Hugh Augustine has toured the world with Top Dawg Entertainment, but he can still sneak into Leimert Park’s Bananas every Tuesday without anyone noticing. Off the heels of 2015’s Massimo Ciabatta and a verse on Isaiah Rashad’s The Sun’s Tirade, Augustine is still somehow flying under the radar in the city that raised him. That seems likely to change with Dubious, his latest LP for Alpha Pup’s The Order Label, out now.
Much like Los Angeles itself, Dubious is a melting pot. There’s g-funk swagger rap in the vein of YG (“Might Dump”), street anthems that could fit in with the Greedo and Drakeo sect (“Xtras”), and backpack rap laced with humor that would fit in nicely on a Project Blowed compilation (“On Deck Circle”). Augustine bleeds the colors of LA—all of them. As a lifetime Angeleno, he’s spent his career immersed in every sound of the city, styles he effortlessly brings together on Dubious. Augustine is a career artist, consistently dropping top-to-bottom records every few years, but on his latest, he brings it all together effortlessly, presenting his most invigorating LP to date. Next time he shows up to Bananas to check out the local scene, he might not be able to pass through so easily—we call that one of those good problems. —Will Schube
This is your first record since Massimo Ciabatta—your most acclaimed record to date—and since you were featured on Isaiah Rashad’s The Sun’s Tirade. Did you feel any pressure on Dubious with your larger fan base?
Hugh Augustine: I don’t think I feel added pressure from what I already feel. Being on the Isaiah project put me on a new level, though. It’s motivated me more than anything.
Is that motivation always built into your approach?
Hugh Augustine: Totally. All the milestones of my career have kept that momentum going for me. I draw inspiration from my experiences, so having those experiences—going on tour with Isaiah and all that—put me back in the right frame of mind to come home and finish the record.
What was it like getting that validation from Isaiah?
Hugh Augustine: Huge. Especially because Jay Rock was on the song. He’s an LA legend at this point. It’s cool how people in other places respond to your shit when it’s homegrown. It’s been a pretty crazy ride.
How has your career changed since Massimo and your Isaiah feature?
Hugh Augustine: People inside of the industry know who I am. I’m more sought after for features. On a personal level, I don’t feel encumbered anymore. I’ve done an international tour now, I’ve become closer with the TDE camp. With this new record, this is me really coming out in the LA scene as someone who’s substantial to what we have going on and the movement.
What did cutting your teeth in that LA scene do for your style?
Hugh Augustine: LA rap, going all the way back to Freestyle Fellowship, has always been influential to the style and the progression of hip-hop. It’s my responsibility to keep that going while expanding the sounds from my area. I’m from Leimert Park and Baldwin Hills, which are pretty much the same neighborhoods. We have a style of our own. We’re right there off of Slauson, it’s a couple miles down the road. Rappers from this area have a specific sound and style, and I’m really just trying to uplift that sound and spread it.
Is it tough to balance paying homage to the LA scene while still furthering your own individual style?
Hugh Augustine: It comes naturally to me. It’s what I was born and bred on. Expanding the sound and taking it to new heights is keeping it real and keeping it original. That’s what the forefathers were doing. They were taking that Sugarhill Gang to a new height—the Myka 9s and all that.
Were you a part of the Project Blowed scene, or was that before your time?
Hugh Augustine: When Project Blowed was going on I was still a little kid. I wasn’t able to get out and be in that scene, but I was definitely aware of that. I didn’t actually start getting into the scene or performing in the scene until Bananas started.
So are you tight with Verbs, Nocando, that scene?
Hugh Augustine: Definitely. I actually saw Nocando at Bananas the other night. It was pretty cool talking to him. I was telling him how I was coming up in the scene, and he was telling me how my name was solid. That meant a lot to me. Growing up, that’s something that I always wanted—I wanted to be someone who could represent my neighborhood, especially with all of the dope emcees from here. To hear from a guy like that—that I’ve been doing what I need to do—is a good feeling.
Is part of your mission to shine a light on some of the younger, unheralded LA rappers?
Hugh Augustine: Yeah, definitely. I don’t have too many rap features on this record because I’m just trying to showcase my shit, but I’m always—with shows—trying to bring out homies. Like Villain Park, I don’t know if you’re up on them, but those are the younger homies making a lot of noise in the city.
Just being someone who’s had experience in the game, when they need advice or anything, I can be someone that can shed some light on issues. With any of the homies trying to get more into the game, I think it’s my responsibility to shed some light. Especially being independent, being able to help people pave their own way is important.
Is it important for you to stay independent as an artist?
