Nice view in London “dress by @Moschino “Leather Jacket by @Fshnbnkr “Purse @vowlondonuk also the shoes @riverisland
Sitting in the immaculate white office of a plush London PR agency, Dominique Young Unique couldn’t be further from the Tampa projects of her formative years. Over the course of the past five years the 23 year old has released countless mixtapes, toured with Example, worked with Diplo and 2014 will see the release of her debut full-length album. With single “Throw It Down” whetting appetites and storming radio charts, we discussed twerking techniques, Cara’s eyebrows and why American men have the edge when it comes to style.
GQ: If we can’t twerk as well as your dancers in “Throw it Down”, what advice would you give men on hitting the dancefloor?
Dominique Young Unique: I wanted to mix it up. A lot of videos have girls, but we’ve got guys twerking. I think it works fine. To impress a girl on the dance floor guys need to shake yo’ ass and twerk it up!
Which questions are you bored of answering already?
I always get asked how I measure up to other female rappers. And they always ask me “What is the Tampa music scene like?” I get the same questions all the time.
What’s the best thing you can cook?
Oh my gosh. Collard greens and neck bones. Y’all had that? It’s an American tradition. It’s so good. Baked macaroni and cheese and spaghetti. My favourite thing to cook is rare steak for my morning breakfast with sunny fried eggs, white toast and grape jam on the side and maybe some coffee.
When were you last starstruck?
I met Kanye West when I modelled for Katie Eary in 2011. I spoke to him afterwards backstage. I shook his hand, he smiled and said he liked my stuff. I couldn’t believe it! How the press talk about him is completely wrong. When I met him, he was a sweet person.
Who is the best-dressed man in hip-hop?
Jay Z has his suits and stuff, like a “business… man”. He don’t like to wear his clothes all saggy and hanging down.
Your song “Motherquake” is on the Kick Ass 2 soundtrack. Do you have a favourite film soundtrack?
I love a quite old soundtrack, the second Sex And The City movie. I like that a lot.
What was the best record in your parent’s collection when you were growing up?
Tina Turner. Just all of her stuff. Her voice, her vocals are amazing and I got hooked on her because it was always playing. I really love “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” That’s a great song.
How was growing up in Tampa?
It was very, very tough and very different to the life I’m living now. You know I came from the projects and there’d be a lot of gunshots all the time and I used to get into a lot of fights. Other girls were jealous of me. I used to get in trouble at school. Girls used to be so jealous of how I dressed and because I’d hang out with the boys and be in that group. I got into a lot of fights. I got in trouble, got suspended and then I went home and got an ass whooping, then started all over again.
What would you do for a good night out in Tampa?
The life of the party is at Ybor City. I don’t really go out anymore like that. There be a lot of shooting and stuff down there so me and my best friend will just go to a movie or something or go to a nice dinner.
What’s your drink of choice?
Wine is all I really like, although I always wanted to try that cocktail “Sun Of A Beach”.
What’s your hangover cure?
Just rest up. And drink ginger ale.
What trend in music needs to die out?
Really no one. If they love music, that’s ok. [For example] I love Lady Gaga, she’s so creative. I love what she does, she makes us women feel comfortable and that it’s ok to be naked, because she’s always naked in her videos. Now everyone’s so used to Gaga being naked that no one makes a fuss anymore. I think that’s beautiful.
You toured with Example. Did he give you any advice about playing to arenas?
He’s cool. No but when we were at the show he was just telling me to just do my thing and have fun. It was really fun hanging out with him.
What should no man ever have in his wardrobe?
There are a lot of different men out there. Some like to wear panties, some like boxers, some like thongs. I can’t say!
Do you notice a difference in style between American men and British men?
Yes: Americans have the edge. You guys here always wear suits. It’s cool though but I think it’s very different. In America they wear different brand clothes and have a little swag to it.
What’s the worst place you performed?
Detroit. When we went everything was falling apart, it was just so empty. And then after the hurricane in New Orleans it was very bad there too.
What item do you always need on your rider?
I always need candy. All sorts. I need sweet tea and tap water. I drink afterwards. I don’t want to be on stage all woozy and dizzy and about to fall. I always get nervous before I go on though. My heart be beating so fast.
You’ve worked with Diplo – is he the best-dressed producer in music?
He’s a crazy man. The way he always be tweeting pictures of animals is just crazy. He didn’t tell me anything crazy but he didn’t tell me he came from Florida again until I saw his tattoo. He’s from Daytona which is four hours away from me. He asks a lot of questions about everything. He’s a good dressed guy. He gets on stage in a suit.
You’ve modelled for American Vogue alongside Cara Delevingne. What do people get wrong about her?
When I met her, she wasn’t like how she is now. I’m just saying how I talk to her or whatever. She was a young girl. Sometimes she was really quiet, then as we started talking I realised she was a sweet girl. She’s so beautiful: I love her eyebrows! I saw her at the Rihanna collection at River Island and we had a selfie.
What’s the worst thing a critic has ever said about you?
That I remind them of Azealia Banks. I’m not here to brag but I been out way before Azealia Banks and been doing my thing way before her. She just got known quicker because of her hit “212” and I’m just like “Who cares?” That’s heronly hit. Her next song “Liquorice” didn’t go really well. “212” is a great song, even though I hate when people play it in the clubs. You know, she isn’t actually doing her thing at the 212 and people only know her from beefing on Twitter now. She a Twitter bitch!
