The rise and fall of ATL’s wildest spring break street party, as told by those who lived it.
As told to Angel Elliott (@AngelElliott)
Atlanta, 1992. A burgeoning black mecca teeming with young professionals, hot weather, and undeniable energy. Colorful tricked out Caddies and dope boy Benzes sittin’ on rims as tall as your waist stuck at a standstill on the overcrowded 75/85 connector. Fine young women on the come-up sporting finger waves and Poetic Justice braids hustlin’ to class, anticipating the weekend to come. Guys in oversized shirts, crew socks, and Cross Colors abound while Chris Lova Lova and PoonDaddy drop the latest bass-heavy joint on Hot 97.5 FM, all against the backdrop of a bucolic yet urbane Southern city. Something is about to go down in ATL, and it’s freaky.
To this day, the word Freaknik prompts chastising looks and tight-lipped conversations in certain circles.
Although the name Freaknik now conjures images of scantily clad, curvaceous women, crowded streets, and Sodom and Gomorrah–style public fun (and to some, lewd violence and animalistic behavior that denigrated and shamed Atlanta’s black community), it had humble beginnings. It all started in 1982 as a small picnic thrown by Spelman and Morris Brown students who needed a little hip midterm get-down. Soon, the picnic began to attract other students from nearby black colleges like Morehouse and Clark Atlanta. Where’d the infamous name Freaknik come from? A ’70s dance called the “The Bump,” also known as freaking.
Without Twitter and Instagram to spread the word, HBCU insiders who had their ear to the original social network—also known as “the grapevine”—helped turn that picnic into a black cultural phenomenon. Spike Lee’s 1988 film School Daze referenced the festival, and on a November 30, 1989 episode of NBC’s A Different World, the characters Whitley Gilbert and Freddie were desperate to make their way down to the freaky festival.
Once largely ignored by the city of Atlanta, Freaknik steadily grew in size and soon local officials were desperately trying to organize the sexually charged melee by adding a career fair, concession stands along Auburn Avenue, and community basketball games. They even attempted name changes like the Sweet Auburn Festival and Black College Weekend, but their efforts were all in vain. By 1992, the little picnic had turned into a full-on street party without inhibitions, boasting some 200,000 attendees overrunning almost every part of the city, and crowding out residents and workers who made their living there. Thus, the legend of Freaknik was born.
As its popularity grew, so did the dollars pouring in from college students coming to partake in some ratchet fun. By 1994, the festival was adding as much as $20 million to the city’s economy. But what happens when you leave college students to their own devices and mix parties, drinking, word-of-mouth hype, a local government turning a blind eye, and an unfettered desire to get down? Trouble. Which explains why this is a story some would prefer to leave untold. To this day, the word Freaknik prompts chastising looks and tight-lipped conversations in certain circles.
Nothing seemed to be off limits to the revelers, who poured in from all over the country during the third weekend of April to get down during spring break. Testosterone-and-alcohol-drunk young men with camcorders came to make their weekend an orgy of honeys and hip-hop. Women abandoned their scruples and clothes—ready for whatever. Back then, rap was in its infancy, and it became the soundtrack to the revelry. For many rappers, Freaknik was their opportunity to break their Dirty South sounds to the world. Freaknik also helped paved the way for many of today's music videos featuring women sporting little-to-no clothing and flaunting overly abundant assets as public twerking became the norm.
Testosterone-and-alcohol-drunk young men with camcorders came to make their weekend an orgy of honeys and hip-hop. Women abandoned their scruples and clothes—ready for whatever.
Atlanta residents came to regard the festival as a plague that swarmed their city every third week in April. Residents would rush to grocery stores, take leave from their jobs, and escape the city as if a natural disaster was on the way. Businesses shut down, roads were blocked off, and then Police Chief Beverly Harvard allocated $300,000 in overtime to beef up the 1,800-person police force. By 1994, attendance had grown way beyond college students. Folks were pouring in from all over the country and a sinister element seeped into the crowds that inundated the city from Piedmont Park to Auburn Avenue. By time Mayor Bill Campbell was elected in 1994, the city had grown weary of hosting up to 400,000 party people.
