As we walk to conduct our interview at a quieter Marigny bar, rapper Renard “Slangston Hughes” Bridgewater (“The Connoisseur of Fine Rhyme”) discusses the human desire for tangibility. “At the end of the day, a lot of people still want that paper and that ink,” he says, referring to his day job in production at the Times-Picayune. But this quest for tangibility, for something real, also motivates much of Slangston’s music.
“The boom-bap, the real lyrical hip-hop of like ‘99 or 2000, that was when it hit home for me,” says Slangston Hughes. “And not just the music but the culture. I dove in 110 percent.” Originally from the Hollygrove area around Ye Olde College Inn restaurant, Slangston is aware that lyrical rap—though not the recipient of as much love or attention as our beloved, party rockin’ bounce music—has its own history in New Orleans. Having more in common with locals like the late Bionik Brown, Truth Universal and Impulss, Slangston is glad to admit, “I was into Turk from Hot Boyz. I always enjoyed Mystikal, of course. Mac from No Limit was very lyrical and had a distinct voice and sound. 6 Shot was a lyrical cat.”
Slangston’s also an unabashed disciple of fresh-faced Louisiana rapper Dee-1, with whom he shares an attitude, intelligent regional subject matter and an ability to make positive rap that is somehow not corny. “In ‘07 or ‘08, I got really into Dee-1 just as I started performing and hitting the open mics,” says Slangston, whose first long-term rap relationship was with the Spellbinderz crew during his Holy Cross High School days. During college at UNO he began to truly participate in New Orleans’ hip-hop community: “Truth Universal was doing his monthly Grassroots! event,” remembers Slangston. “Truth gave me my first gigs and created my foundation.” From there, with his rap crews Super Ugly and Tygah Woods (a name invented pre-scandal), Slangston and company won opening slots for Kool Keith, Wu-Tang’s Raekwon and Freddie Gibbs, among others. “I enjoyed opening the Big Pooh show most,” says Slangston. “During Katrina, his group Little Brother was very influential on me.”
Dee-1, however, would never suggest you take a girl to a snowball stand to “get her out them drawers,” as Slangston Hughes does on “Sneaux Fleaux (ft. Jakie Skellz),” his ode to New Orleans’ icy treat. The lead song off of his 19-song mixtape The Money and the Message (which features production by Blaze the Verbal Chemist and DJ Mike Swift among other locals) pits intelligent music against commercial rap. “My style has changed over the past couple years,” he says. “It’s gone from what I coined as ‘intelligent hip-hop’—where I use a lot of high vocabulary, multi-syllable words, which I still do, but—to something more abrasive, aggressive, but at the same time in tune with social commentary.” Slangston’s songs each have a theme, a conceit beyond I’m the baddest. Though he has thrice won the Microphone Co-Rivalry freestyle competition, Slangston Hughes is a writer. “I haven’t battled in a while,” he chuckles. “I don’t do it as competition, just sometimes as a playful thing to keep up my freestyling ability. Freestyling is a good way to get ideas out, but I like that tangibility of taking a pen and writing it, and structuring things out.”
Slangston’s biggest contribution to New Orleans rap however, has been his almost four years booking and curating the hip-hop variety show, Uniquity, now every last Saturday at Dragon’s Den. Uniquity is a performance opportunity for rappers, singers and spoken word artists both local and regional. “Kansas City’s Steddy P started his tour in New Orleans,” recalls Slangston. “We had an MC from NYC named Gotham Green. 7even:Thirty [Mello Music Group] from Jackson, Mississippi is the biggest individual I have booked.”
Uniquity’s cornerstone is Fo on the Flo, a live band Slangston put together to back all of his event’s artists every month. He has since begun writing, recording and performing with the band regularly. “I prefer the organic sound,” says Slangston, who’s brave enough to call his band “fusion jazz,” despite possible unpleasant associations. “All the band members are jazz trained,” he laughs. “But it’s not jazz rap like Tribe Called Quest. I’m more reminiscent of your Eminems, your Royce Da 5’9”s, your Biggie, your Nas.”
Despite adventurous turns, Slangston vows to remain grounded. “I wouldn’t say I want my music to take listeners to another world,” he admits. “I just want it to further their mentality. My music is an expression of who I am as an individual. Like, I like purple. I read comic books. I like snowballs. I love hip-hop.”