Big Sam from the oh-so funky Big Sam’s Funky Nation is gearing up for his 2014 ESSENCE Festival performance. As an ESSENCE Festival alum (this will be his third year hitting the stage) the New Orleans native intends to bring loads of soul and funk as he performs tracks from his band’s newest album Evolution. Big Sam dialed into our phone interview as he was working his latest project to discuss his musical space, what he loves most about the ESSENCE Festival audience and his favorite must-have New Orleans delicacy.

What is the overall theme and energy of the album?

Whew! It’s a high-energy emotional album that touches on love and pain. It’s our first full-length album in three years and shows the growth of the band. We definitely dig into the rock aspect of music on this album, but overall the energy is still up. You’re going to dance throughout the entire album.

Your previous albums were titled King of The Party, Funky Donkey and now Evolution. What space were you in while creating the album that you titled it Evolution?

I wanted to speak about relationships and how some relationships work out and others unfortunately don’t. There are songs like “Addicted” and “Love on My Side” that express that.

This will be your third time performing at the ESSENCE Festival. What do you love most about performing at the ESSENCE Festival?

What I love most about it is that it broadens everyone’s musical horizons. The [ESSENCE Festival] shows that our people can make more music than just what you hear on the radio. We do more than just R&B and hip-hop, we do this kind of music too! Don’t forget, we had Jimi Hendrix.

The ESSENCE Festival line up this year is jam packed. Is there anyone you’re excited about seeing perform?

Anyone that knows me knows that I love Prince. I actually turned down other dates just to see Prince perform. I told my team ahead of time ‘Prince is performing at ESSENCE [Festival] leave my schedule open.’ Seeing Prince perform will probably be the highlight of my life.

One of our biggest intiatives this year at the ESSENCE Festival is empowerment. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned that has helped empower you professionally and personally?

I’ve learned to be myself and to always stay true to myself. Don’t try and replicate what anyone else does. It’s okay to be inspired by other people, but overall, stay true to yourself. If you love it and stay true to yourself, people will love it.

How can someone empower themselves?

Figure out what you want to do in life and then surround yourself within the type of environment you want to be in. Don’t be shy either. Go up and speak to someone and ask for help. Don’t be too prideful. You’d be surprised to find who will help you if you ask.

For anyone who maybe attending The ESSENCE Festival or traveling to New Orleans for the first time, what advice do you have for them?

To start, you have to see me perform! Secondly, New Orleans is known for the food and you have to go Jacque Imo Cafe. It’s on Oak Street and you have to try their alligator cheesecake. Yes, alligator cheesecake. It’s great!