Once the hype around Freaknik reached a fever pitch, and downtown Atlanta was overrun with the young and nasty, Mayor Bill Campbell cracked down, appointing a special committee on Freaknik consisting of city council members. Violence was on the rise—in 1995 a reported 2,000 crimes were committed, ranging from indecent exposure to rape. In a 1997 interview with the Associated Press, Campbell lamented, “Few issues in the city of Atlanta have been as divisive in the last 10 years. It is a very difficult weekend even under the best of circumstances.”
When word came that Atlanta would be hosting the 1996 Summer Olympics, the city put on its white hat and went into clean-up mode. There was one last effort at re-organizing Freaknik and re-naming it Spring Jam ’97, but their efforts were to no avail.
Attempts to revive the festival have been made in subsequent years, but nothing could replicate the unfettered, wanton atmosphere that was Freaknik’s essence. Past attendees stored it in their memories, but was that a rose-hued reflection of an event that was really violent and hedonistic in nature? Let the people who were there tell you the story of one of the most freaky phenomena in American history.
Derrick Boazman - Morris Brown Graduate, 1990; former Atlanta City Councilman ’97
Bun B - Rapper
Joe Compton - Freaknik attendee ’94
Jermaine Dupri - Rapper, Producer, Founder of So So Def Records
Adina Howard - Singer, known as the “Queen of Freaknik”
Panama Jackson - Morehouse Alum, Attended ’97, ’98
Uncle Luke - Rapper, Founder of Luke Records
Killer Mike - Rapper, broke into the rap game during Freaknik
Alex Tehrani - Photographer, shot Freaknik for Vibe in ’96
Nika Watkins - Freaknik attendee ’95, ’96, ’97
Kameelah Williams - Lead singer, performed with her group 702 during Freaknik
Derrick Boazman: At both [Spelman and Morris Brown] you had the Florida club and Georgia club. Freaknik started as just gatherings of the people who lived in those states. At that time in Atlanta, both states had many students here, throughout the Atlanta University Center. Each school had its own chapter of state clubs. So it really just started off as a picnic for those states, and they’d come together and just do a cookout.
Uncle Luke: The original Freaknik, it was a lot of college students and entertainers coming together to have fun in the park—a picnic. It was a great outing along the lines of what you have at University of Florida, what you call gator growl. A lot of students going out to the park, a lot of celebrity entertainers being brought out to do events, and actually breaking their artists at those events.
It turned into some huge journey for people all across the nation to come to Atlanta and just act a damn fool. —Panama Jackson
Panama Jackson: What started it was effectively some folks from the DC Metro, in the AUC Center deciding to have a big-ass picnic in Washington Park, Piedmont Park. It was just a big college thing. So the intentions were good, bringing a bunch of college students to celebrate being in school. It was like a big homecoming, even though it wasn’t their homecoming season. And it turned into some huge journey for people all across the nation to come to Atlanta and just act a damn fool.
Derrick Boazman: As time went on, back in, like '86 '87 '88—somewhere thereabout, over time you began to see the power of networking, party flyers, and the emergence of what we begin to call a social network. Because of that it grew. It outgrew the park, it outgrew every school venue, and then it took on a whole different kind of make-up. It became arguably, some would say, the largest gathering of African-American students in the country.
Jermaine Dupri: A free Atlanta, that’s what comes to my thought. Atlanta was, like, untapped. The city didn’t close. It was like 6 in the morning and the clubs stayed open. The traffic situation was bad, but it was in a certain section of town. It wasn’t like the whole city was a part of it. It had some overflow but you had to go into it. It started off at Piedmont Park where mostly college students would be there, people started to do concerts and parties and it just turned into something much bigger than it was before.
It started as something that signified unity within the black colleges...it turned into a big party. —Joe Compton
Joe Compton: I was there for a black college tour and heard about it through heavy word of mouth from Detroit until I reached Atlanta. It was more about being in Atlanta rather than just going to Freaknik. It started as something that signified unity within the black colleges better known as the AUC. It turned into a big party.
