Belly Talks New Album, His Respect for Hip Hop Culture, and How Beyoncé is the “Last of a Dying Breed”
INDIO, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 24: Rapper Belly performs on the Gobi Stage during Weekend 2, Day 3 of the 2022 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival on April 24, 2022 in Indio, California. (Photo by Scott Dudelson/Getty Images for Coachella)

EXCLUSIVE: Belly Talks New Album, His Respect for Hip Hop Culture, and How Beyoncé is the “Last of a Dying Breed”

Hailing from Canada, rapper Belly has been making strides in the music industry for over 20 years and is back with his latest project, Mumble Rap 2. The 11-song project features appearances from frequent collaborator Nav, Rick Ross, Gil Scott-Heron, and Gucci Mane. It’s filled with trap-infused tunes that will have you zone out and vibe. 

Baller Alert was able to attend the artist’s listening session for the new mixtape, where the Roc Nation signee performed some of his records for the packed crowd in Soho House in Downtown Los Angeles. After the vibes came to a close, we were able to chat with him post-celebration for an intimate conversation in a private area where the 39-year-old was relaxed, smoking his joint off the high of an amazing event. 

What was the vibe of the album and why the name? 

I’m someone who uses music as therapy and it’s such a crazy industry to be in, so I try to focus on what I need to get out and relieve myself of because whatever I’m feeling, I try to put it in the album. With Mumble Rap 2, it was a bit more charged than my other albums in terms of delivery. 

Do you think there’s more mumble rappers in today’s climate of Hip Hop and would say it’s necessarily a bad thing? 

Personally, I think when Rock was over everything, there were hundreds of sub-genres for it – the problem with our sport is we classify everything as Hip Hop. If we really placed some of the music into the sub-genre it’s supposed to be in, it’ll be a beautiful thing to have thousands of types and forms of Hip Hop is a great thing. How these artists want to express themselves is on them. 

Understanding Hip Hop culture derived from Black artists and you’re now in the space — how do you make sure to always respect the genre and its pioneers while still pushing out your records? 

Well, I have the Godfather of Hip Hop, Gil Scott-Heron on the album, so that’s me trying to pay homage to the roots of the genre. I always stayed true to that – I understand where I’m at and I’m a guest in the space, so I try to respect my boundaries and the boundaries of Hip Hop to the fullest. 

Which Hip Hop pioneer influenced you the most and in what way? 

When I was speaking broken English as an immigrant, I listened to Notorious B.I.G.’s album Ready To Die – he was my biggest idol growing up, taught me to rap, and taught me English sorta. 

There’s a conversation that was had recently on Drink Champs with Rick Ross who claims himself, French Montana, Jay-Z, Drake + Lil Wayne are in the Top 2% of people who can create and write on the spot. Who would you say out of all of those names has a strong pen that you can resonate with? 

I would say Jay-Z – being able to come off the top and record songs from scratch is an art in itself. Being able to be as intricate as him to do double and triple entendres and never sat down to put your pen to paper, that is why I do this. I’m trying to chase the myth (laughs), like the fact he doesn’t sit down and write is what makes him the most incredible person. 

Outside of those names mentioned, is there anybody else who you feel deserves to be in the same percentile? 

I think Rick Ross is a lyricist – I don’t think he gets the respect he deserves, and he is one of the top lyricists in the game to me. 

Rick Ross also chatted about pushing his artists while being an artist in his own right — you’re currently signed to Jay Z’s label Roc Nation with a slew of other amazing greats. As a signee, how has Hov and Roc Nation made sure to cater to you and also spread the love to the other artists?

A lot of times, signing to an artist is a bad idea, but signing to Jay-Z is great because he looks out for the artist. He’s an artist first and I always had that protection, that layer of protection, because if anything didn’t go the way I wanted it to, I would hit the email and let him know what’s going on (laughs). As an artist, he would always hear me out or give me the advice needed so I can get what needed to be done. He’s someone who always puts his artist first. 

What’s the greatest piece of advice Jay-Z has ever given you? 

He told me to keep being myself – he told me the thing that makes me standout is I’m not trying to be someone else or sound like someone else. 

Music is so valuable and unfortunately, artists don’t always get their cut. As you continue to push your albums and projects, how are you making sure that you have ownership and monetary longevity in your career? 

Building relationships is number one – being able to pick up the phone and speak to the people you signed with is important. In order to do that, you need a relationship first, so for me, I like to make relationships that don’t have anything to do with business first, and then, as friends, we can connect the dots later. 

Is Belly happy where he is in his career right now? If so, what has influenced it and if not, what would be one thing Belly would do to change it? 

I’m beyond happy and that has to do with me being grateful – I’ve had 20+ years in this game and I’m still able to be here, perform, and be out here with my fans, so that’s priceless. When it comes to rap, we all dream about a thousand #1 records and a million #1 albums, but to have greats like Jay-Z to know who I am and mention me saying I can rap, working with certain producers, I can’t be nothing but grateful. 

Beyoncé is currently on her Renaissance tour and you’ve worked with her in the past — have you copped a ticket

I haven’t just because I’ve been so focused on my album, but I tell people she’s the last of a dying breed when it comes to showmanship and being an icon – it’s almost like a lost art. She feels like the last chapter of that book so to be alive and witness it is incredible. 

You provided the background vocals for the illustrious singer and even have a few writing credits on her albums, and The Weeknd. How was working with both of them and what’s one thing you remember working alongside the two?

With Beyoncé, I wasn’t working alongside her as much – I had a lot of the hook done and she elevated it which is what the greats do. I always tell people, when it comes to [The Weeknd], you’re stepping into his world and everything with him is meticulous so it’s a blessing he thought of me in those situations and allowed me to be apart – here’s a visa into my world, let me stamp your passport and let you in. He’s the one artist I’ve worked with who overlooks everything and is meticulous, he’s an artist’s artist. 

For those who would love to see what that looks like from a creative side, share a glimpse of what fans would expect entering into his world

Greatness – he’s an incredible human and he gives back. To me, that’s the highlight on why I feel we have had longevity because he’s an incredible person – I’ve seen him do things and give back to his community, donating, doing things I don’t really see a lot of artists on the ground doing. That’s what I respect about him the most. 

It’s Hip Hop 50 this year and with you being a Hip Hop artist in your own right, how do you feel your artistry adds value to the genre and in what other ways would you like to add more to it? 

I love to see the growth – even when I walk away from this thing, I’ll always look back and watch where it goes and evolves. This was something that started and people claimed it was going to be gone in a couple years – a lot of us can now say I told you so with 50 years under its belt and being the number one genre in the world. 

Do you see yourself walking away from Hip Hop soon and when you make that transition, where do you want to go next? 

As a creative, you need to step away and explore where your own brain wants to go. I love writing – I’ve been writing shows, movies, scripted podcasts, music videos, creative direction, and anything I can use my creativity towards, I’m trying to do but incorporating the music back into that is most exciting. To write a show and then doing the music for the show is like butterflies again – I haven’t felt that in a long time so remixing the approach for a little bit. One of my passion projects I hope to share with the world is the immigrant experience – I always try to tie in the experience I had as a young immigrant and the situations I went through with my family in everything I work on.  

One goal for 2023 you accomplished and one you need to accomplish? 

Putting this album out is a goal I accomplished and putting another one out is one I would like to accomplish before the end of the year. I would like to explore different sounds because this album is the rap centric project, I talked my sh*t and now I want to play around and be a little more experimental.

If you can write a hit record for anyone you haven’t worked with yet, who would it be?

I would love to write one for Sade. She’s one of my favorite artists. 

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