On a cold April evening at the urban-themed coffeehouse Upper Cup Coffee Co. in Olde Towne East, veteran Columbus rapper Dominique Larue scoffed at the idea of people proclaiming the underground music scene was buried.
“A lot of people, they just get comfortable and they get content and they don’t want to go outside of that box,” Larue said. “You can breathe easier outside of that box; you’re not confined to this small area.”
At the turn of the millennium, the 31-year-old emcee’s career was only approaching its dawn. Despite changes in the way music is consumed since Larue decided to dedicate herself to the microphone at the age of 12, she has adapted and survived by maintaining her methodology as a Midwest hip-hop master.
Over the past decade, rap has progressively gained traction as both a dominant commercial force and artistic form of expression. Even though Larue’s detractors will declare the underground as dormant, she cited those who say that as not “having their ear to the ground.”
“I’m out here, I see it thriving, actually,” Larue said. “It’s really subjective; it’s all about where you are and what you do with your life.”
When asked about the limited recognition of hip-hop lyricists, Larue did not seem very fazed.
“I don’t really get hung up on it; it doesn’t stop my grind at all,” Larue said. “It doesn’t even discourage me either, just keep pushing, really.”
The Columbus-born-and-raised emcee sees rap as “alive and well” in the state’s capital because of her consistent involvement in and contributions to the city’s hip-hop inner circle, she said.
Still, Larue said that she senses a problem with the exposure of hip-hop amongst Columbus’ youth. She finds the lack of quantity and variety in after-school programs inspiring the next generation of break dancers, graffiti artists and lyricists to be “messed up.”
“I think that it should be more widespread, and kids need to be given more of an option to choose from what they want to do,” Larue said. “It’s not dead, but it’s close.”
What makes Larue stand out over the other hometown hip-hop favorites has been her ability to adapt to the ever-changing industry over her extensive career.
“It’s very dope to see somebody that takes a lot of risks because most of the people that have been in the game in Ohio for the longest, they don’t take risks,” said Toese Satele Brewer, a Columbus producer who has collaborated with Larue.
Over her discography, she has also avoided compromising her lyrical content, which ranges from personal anecdotes about her fears of becoming a mother to Columbus’ particular problem with gentrification. Despite being a solo artist, she reflects positively on these issues in the style of pack-mentality rap groups like The Pharcyde and the Wu-Tang Clan.
On the track “Feeling Good,” Larue discusses how she once believed her life was over and that she would not be able to pursue her own dreams, which included rapping.
She eventually shredded that mentality.
“When you just want something, you do it, period,” Larue said. “I don’t make excuses, you just do it, simple.”
During Saturday’s downpour, Larue reflected on a time when she used to sell pressed CDs for $5 each, which is why not all of her work exists online. She mentioned that over her vast experience in the music industry, not much has changed beside distribution methods and a shift in artist profitability.
The financially savvy rapper, who is not afraid to share some of her trade secrets, has been collecting royalties for licensing her songs to movies and television channels such as MTV and HBO. The idea was sparked by her inquisitive nature while watching the show “Entourage,” wondering how she could get her song played during the end credits of a popular program.
Larue said the process is that once a song is submitted to a certain company, it will either be accepted or rejected without much or any tinkering, so the artist’s work is never negotiated.
Ever since this realization, she has been steadily collecting checks from various television shows.
“I know this is where I want to be,” Larue said. “I can basically make a lot of money doing it, and no one really has to know who I am, and I’m OK with that.”
This is also why she remains a powerful voice in the national underground community. The rapper will be dropping a five-years-in-the-making full-length album with Columbus producer J. Rawls titled “Almost There” sometime this year.
The title also encapsulates Columbus’ modern attitude toward hip-hop. Recognition is improving, and it’s voices like Larue’s that can continue to promote the growth of positive urban culture.
Larue will be opening for Freddie Gibbs at The Basement on April 22. Doors open at 7 p.m., and tickets are available for $18-plus fees on Ticketmaster.