Killer Mike: It grew year by year, it doubled, tripled, and quadrupled year by year because it got out of the college campuses and got into the streets with a quickness. And then when it reached downtown Atlanta, which is kind of on the backside of where the AUC center is. When it got there, you knew it was over.
Jermaine Dupri: I think when it got bigger it was good for the city by the way, beautiful for the city because it became like a [New Orleans] Jazz Festival situation.
Killer Mike: I remember Freaknik in the '90s, you had Erick Sermon living in the city, you had Too $hort, you had Outkast dropping their second album, you had Goodie Mob. The atmosphere for music was electric. LaFace was in Atlanta, the “Whoomp There It Is” movement was in full swing. That shit was off the chain. It was the perfect time to launch black music acts.
Derrick Boazman: I was a little bit more conscious and so I would not have associated myself in something called Freaknik. I was more into the political consciousness. [My] music of that day was Public Enemy: “You got that fight the power, you got to fight the powers that be.”
People had incredible sound systems. Every car would stop, people would get out of their cars, and everyone would start dancing and taking their clothes off.
Alex Tehrani: It was incredible music. It was a time when music was good, and all of the stuff coming out of the South was really good. People had incredible sound systems. You would have people driving at sixty miles an hour on the highway, and someone would hit the brakes, and someone else would follow them, and boom, forty-eight seconds later, every car would stop, every door would open, people would get out of their cars and everyone would start dancing and taking their clothes off.
Adina Howard: That whole place was a scandal. Because nobody cared. We knew what we were going out there for. You had Luke, and Too $hort, and anybody that was talking about sex.
Uncle Luke: My most memorable experience is when we did a big concert in [Piedmont Park]. Everybody was there. Goodie Mob, the whole Dungeon Family, Lil Jon, Jermaine Dupri. It was a big major concert in the park. That was probably one of my most memorable events.
Kameelah: We were performing on campus near Spelman and Clark and the students couldn’t believe we were there. They thought it was really special and cool of us doing Freaknik. I guess they didn’t look at it as something that artists of our caliber would be doing. It was kind of like, “Oh wow—y’all are cool to be out here kicking it with us like it’s y’all spring break.” That’s how we treated it. This is like a college family affair.
Bun B: UGK filmed a video called “It’s Suppose to Bubble” from my first album, “Too Hard to Swallow.” We actually filmed that in Atlanta at '93 Freaknik. It was really really wild back then! I remember girls used to be naked on top of vans dancing and stuff. The madness and the traffic was unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
Alex Tehrani: There were people, like Atlanta dudes in the streets who were just rhyming, because that’s what they were going to do at Freaknik. And there were people who rolled through with really good sound systems who would just set up shop in little intersections or little parks, and crowds would come around and that would turn into a little impromptu dance party. So I did have a great time.
Joe Compton: Naked women, a celebrity buffet, nice cars. I'd attend with a different group of college friends each year. I wanted to attend to get a first-hand look for myself at a myth that I didn't think existed—with a video camera and Polaroid camera in tow.
Killer Mike: We were doing all that wild shit, all that country wild shit. We were freaking girls while we were out, I mean just wild dancing and shit. People were drunk off this self-organized parade. It was an unorganized Mardi Gras of sorts, and it was all about showing your car, girls showing their bodies, and dudes showing their gold.
Adina Howard: Freaks—male and female alike, just a bunch of freaks. Probably the best way to look at Freaknik was the Woodstock of the Nineties. Being out there just doing whatever, not really thinking about consequences to the actions that are being executed. Let’s just go and have fun, and do what we want to do—how we want to do it, when and where and why we want to do it. The atmosphere was just crazy. Freaknik was one of those things we had the privilege of being able to enjoy. Men and women were just out there uninhibited, like, ‘It’s on, let’s party!’
Nika Watkins: Oh the groupies were off the chain. I feel like Freaknik started the whole glorifying strippers thing. Girls were getting paid to show their ass. There was a lot—I mean a whole lot—going on during Freaknik.
