While Eminem, Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, T.I. and Kanye West remain Rap superstars, the last two years of Hip Hop have welcomed some new blood to the conversation. Artists like Drake, Wiz Khalifa, Nicki Minaj have released major label debut albums, and conquered the charts, the radio and become household names. Others are patiently waiting, and releasing project after project on independent labels, still to be labeled “new artists.”

HipHopDX wanted to acknowledge five of these hard working, super talented new artists, that in actuality, aren’t so new at all. Some have major label backing now, others remain in the underground grind. While Hip Hop continuously (and rightfully so) celebrates freshmen talent, DX opted to knight five hand-selected emcees, chosen by members of our editorial staff, that we want to be looked at as great artists, nothing new about it.

From May 23 through May 27, HipHopDX will post these celebratory editorial pieces each day, unveiling our mystery picks. Do you agree with the choices? Do you agree that they’re beyond the “new artist” stigma? Weigh in, starting today.

Fashawn: Class of 2009, School of Ecology

Interview enough rappers and you can tell when one of them is giving you a rehearsed answer. After about two sentences, they go all monotone on you and each sentence is littered with clichés like, “I just do what I do,” typically followed by “you know what I’m sayin’?” So, for me, one of the best ways to gauge someone’s level of respect within the industry is to ask a fellow emcee and see what kind of answer they offer. In the case of Fashawn, people get animated when they talk about the Fresno-bred spitter.

“There’s something special about Fashawn,” Brother Ali offered, when Rhymesayers handpicked Fash to headline their 2010 Breaking Dawn Tour. For the uninitiated, the Breaking Dawn Tour was set up to either introduce or reintroduce Rhymesayers’ artists and affiliates to markets they didn’t traditionally do well in. They hit a few of the normal hotspots, but there were also nights when cities like Ashville, North Carolina or Des Moines, Iowa would get a visit from the heavy set, while, Muslim, albino emcee and his young, black, tattooed touring partner from Fresno—all as the country’s racist undercurrent of Tea Partying and Birthing was starting to peak. One night in particular stood out for Ali.

“They had a big showcase at SOB’s, and all the Hip Hop press was there,” Ali explained. “I’m sure a lot of pretty girls were there; everybody had their best chain on. And Fashawn missed it because he was on our little tour. I think we were in North Dakota that day, and Fashawn was just so happy to be there rocking. After we finish, we’re loading out and we couldn’t find him. He was in the parking lot surrounded by a crowd of fans freestyling with them. There were probably 200 people total at that show, but they’ll never forget him.”

I actually have that interview with Brother Ali on video. He was giving honest, measured answers up until Fashawn’s name came up. When the subject turned to his new touring partner, dude’s eyes lit up. He was laughing and gesturing…the whole nine. Maybe my previous questions were boring, but he clearly felt some kind of way about Fashawn as a peer. And it didn’t sound like he was explaining just-happy-to-be-here enthusiasm from Fashawn. A lot of other emcees would’ve gladly traded a night in Fargo for the much-needed buzz that comes from performing at SOB’s. But those are the kinds of moves you hear touring vets like Ali and Tech N9ne talk about. And ultimately, those moves create the kind of career longevity that you just don’t get from only catering to an Internet fanbase instead of interacting with them in real life.

I think a year full of those kinds of moves, and dropping mixtapes like Ode To Illmatic and Grizzly City 3 are what took Fashawn to the next level. As a writer, I get flooded with free music, so there’s always a competition to find the next new thing. Fash not only withstood that pressure but also kept putting out dope product to maintain his buzz. Essentially, that’s the difference between him and an emcee like Charles Hamilton. Despite only having one retail release under his belt, Fashawn hasn’t been too stuck on himself to take on the role of a student and sometimes a mentor.

“I seen that hat with the big F and the paw scratches and was like, ‘What is he doing here?’” independent emcee Dee Goodz recalls. Goodz was coincidentally headed to the same Nashville streetwear store as Fash, when he saw the trademark Fresno fitted cap emerge from a taxicab.

“I was familiar with Boy Meets World and some of his other stuff, and I kind of see myself as an ambassador to the city when someone visits,” Goodz added.

It’s not uncommon to see certain fairly new emcees that shall remain nameless get into fisticuffs with fans and Twitter beefs with each other. And there is a constantly growing list of emcees that will handle a demo tape from an up-and-coming rapper with the same level of interest that you give a flaming bag of dog feces…it’s as if they were never on the come up themselves. As a media member, I’m partially responsible for creating this climate. But as a listener, it’s kind of disgusting to hear emcees bitch about the state of the industry and “the media” before they even get two albums under their belt. I can’t say I’ve ever got that from Fashawn, and neither can his peers.

“We literally freestyled for a couple hours!” Goodz said. “I was going through beats for my Floetic Justice mixtape, and he was giving me feedback on my stuff. He kicked a couple verses off that [Ode To] Illmatic tribute before it dropped too. He didn’t have to fuck with me like that, but he broke me off a lot of wisdom about the Hip Hop game. And we both have daughters, so we were trading stories about that too. He’s a real dude.”

Like many listeners, we became fans because Fash has a great ear for beats, a cadence and a delivery that is versatile and subject matter that belies his relatively young age. We weren’t the only media outlet to recognize these characteristics, but we were one of the first. And his skill set has only grown in the two years since we tabbed him as HipHopDX’s “Rookie of the Year.”

During the same Nashville Breaking Dawn Tour stop he befriended Goodz at, Fash performed “When She Calls” for the first time. The somber nature of the song and the fact that this was Nashville, where half of the audience probably didn’t know who Fashawn was, kept the crowd kind of subdued. But by the end of his set he whipped the audience into enough of a frenzy that Fash indulged in a stage dive. His Fresno fitted hit the beer-soaked, concrete floor, and before the end of the song, someone handed it back him. You know, Southern Hospitality. As a fan who had been following him since the Higher Learning days, his cap might has well have had a tassel on it. He had graduated from rookie status. And you don’t need some magazine, website or Hip Hop critic to tell you that. Just ask another emcee.

Purchase Music by Fashawn

Omar Burgess is a Long Beach, California native by way of Flint, Michigan. In addition to contributing to various magazines and newspapers, he has been an editor at HipHopDX.com since 2008.