara and Latoya Luckett. All of these people came from us. And then you had the LaFace standard, and you had So So Def, and then you had Dallas Austin. And then you had the Dungeon Family. Freaknik started flourishing because of all of the different people that were coming into Atlanta and getting that culture because that was a whole different culture down there than any other city.

HipHopWired: If there is one – you can narrow it down to one – what was your all-time favorite moment making this film?

Nikki: My favorite moment, all-time favorite was Clay Evans. Getting his interview and talking to him about his time at Freaknik. I wish we could have just shown his whole interview. How he acted; y’all he acted so crazy that day of filming. He wouldn’t let anybody talk to him. I was the only one allowed to talk to him. Nobody else can look him in the face. Everybody refers to him in the third person. (Laughs) Yeah, he sent me a two-page rider and let me know that he wanted oysters, but he’s the only one that does the shucking. I provided nothing. I gave him juice. And you have a good day.

Terry: We can’t leave out a very important partner. And that’s Alex Avant who was Clarence Avant’s son. I’m good friends with him. Alex was instrumental in bringing Hulu to the table. So, Alex saw the vision as well.

Jay: And to piggyback on what TR said, my favorite moment of the film is not even a film. What people don’t know is with me, Nikki and TR, other people are in the mix. For me, Nikki and TR are on the frontlines of this. And people know what we went through just putting together materials to pitch, to talk to people to get them convinced, to tap into his entire network, TR tapping into his entire network. And to see the big billboards in LA and New York and everywhere else off the idea that we were literally sitting with, like looking at each other like, “Are we crazy? Is this is a good idea?”

We’re at South by Southwest and we all look at the crowd like, “Oh, we did it.” That’s the moment for me that I was just like…you can’t let people tell you that you’re crazy. We did get rejection letters from people, people who told us that this wasn’t relevant and nobody cared about it. So to have a billboard in Times Square in the middle of a promotion that broke the internet? It just makes me appreciate these people on this call. I know we believe in ourselves and we kept pushing from day one. Never, never hesitated. And we should give some love to Tamara Knetchel. Tam connected us, she’s an unsung hero.

Freaknik: The Wildest Party Never Told

Source: Hulu / hulu

Behind The Scenes Of ‘Freaknik: The Wildest Story Never Told’  was originally published on hiphopwired.com