Panama Jackson: Chicks with no clothes on, women being extremely explicit, you know, you got the handstands, and the chicks with the legs. And women taking their tops off in the street. It’s basically gridlock, black gridlock, and ignorance mixed in one.
Bun B: You saw a lot of nudity, a lot of girls dancing on cars. Like one guy had a van of girls and they pulled up to the corner and he put the girls on the top of the van and then if you wanted to see the girls naked, you had to give money. Once he got “x” amount of money the girls would get naked on the van and they’d dance around. Back then if you had a disposable camera or a camera or maybe if you were lucky enough to have a camcorder, keep in mind camcorders in ‘93 were still huge devices. So, if you had that type of thing you might have caught footage of it. It’s not like today where everyone would have had it on Instagram. Like it was literally to the point where there were so many people that they were able to do this corner to corner and havea different crowd of people at every corner.
It was an unorganized Mardi Gras of sorts, and it was all about showing your car, girls showing their bodies, and dudes showing their gold.
Adina Howard: Everybody wanted to get into parties but if you couldn’t get into a party, you started your own party. Walking down the streets in a thong? You’re taking it a little bit too far! You’re walking around in public, having sex against a tree? Okay! Uninhibited. People were being exhibitionists. I knew for me I couldn’t be out there because I didn’t have anonymity. Had I had anonymity, it probably would have been a whole different story!
Alex Tehrani: I remember one of the moments on the highway where people pulled over, and this girl got up on the roof, and she was bending over and doing all kind of crazy stuff, and people pulled over and started grabbing at her, taking pictures and stuff. Man, it was just kind of hard to explain. It felt to me kind of like performance art. There was a real element of spontaneous, performance art all over that city. It was dancing, it was taking clothes off, it was getting freaky all over each other. It crossed a lot of lines.
Derrick Boazman: I never participated at that level, in terms of what Freaknik was all about. What it had evolved to was antithetical to everything I believed. It was anti-women, it was anti-black education, and I know we all have our release mechanisms, but I didn’t want to be a part of it. So I wasn’t a part of this "Freaknik movement" at that time because I saw it having so many contradictions. We have the best and brightest in America. They engaged in this kind of debauchery and behavior that was too much, too hedonistic. It was not the kind of thing I got out to advocate for. I just simply sat it out and did not participate.
Alex Tehrani: The whole thing about Freaknik is it wasn’t in one spot, it was the whole city, you know? You had to have a ride, and you had to know your way around. So me and my assistant got an SUV and just started hitting the streets, and basically just dove in, and started seeing stuff going on. We’d stop and hang out, dance, and shoot. Then someone else would tell us about some other thing that was about to pop off, and we’d hear what spots were going to be going crazy later that night, and we just kept rolling. I’d been told enough to know that there weren't too many rules in place. The city of Atlanta, the cops pulled back, a lot of people just kind of like, let a lot of stuff go down.
Jermaine Dupri: The problem was that, and I say this all the time, the city never paid attention to the entertainment part of Atlanta the way they should have. There should have been a committee in the city that took over and kept it going. They said it became something that was bad, but it wasn’t. Of course, there is always something that break out when you got that many people around, but if it was controlled or they would have grabbed ahold of it, it would have still been going today.
Killer Mike: My first memories of Freaknik are the traffic jams in the West End area. We were still in high school before it got really big. It started off as just these small traffic jams that college kids from black schools just kind of popped up, rolled around, had fun. People weren’t really partying in Buckhead, it was centralized to the black neighborhoods in Atlanta. In the hood it was Club 559. There were kids who would just ride the bus down and pop out on the scene. It was just naked women, huge hair, and candy-coated cars.
Nika Watkins: A friend from my college, Grambling, was from Atlanta so we went home with her to attend Freaknik. What's funny is her parents were very inviting, telling us all they heard was happening that weekend. I heard about it while I was in high school. I was told it was fun and the place to be. People everywhere. Traffic was terrible in the city! Traffic was so bad people would get out of their vehicles and park in the streets. We were all there to have fun at first.