Hugh Augustine: For me, ownership is very important. Having creative freedom is important. I have been in situations with labels where they tried to sign me, but at the end of the day, when it came down to contractual obligations, it didn’t seem worthwhile—at least not yet. In terms of labels, I’m just looking for the right situation and the right people that really believe in what I’m trying to do with my mission. I’m looking for someone who wants to partner up with me rather than sign me.
Is that what your relationship with The Order Label and Alpha Pup is like?
Hugh Augustine: I really love working with them because it’s a very hands off approach. I just do my thing and when I’m ready I turn the record in. Then, they do what they do with it. That’s the situation I’m looking for with a label in general; someone to chime in when I ask for help, rather than telling me what I should be doing. That’s how I’ve gotten to where I am now—by sticking to my guns. I don’t think there’s any reason to switch up the formula right now. I feel like there’s a misconception that I don’t fuck with big labels. It’s not that I don’t fuck with them, I just haven’t found what’s right for me yet.
Are you keeping up with the gangster rap revival in LA from rappers like 03 Greedo and Drakeo the Ruler? Or is that outside of your scene?
Hugh Augustine: Hell yeah! My cousin produces for Greedo. Al B Smoov makes some shit for Greedo. I’m up on everything that’s going on. Even though I’m considered an alternative hip-hop dude in LA, I’m still very tapped into what’s going on in the streets. I fuck with everything.
I think that reflects itself on Dubious. There’s definitely some indie rap—or whatever you wanna call it—but there are some street songs, too.
Hugh Augustine: I think that comes from my upbringing. I had an eclectic upbringing in LA. I was born and raised in Baldwin Hills and Leimert Park, but I always went to school outside of my neighborhood. I’ve always had friends and family in different areas of LA. My family is native to LA, too, so I’m pretty familiar with all of the different scenes.
Dubious has some laugh-out-loud funny lines that never come off as corny. Where does that more playful style of your songwriting come from?
Hugh Augustine: That’s just my personality. I can be really serious at times and very driven with my message, but at the same time I’m a pretty light hearted dude and I take all of the things that I’ve been through as a blessing. I’m a glass half full kind of guy. I always keep that in my music as well.
I wouldn’t say I’m a class clown, but I got my one liners here and there. I’m a big fan of dry humor. I love Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, that type of shit.
What’s your relationship like with the producers on Dubious? How do you go about picking beats? The record has a really coherent sound but you tapped a bunch of different beatmakers to help out.
Hugh Augustine: All the producers on my record are, for the most part, friends with each other—friends with me, too. When you’re collaborating with a lot of different producers they gotta really know who you are in order to tap into what your sound is. Because I’ve been making music for so long with these guys, everyone’s pretty familiar with my sound—even producers I’ve never worked with before. All the beats on this project were made for me specifically. That’s a big part of it, too; making sure everything I get is tailor made to me, not somebody’s throwaway beats.
How did your collaboration with Syd come about for “Nights on Replay?”
Hugh Augustine: Syd’s a family friend. I’ve known her since I was a little kid. It was a matter of getting the right track and reaching out when she wasn’t too busy. It’s fam shit. That’s the other thing about really being from LA. All the artists know each other, whether we went to school together, our parents know each other, or we’re playing on the same sports team. If you’re actually a part of the scene, it’s like one big family.
You see the same thing with Kamasi and the West Coast Get Down family. They’ve been homies since they were kids.
Hugh Augustine: Exactly. I really appreciate that too, being from LA and being a part of what I consider to be a renaissance. If it was five or ten years earlier we’d all grow up gangbangers. It’s cool that we all found a passion in music and used that as an escape, rather than being in the streets.
What do you think about the LA scene right now categorizes it as a renaissance?
Hugh Augustine: Just the fact that so many people are finding their passion in art and going for it. Especially in LA, people are looking here for something new and something fresh. We actually have the talent and the ability to create. Everyone’s about it. Also, it’s like a big support system. If you’re doing something, people are gonna show out and show love. They just want to be a part of the movement. That’s why I think it’s a renaissance. It’s definitely a movement of young people.
Was there anything in particular you wanted to do differently on Dubious that you hadn’t touched on prior, either lyrically, sonically, or aesthetically?
Hugh Augustine: It’s different sonically. The beats are better, the mastering is better. I’m also digging deeper into my personal storyline. There are a few times on the record where I’m talking about real life shit that I’m going through. Even right now I’m not sure how people are gonna feel about it when it comes out. Like “Nice To Know You” or “Never Sold Coke.” These anecdotes are real life shit for me. I’m just trying to get deeper into that narrative and keeping it personal.
I’m trying to be vulnerable. That’s what Dubious is all about: Striving for that vulnerability, striving through that lack of resources, striving through that unknown where you don’t know what your music is gonna do when it comes out. But I’m so passionate about it, I put my all into it. I feel like that’s a formula for success.