Who is Tracy T?

Rick Ross says the Decatur rapper is Atlanta's next big thing

By the time rapper Tracy T took the stage at the Fox Theatre last November, Rick Ross had already peeled off his black blazer. It was the sixth stop that Ross made for a tour promoting his next album, Mastermind. As if inspired by Justin Timberlake's "Suit & Tie" return to pop, an oft-shirtless Ross outfitted himself with a live band, 1500 or Nothin', and sauntered from stage right to left while coolly performing his biggest hits to a standing crowd.

"A-town, y'all put your hands in the sky," Ross commanded. But when Tracy T appeared, the crowd sat.

Just 10 days prior, Ross signed the Decatur native, born Tracy Richardson, and Washington, D.C., rapper Fat Trel to his label, Maybach Music Group. In a promo clip released that day, a shirtless Ross deems Tracy the solution to a problem he's detected in Atlanta: "Right now, they need that new young nigga that's making anthems." Over the last year, the increasingly fickle city has seen a few contenders for that title. This summer, Drake lent a verse to the "Versace"-hungry Migos and co-signed Rich Homie Quan's warbling "Type of Way." Last month, LeBron James posted a video of himself rapping to Que's glinting "OG Bobby Johnson." Meanwhile, news of Fat Trel's signing only confirmed months-long rumors that sparked when fellow D.C. native Wale introduced him to Ross.

Compared to these upstarts, Tracy arrives as an unknown. News of his signing even prompted XXL to find him for a story titled "Meet Tracy T."

He admits that Ross's interest surprised him, too. "I was just grinding, getting ready to put out a mixtape in six weeks, basically just trying to proceed," Tracy T says.

Tracy T's easygoing "Swagger Right Check" aired on the radio after a grassroots marketing campaign. "Campuses, streets, malls, the clubs — wherever the crowd was, I made sure I was there too," he says. In mixtapes thereafter he rapped with a voice craggier than Young Jeezy's and primarily to producer Zaytoven's bright, MIDI-dotted instrumentals. In December 2009 he was shot four times — in his arm, leg, torso, and chest. He was hospitalized for two months, and as heard on his mixtape Trauma Unit his flow was stilted. "I couldn't really rap a whole bar without losing my breath," he says.

In 2013 Tracy T was back in fighting shape. He spent his summer recording new songs, and in November he put out "16" with resident Maybach producer Beat Billionaire. Tracy T's voice still croaks slightly, particularly when he raps, "Migo came and dropped a ton/made the profit, gave it to my mom," but he also pants through his buoyant verses at a pace that brings the aforementioned Migos' boundless energy to mind. Beat Billionaire sent "16" to Ross. Soon Tracy T was on a plane to Miami to meet the label honcho himself, and as he found out, to record new music. "I was like, 'Damn, that is really him,'" he says. "It was kind of shocking, to see him being what I wanted to be — a dream come true — then all of a sudden, he gets into work mode."

As someone who raps in 12-hour sessions, Tracy T followed suit. The label released "16," now featuring label mate Meek Mill, as Tracy's first single as a new signee. In December Fat Trel dropped a packed remix of Future's bleak and barking "Sh!t," where Tracy yelps like a newsboy alongside Meek and Ross. He sounds youthful and eager, just as he appeared during Ross's November show at the Fox. Despite the crowd's lukewarm response, he only grew more animated as "16" progressed. He stomped, wobbled, and pumped his arms as if doing curls at the gym — he did exactly what Ross tried his best not to do, break a sweat.