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Artist of the day: Dominique Young Unique




The comparisons come fast and furious when you’re talking about Tampa rap phenom Dominique Young Unique.

M.I.A. Santigold. Rye Rye. Kid Sister. The Go! Team.

Those are all good starting points — Unique dishes out a frenzied, stutter-stepping electro-hop sound that’s more kinetic than a neon carnival. It’s made her an artist to watch not just among hip-hop fans, but among bloggers who are usually more turned on by indie rock and dance.

To hear Unique herself tell it, those comparisons are a little off. “I’m not that kind of artist, doing all that rock 'n’ roll stuff,” said the petite, tattooed 19-year-old.

But don’t get her wrong: “I could do some rock 'n’ roll stuff,” she insists, “I’m just not going to try to. I’m not a singer, I’m rapper.”

And she’s definitely one to watch. After performing in March at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, Unique seems positioned to pick up where Tampa freak-rap pioneers Yo Majesty left off. She’s signed to British label Art Jam, run by Yo Majesty producer David Alexander, who is shepherding her through the initial stages of her career, and her debut EP, Blaster, is due in May.

Alexander brings the beats and the vibe. Unique brings the lyrics and the attitude. It’s an electric mix that has racked up innumerable raves online — even if she’s relatively unknown in her own hometown.

The Boston Phoenix called her Florida’s best new artist. Stereogum called her video for new single Show My Ass “unabashedly catchy and straight-up fun.” The Fader called her “the deffest chica from down south since like JJ Fad.” After her smash-bang set at SXSW, even Rolling Stone raved about her “indescribable, unignorable mix of Miami bass, Neptunes, French house (and) dub-punk.”

LISTEN - Dominique Young Unique, 'Hot Girl'

When all the attention first hit, it came as a huge surprise to Unique.

“I didn’t know my music was being played in London and New York,” she said. “I had a lot of people comment on my MySpace: 'I can’t wait until you come to London!’ 'You’re so good, you rock!’ It felt so good. I didn’t know that many people had heard my music, or liked my music.”

The young artist — real name Dominique Clark (she tagged herself “Young Unique” when she started rapping, and the name stuck) — has been rapping since 12, first in Tampa’s Robles Park neighborhood, and now in the apartment she shares with her family near Temple Terrace.

She tried singing, but that didn’t work out, so she started rapping. “I was writing my own songs,” she said. “I tried to be like Trina.”

A chance encounter with Shunda K., a founding member of Yo Majesty, led to the connection with Alexander. Together they put together singles Music Time and Hot Girl, which both made a splash on a number of prominent music blogs.

LISTEN - Dominique Young Unique - 'Music Time'

“She’s got a very unique style, very different from most female MCs,” said said Alexander, who has lived in Tampa. “She’s got so much personality, and it’s really cool, exciting and different than what anyone else is doing with their voice.”

Alexander has flown to Tampa to record with Unique, but the rapper says a lot of their collaboration happens online. “I sit down, get on my computer, put my headphones on and listen to music,” she said. She checks out instrumentals and beats put together by Alexander, and lets the lyrics flow.

A former design student at Gary Adult High School, she’s still a lot like her teenage friends in Tampa — she loves club music, movies and bowling — even if not all of them know how big she’s getting. “Some of them really like it,” she said. “A lot of them are like, 'You rap? How long you been rapping?’ I’m like, 'Yeah, I rap. I’m getting ready to go on tour.’ 'Girl, you lying!’”

But with trips to London and South by Southwest under her belt, and an EP on the way, she’s convinced everyone will know her music soon enough.

“I know the music thing is gonna work out,” she said. “A year from now, I think I’ll be at the top.”

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 28, 2010 3:18pm]


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