What would you do to get Dr Dre to leave headphones alone and put out “Detox”?
I don’t think you could get him to stop. He’s kinda obsessed with it. It’s good he made those headphones! They’re some great headphones to listen to when you on a flight or when you’re watching that small TV on the plane.
What skill should every man have?
Build a house for your wife. A lovely two storey home. But I guess that would get in the way of construction companies if every man was building their own homes.
Have you ever cheated death?
In the projects everybody used to be on the basketball court. I come from the hood, Robles Park, so we was beefing with another area and they’d like ride past shooting at everyone in the park. A bullet has no name, so a bullet could have hit anyone of us. Everybody run, just run anywhere in someone’s house, anywhere. There have been some sad moments. Recently a person from the projects I grew up with – my cousin’s cousin – just died. It’s so sad.
What’s the best piece of advice anyone’s ever given you?
My father always gave me advice. It gave me a lot of self-belief and faith. Especially during all the struggles I’ve been through, I remember him pointing at me and telling me I will never fail.
Dominique Young Unique supports Chromeo on tour at London’s Roundhouse on 6 June.
Talking sweet and looking fine: F-L-A’s rap girl supreme Dominique young Unique has a lot to holler about
Blue denim bikini top by DSquared2, olive green and yellow mink fur coat by Prada and gold necklace models own
Dominique Young Unique wants you to dance like you’ve never danced before. That’s an order. “When people hear my music, I want them get on their feet and start moving to the beat straight away. I want to make them to feel good,” she says in her honeyed Southern drawl.
Right now, the 23-year-old Tampa Bay-raised rapstress is in the middle of a whirlwind promotion tour for her debut single “Throw it Down”. Which, if you haven’t heard already, is a speedy but seamless mash-up of dance, electro and trap, produced by beat veterans DJ Fresh and Banga. “We did that track in a day,” she reveals, giggling. “I’m so excited by it. I wanted it to be an epic club banger, just fun and different from what anybody else is doing out there, that’s really important to me.”
Ferocious and unabashedly honest, Unique’s signature staccato rhymes are loaded with authenticity and edge. “I ain’t trying to get attention cuz’ I rap my pain. Coming hard to the game everythin’ going to change,” she spits on the track. Unique’s music draws on her less-than-rosy upbringing in Florida’s notoriously gritty Robles Park projects. “When I look back I feel so frustrated. It was a struggle, you know? My dad went to jail and at one point we were living out of a car, it was real hard.”
Music manifested itself as an escape, igniting a fire of ambition in Unique that burns to this day. “I started writing verses when I was 12 and would literally rap to anyone in my neighbourhood that would listen,” she says. But it wasn’t until she was 17 that local rap group Yo Majesty introduced her to London-based producer David Alexander. “After hearing my stuff, he wanted me to start laying down tracks with him straight away, so I flew to London and we got to it. That was the start of a beautiful thing.”
Blue, red and white cotton shirt and blue leather skirt both by Kenzo, multicolour fur bag by Fendi and earrings models own
Together, dovetailing his house-inspired beats with her spitfire flow, the duo honed a winning formula. The three much-buzzed Eps that culminated – Domination, Glamorous Touch and Stupid Pretty – landed Unique gigs on international stages alongside hip hop heavyweights such as N.E.R.D, Big Boi and Gucci Mane. “At first people were always quick to compare me to other Dirty South female rappers out there, but I’m different to them,” she says. “They’ve all got their thing or whatever, but I’m me.”
It can’t hurt that Unique also happens to be a total betty, too – with undulating, waist-skimming curls, almond-shaped eyes and legs that go on forever. “Yeah, I’ve done some modelling and stuff,” she remarks coyly, referring to a 2011 shoot in American Vogue and a 10-page story in InStyle magazine. “It’s cool, I love fashion, but it’s not that important to my music really,” she says, before adding. “I don’t really have any favourite designers or anything like that, but I do like to wear lots of juicy, bright colours, that makes me feel happy.”
Unique’s second break came in 2012, when Unique was signed to Sony Records, leading to a string of guest appearances on hit singles such as last summer’s base-trembling earworm “Earthquake” by DJ Fresh and megawatt producer, Diplo and Le Youth’s vogue-pop tune, “Dance with Me”. “When Le Youth first played me the record I thought it was kind of weird,” she explains. “But then I jumped on it with a rap verse and it sounded so different and so new. It grew on me.”
The tracks not only gave her the mainstream exposure she needed, but showed her versatility as an artist. “I really want to keep pushing myself and mixing it up,” she attests. “Like Solange Knowles, she tries new things like that, she is one of my favourite artists. Oh god, her voice on ‘Losing You’ is beautiful, it’s real.” Other musical influences include Jay-Z and Kanye West – “Niggas in Paris makes me feel empowered,” she gushes. “Oh and I was into Trina when I was younger, I loved that ‘Million Dollar Girl’ song.”
So, what does Tampa Bay’s hottest star do when she’s not on stage or in the studio? “I just chill with my fiancé and get dinner somewhere nice or take my dogs London and Big Ben for a walk in the park,” says Unique. “Right now, my focus is really on making my first album.” And with that, she starts squealing uncontrollably. “It’s gonna be big!”