Derrick Boazman: I ran for the Atlanta City Council and was elected in 1997. By then, Freaknik emerged as a public policy issue as a member of city council, and at that time there were calls to control it. [Mayor] Bill Campbell took a beating because you had people on one hand saying the kids have a right to party, and the students are advocating: “We had this shut down by the black mayor. A black mayor shut down this black event.” You had the white community saying, “Shut it down or we’re going to figure out another way to shut it down.” So, you had all of this going on, pressure on the governor and everybody else.
Jermaine Dupri: People in the city were complaining about how they were going to get home and traffic and all of that. It was kind of like...it’s the same thing that they are doing in Miami right now for Memorial Day Weekend. They closing all the stores on Collins Avenue so you don’t ride up that block. It was like the same mentality. Pushing people away. It almost felt like you would get in trouble if you came to Atlanta. Bill Campbell was one of the good guys that got it but he also caught a lot of slack.
If it was controlled or they would have grabbed ahold of it, it would have still been going today.
Uncle Luke: The problem is you’re trying to organize something but when they try to organize it, you know the shitty government didn’t want it. They went after all clubs, told clubs that they couldn’t be involved with Freaknik. If they tagged our logo then they would come after them whether it was code compliance or whatever it may be. The city did their job on it. It’s sad in a sense that the city government has a serious problem with African-Americans getting together and nobody wanted to try and organize something in a peaceful manner. But everyone is quick to organize an event where it’s another race of people. So to me it’s real sad. The economic impact of 400,000 people coming to a city purchasing hotel rooms and spending money—that’s major. You would think that the city would want to organize something like that.
Alex Tehrani: It’s always interesting to play the role of the journalist because you know, I’m not a full-blown white boy, so I was kind of let in on that whole Freaknik scene, but I was talking to some businessman on my flight to Atlanta and he was like, “Uh, we all try to get as far away as possible from Atlanta when Freaknik comes around.” I’m on a flight with people from New Jersey, Manhattan or wherever, who’d saved up their money all year to go big and have a fun weekend. And people in Atlanta were like, “This is not the Atlanta we all know and love. We distance ourselves from the whole thing.” The cops didn’t want to get involved, like, “We just let these guys run wild.” So there’s definitely a lot of takes on it, a lot of businesses shut down. There’s just a mix. There was definitely a racial divide. You’d see a lot of what I assumed were white-owned businesses that weren’t as connected to the black community in downtown Atlanta. They were just like, 'Fuck all that, we’re just going to go far away for a couple days.' And there were others that were like, "come one, come all, it’s Freaknik!"
Bun B: It was crazy for me because we ended up being stuck in traffic on the freeway – the freeway and the exits were at a standstill. So, I got out of the car and literally walked down the freeway, down the exit ramp, and into downtown in order to get to the hotel and secure... When I got out of the car people were drinking and dancing because everybody was there to party, they were pumped up and ready to go but they couldn’t get to the party. So, they were like fuck it. We’re going to party right here and right now.
Killer Mike: The police presence was out there. You were there getting drunk causing traffic, they were lockin’ your ass up. The city clamped down on it. Directing traffic away so you couldn’t cruise, the city council enacted these no cruising laws and things of that nature. But what really got wild was the girls, it got really wild and difficult. And you’ve got to protect the sisters.
Panama Jackson: I did see police trying to calm down the crowds. The last memory I have, I guess it was like ’97, ’98, it went from being Freaknik, to the Sweet Auburn Festival in a controlled space. It wasn’t nearly as many people as used to come. And the police were trying to guide that process. It was a city of Atlanta thing. We are going to rebrand this as the Sweet Auburn Festival. That was the city being more proactive in trying to control it from the beginning as opposed to, here’s this weekend where all these people act a damn fool, and are going all over the city. Let’s create a space for them so that they don’t haveto go all over the city and mess up traffic and go wreak havoc. It was their attempt, and they killed it.
The city was being more proactive in trying to control it. It was their attempt, and they killed it.
