Fashawn's a self-described kid from Fresno

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The city images are familiar, even if the face and the voice are not. But the Fresno native behind this music video just might be on the brink of becoming a household name.

His real name is Santiago Leyva but he's known to hip hop fans worldwide as Fashawn. A budding rapper from Fresno who overcame a rough childhood to shine in one of entertainment's most competitive spotlights. And you don't have to be a rap fan to appreciate his survival story.

Fans and critics alike have been rolling with Fashawn and his street smart lyrics since he arrived on the rap scene almost six years ago.

A self-described kid from Fresno with a hard edge delivery to captivate an audience through real-life description.

To understand his music you must know his past. A child of social services, Fashawn, now 26, lived his formidable years on the rugged 3400 block of First Street in Central Fresno where he experienced more than his share of crime and violence growing up.

Fashawn said, "I don't know how many times I been chased through this hall by rival gang members, policemen, drug dealers, etc."

The son of a mother addicted to drugs and a father in prison -- Fashawn was forced to grow up quickly.

"I was a Craycroft kid," said Fashawn. "I think about years later going back and donating money to Craycroft and the Fresno Rescue Mission."

Fashawn recently returned to McLane his old high school to perform songs from his just released album -- The Ecology.

"I come here to motivate the kids and show people that you can make it out," explained Fashawn.

The Ecology is his second commercial selling album and first since joining rap legend Nas at his new label Mass Appeal.

The album features collaborations with Nas and another rap heavy weight, Busta Ryhmes, as well as Grammy award winner Aloe Blacc.

Fashawn added, "Definitely checked off my bucket list... do record with Nas. Checked off."

His manager Aren Hekimian recognized Fashawn's talent at a young age.

"You could tell he was very coachable," said Hekimian. "He wanted to get better."

Fashawn says Fresno's rough streets cultivated his unique style on the mic. But he's never turned his back on the city that molded him.

"Fame isn't freeze tag," said Fashawn. "You don't just get famous and you can't touch me now. I'm still the same guy. I'm still from the same place."

His humble attitude has resonated with hip hop fans. B95 radio personality Carmen has followed Fashawn's career from the beginning.

"I feel like lyrically he's a genius," said Carmen. "If you pay attention to his lyrics and not just the noise or the sound how cool it is. You can tell he's got stories... he's got stories to tell."

Scars from a life of struggle, turned into head bopping beats that helped him make the cover of hip hop magazine XXL

"I write about Fresno how Gary Soto wrote about Fresno," said Fashawn. "The people, the places, it's a beautiful town man."

Fashawn's goal is to leave a legacy beyond the mic -- he's teamed up with local non-profit Sound N Vision to help expose kids to art and music.

Fashawn added, "I feel like five years from now I might be running for mayor."

ABC30 asked, "You'll always live in Fresno?"

Fashawn said, "Yeah, yeah to live and die in grizzly city. To live and die in Fresno."

You can see Fashawn perform May 16th at Chukchansi Park during Grizzly Fest. Proceeds from the event will go to local charities.

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