8. Donte Thomas (28 points)
SOUNDS LIKE: A battle rapper with pop-star swag coming for the heads of everyone who's doubted him.
NOTABLE VOTES: Cool Nutz, promoter Ibeth Hernandez, Portland Mercury contributor Jenni Moore.
Donte Thomas was in fourth grade when he knew he'd drop out of college.
You can blame Kanye West for that. As a too-smart adolescent living in Chicago, Thomas heard West's 2004 debut, The College Dropout, and it didn't so much change his life as set its course.
"I was always more of an advanced kid. I comprehended a lot of things my mom didn't think I understood," he says. "Listening to that album and hearing his perspective, talking about going to college and chasing that degree, and how sometimes that's not always the best option for people, I got that at 9 years old."
A decade later, Thomas fulfilled his destiny, leaving Lane College in Eugene, where he was studying fashion design, to go full force after his own rap dreams. All things considered, the 22-year-old has done pretty well for himself. He's already received some radio play, for his 2014 club banger "Oh Yeah." And the hardcore heads have started to pay attention as well, recognizing that his skill has begun to catch up with his confidence.
But just because he's made it look easy doesn't mean he hasn't struggled.
Two years ago, Thomas thought he was done with Portland, the city where he's spent most of his life. Fed up with his inability to break through with local gatekeepers, he decamped to Los Angeles and made Grayscale, his debut album. Among other compelling statements of purpose, on "Come From," Thomas dissects his relationship with his hometown.
"For a while, you'd be seeing a lot of people showing fake love," he says, "a lot of drama, between rappers fighting, life-threatening situations and things of that nature."
Sensing there was still a place for him here, Thomas eventually returned to Portland, where, during the past year, he's impressed a lot of former doubters, and found a scene more tightly knit than when he left. It's still not perfect, he says. But he's determined to make it work.
"We don't have to be best friends," he says. "But as long as we show support for each other, it's gonna get to the point where someone sees that and it ends up being like a sponge for us all, and they end up wanting to take it all in."
NEXT GIG: March 18 at Mississippi Studios for WW's Best New Band Showcase.