Derrick Boazman: Where the challenge came during Freaknik is how do you control this unorganized chaos? The police would show up and get it under control, but I got fifteen venues as opposed to one. You could not plan your tactical planning for an event that had this wandering kind of philosophy to it. So, they set up a multi-jurisdictional command center for all of these agencies, run out of the local 911 centers. MARTA police, transportation police, the outlying counties had representatives in this command centers and they were able to monitor what was happening in designated areas. It didn’t matter if you were Atlanta police, East Point police, or neighboring city police—they had a coordinated response if there was a need. Cities had cameras spread throughout to monitor traffic. So, you had all of that coordination coming together.
Bun B: If there hadn’t been any police present things would of gotten way more out of hand then they already were. For the most part Freaknik was a fun and enjoyable environment but you got to understand that the city of Atlanta was not really ready for the traffic and, you know, the drinking and smoking in public places, the nudity. It was a lot.
Killer Mike: I would say the last big hoorah year for Freaknik was 1996—the same year as the Olympics. I pretty much knew they were going to kill it after that... And the Olympics were of course the media darling of all of America and Atlanta, so we pretty much knew it was going to be over after that.
Derrick Boazman: I think that you can see that it began to change. It began to evolve. Where the actual name itself derived, I’m not clear about that. But you can see the event evolved into more of a rolling party. They did not have an aim or objective because what really started off as a picnic morphed into this whole kind of culture—music, girls, guys trying to impress. So, you know, it would evolve from this small gathering into this kind of gigantic political issue for the city.
Adina Howard: As the news got around it got bigger and bigger and bigger, I think a different type of crowd and a different vibe started to take place. It wasn’t as fun. It started getting too big, and I think the people that were flocking to Atlanta, it started getting sinister.
It started getting too big, and it started getting sinister.
Nika Watkins: At first it was chill. Guys would ask where you're from, what school you went to, etc. It meant a fun weekend partying in Atlanta. It eventually changed to a sex fest. It was the weekend guys knew they could get laid. Walking thru Lenox Square might cause you to get violated—your ass smacked or a boob grabbed. I don't want to say all dudes were like that, but there were some overly aggressive hounds lurking around down there. I heard stories about women being raped which is really upsetting to hear about. That's really sad to me that things went that far.
Killer Mike: It was concerns for the city about young girls being out there in the fray of it all. But I can remember right by Capitol Homes projects, which is right by the state capitol, dudes just got caught slippin’, and they got their heads knocked off. Girls started inviting dudes down to the projects and knockin’ their heads off. And when it got to be like that, Atlanta was just like, ‘it’s going to be no more,’ and they shut it down.
Derrick Boazman: I think Geraldo Rivera did a show and talked about the rapes and the women who ended up seeking medical attention. One year I had to literally save a young girl. She had been cornered. As a lover of our people, it just made you angry because what you saw not college students necessarily, but you saw this kind of mob mentality [as if they] didn’t have to respect any woman. And I got angry; I’ll be honest with you. I got very angry when I saw a girl being hunted up down by the school board building, which is two blocks from City Hall. I had to literally tell them, “No, you’re not going to do that.” The girl was cowering down and I told her, “Sister get in your car…wherever you're from.” She was not from here. “Go home! Don’t go to your hotel. Go home.” And so, clearly it was a public safety nightmare.
Alex Tehrani: We saw some stuff I wasn’t totally able to shake. Dudes that are just full of just testosterone and excitement, and and no one’s around. And all of a sudden three super-fly girls come down the road in their little outfits, we saw all kinds of stuff that seemed cool until the moment that it wasn’t cool anymore. Then all of a sudden the girls would get surrounded, and you would hear little struggles going on, and it was kind of hard to get too close to that. There were definitely a few situations where I feel like women were very seriously taken advantage of. Part of the way Freaknik was set up at the time, that was a part of the deal. I’m not saying ladies couldn’t go without being taken advantage of. But it was kind of like, I look good, you look good, it’s sunny, there’s music in the streets. Let's shut down the streets and go dancing on top of rooftops of cars and stuff. There were moments when that were nothing but pure fun, and others moments where it went too far. We definitely saw stuff that went too far—just a wild energy.
Panama Jackson: What it turned into, was, “I’m from the hood in Detroit, let’s go to Freaknik and act a fool, let’s go to the strip club. Let’s figure it out when we get there.” Once everyone found out about Freaknik, it turned into the one that we all think of. The one that involves all the police, and all the debauchery, and all the clubs, all the rapes, all the violence and people being arrested. It turned into all that. There’s only so much chaos that people can live with before it completely goes into anarchy. And we reached anarchy with Freaknik.
There’s only so much chaos that people can live with before it completely goes into anarchy. And we reached anarchy with Freaknik.—Panama Jackson
Killer Mike: You got to look at it like you black, you looking at other black people everybody partying. But if you don’t realize like, ‘I’m in the middle of the projects,’ I’m in the middle of Capitol Homes, you not going to realize, ‘I’m in the middle of the projects at 11:30 at night, I’m a little drunk, I’m trying to holler at this girl and get out of here,’ but you’re not making it out of there. This is the City of God right now, a lot of dudes got their heads knocked off. They got their shit took, they got sent home naked if they were lucky enough to make it.
Derrick Boazman: I’ll never forget from the opening of Freaknik, this man had drove all they way from Tennessee, by that time big rims and Capri’s was the thing of the day. He pulls into the BP gas station on the corner of Memorial Drive and Hill Street. Shot right there before he gets out his car, killed, and he was down here for Freaknik. We found out he was 42 years old. So, he got car jacked for his car! Down here to trying to fill up in his custom Capri and he’s 42 years old! How do you explain that? With a family and children. But, he’s down here for Freaknik.
Killer Mike: I remember we use to stop at gas stations and I would tell dudes, “Y’all don’t need to be at this gas station,” cause their cars were too nice to be at the gas station at that time of night. If they didn’t know anybody you knew they were going to get got. I remember driving by, seeing dudes, you could tell that they just got robbed. You lookin’ at the panic in their eyes. And then I knew a lot of the girls that were just down with that sell-a-nigga-off shit. So I already knew they were on the hunt. But that was darkest to me, nobody wants to have a gun put in their face and stash out their shit, there was a lot of that. A lot of new rims popped up in Adamsville.
Panama Jackson: I got to Morehouse in ’97, really the last year when it was Freaknik, before they tried to turn it into whatever it became. In college, me and all my boys went to be a part of it. I remember seeing people in the streets, women getting on top of the hoods of cars and poppin’ it. Dudes with video cameras everywhere, paying women to shake what their mama gave them. Paying women to take clothes off. Basically devolving into, the stereotypical over-sexualized image of black people—there was a lot of that. The years when it kind of hit the national consciousness, women were getting raped, it was like lawlessness. A free-for-all at some point. Because everybody was stuck in traffic, everybody blasted their radio. Some women get out and start poppin’ it, women looking for attention, guys were willing to give them attention, everybody filming everything. And people were coming to act a fool, people were coming to express themselves in some of the most negative ways possible. So you got a lot of the negativity involved.
Derrick Boazman: It was not a college party. People had come to be a part of Freaknik who were not students... I think by 1998, it needed to be gone. And I don’t miss it to be honest with you.
Adina Howard: Everything has its run. It was just getting too big for the city. And it was just starting to get out of control. Atlanta did not want that image. They wanted a family type of image, and it is the South. They were like, “Y’all gotta get up outta here. We like the money but, all money ain’t good money.”
Derrick Boazman: The mayor makes a decision that has to be controlled and contained and then puts together a public safety plan that either you were going to go into downtown onto Auburn Avenue and a street festival kind of set up or they just rode you around the city. And if you did not know Atlanta, you became very frustrated because they closed off exits, sent cars out of the way. It really was the effort to really contain, and to discourage people from coming and it worked. The bottom line is that at the end of day the crowds began to not be as large because they also saw a city that was not hospitable towards what had become Freaknik.
"The bottom line is that at the end of day, the crowds began to not be as large because they saw a city that was not hospitable towards what had become Freaknik.
Alex Tehrani: Freaknik fell apart after 1996. First of all, the cops had to get more involved, there were a couple murders. And so their presence became more visible, and so that kind of took the fun away. Since then it’s kind of crumbled.
Derrick Boazman: People attribute the shutdown of Freaknik to Bill Campbell. But here’s the political tug of war—the black community as well as the white community said, “This is just a rolling party. It has no control.” By that time it’s not college students alone. The thug element had seen this as an opportunity to co-opt that effort. One year you saw looting and breaking of windows at Greenbriar Mall, and you saw that downtown. So, it really became a public safety nightmare. And by the time I make it to Atlanta City council in 1998, it’s really a political quagmire because on the one hand you had a picture of just innocent college students coming from Miami and Wisconsin and coming from all over the country. But the reality of it is, Freaknik had taken on an element that was dangerous to the public safety of the city. The mayor was receiving pressure from both black and the white community... There was an attempt to organize it, and what people found is that the young people simply did not want organization. They wanted to have an outlet to party as much as they could.
Bun B: Freaknik was one of those things where you literally had to be there because there’s little or no footage.
Adina Howard: For us, who actually had the honor of experiencing it—because it was an honor—Freaknik was about freedom. It was about just doing you and not being judged at all. Because at the end of the day, we were all just a big clique. We were all freaky, we were all “nasty.” We were all promiscuous and just getting it. Not to say that’s a good thing, but that definitely helped define our youth. Words honestly can’t even begin to express what Freaknik was unless you were in the thick of it. Freaknik was just the freedom to be, do, and have as we chose. To me, that’s the legacy—no ifs, ands, buts or maybes.
Nika Watkins: It honestly changed up the city of Atlanta for urban America. Everybody moved to Atlanta after that. It put Atlanta on the map for its nightlife and strip clubs. Everybody and their mama has heard of Club 112 and Magic City.
Killer Mike: It was for the most part a hell of party, a few dark occurrences, but for the most part it was just a hell of a party.
Freaknik was about freedom. It was about just doing you and not being judged at all.
Jermaine Dupri: What was happening in that time period, you won’t ever see again in Atlanta. It was an era when, we didn’t have no curfews, no nothing in Atlanta. This was a time period when it was almost like Atlanta was an under-water city where you could do whatever you wanted to do. We had everything except for gambling and a beach. If we had that, shit would have been crazy. It was like an open city. People came to Atlanta and they couldn’t even believe that they could just ride around and hang out, kick it like they were kickin’ it. They couldn’t believe it. When I tell people about things like this, it feels strange. It’s the essence of what the South is now. It was by far the beginning of Southern swag, and what you see now. All that stuff you see now in Miami during Memorial Weekend, that’s actually like a re-creation of Freaknik—people are just trying to recreate it. The fun, the artists coming out performing, everybody wanted to be part of it. People like Luke, Jay, Snoop, everybody was coming from everywhere and wanted to be at Freaknik.
Adina Howard: For the people who have no clue what Freaknik is about? There will never be another one. They can even try to revive it, but it will not ever be the same... What happened at Freaknik, stayed at Freaknik. Words could not convey the experience. You had to be there, and that’s the beautiful thing about the way it all went down.
Derrick Boazman: When you call something Freaknik what do you expect for it to be? It wasn’t a picnic. What can we say positive? It shows the power of the black buck. It showed you the power of black networking. Now just think if we would have been able to convert that into “Black Power Weekend”—if 400,000 students showed up for “Social Justice Weekend,” or a “Free Mumia Weekend.” Or to reinstate all aspects of the Voting Rights Act. It showed you the potential but what it also showed you is… We can organize 400,000 people for a party but we can’t organize 400,000 people for Trayvon Martin or something. So it shows you the power of the people, but has to be more power than just the party. My whole fascination with Freaknik is I’m waiting to see that many people show up in Atlanta on something that’s meaningful to lives, to the salvation and liberation of black people. And I guess I’ll just be waiting.