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From Collaborations With The Weeknd to Beyoncé, Belly Chronicles Three Decades of Music



With a prolific body of work that has graced the albums of music icons like The Weeknd and Beyoncé, Belly’s artistic journey stands as a testament to his ability to craft lines that cut through the hearts of hip-hop fans over nearly three decades.

In this time, he has produced three studio albums, including The Revolution (2007), Immigrant (2018), and See You Next Wednesday (2021), in addition to 12 mixtapes, his most recent being the acclaimed Mumble Rap 2 (2023) via Roc Nation. But it doesn’t end there. Over the years, he’s also been featured on tracks by Jay-Z, Nas, DJ Khaled, Young Thug, the late Nipsey Hussle and more, all serving as a testament to Belly’s unwavering versatility. Since 2016, Belly has had three tracks land on the Billboard Hot 100, including “Might Not” (2016) and “Better Believe” (2021), both featuring The Weeknd, and “Double Up” with Nipsey Hussle and DOM KENNEDY. In 2019, he co-wrote The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” alongside Max Martin, Oscar Holter and DaHeala, which topped the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks.

In this two-part interview with Billboard Arabia, hosted by Yassin Alsalman (aka Narcy, a rapper and a professor of hip-hop at Concordia University), the two musicians walk down memory lane, unpacking Belly’s legendary career, his favorite rap bars and his philosophies on life.

The conversation between Belly and Yassin, who both grew up in the Arab diaspora in Canada, finds a point of departure within the immigrant experience in North America, a plight woven by a tapestry of stories reflecting challenges and triumphs to build a compelling narrative of struggle, resilience and choice. All of which we hear in Belly’s prolific body of work, which kicked off with his first mixtape, Death Before Dishonor: Vol. 1, and the subsequent release of eight additional projects in six years, including his debut studio album, The Revolution (2007).

Belly walks Billboard Arabia through his entrance into hip-hop, teaching himself English through rap and how making music became a therapeutic tool to deal with complex emotions. “When situations happen, I’m not the type of a person that opens up very easily to people,” says Belly, “I think I open up to the pen and the paper.”

As a rapper with ten albums and EPs under his belt, and a steady stream of singles, Yassin transmits an intimate knowledge of both hip-hop and Belly’s work. Quickly finding a flow, part one of the conversation travels through Belly’s artistic history, but also what it means to find a sense of belonging in hip-hop.

Belly’s music isn’t just a collection of songs; it’s a sonic voyage that moves through continents, proving the power of the pen can find a home in the hearts of hip hop fans and artists alike. In Part Two of the deep dive with Belly, we learn about his artistic process, and the many ways he “changes his approach” to songwriting, be it in his own work, or when writing for others. “I’ve been blessed to work with a lot of legends,” says Belly. “I’m so enamored by what they do, sometimes I get imposter syndrome… It’s a balance of humility and remembering who f–k you are.”

Belly talks about joining Jay-Z’s legendary label Roc Nation, and the impact he had on his work, particularly his album, Midnight Zone. “Looking up to someone like HOV my whole life, studying his bars… how he layered it with three different meanings,” he says. “He made me explore words and rap way further than I would have if he wasn’t around.”

Collaborating with everyone from Beyoncé to The Weeknd and other “giants,” Belly often reminds himself in moments of doubt that he’s always been “there for a reason.” Despite a hip-hop career spanning almost three decades, Belly feels a pull towards exploring new artistic avenues. “It’s time for me to channel this creativity elsewhere and explore different paths,” he reflects. He’s currently working on what might become his final albums, starting with Mumble Rap 2 and the upcoming release 96 Miles From Bethlehem.

“Making this album wasn’t so much the decision I struggled with making,” says Belly in a follow up interview with Billboard Arabia. “I’ve always known that I was gonna make an album for Palestine and I’ve even had this title for a decade now. The decision was based on everything happening in Palestine now and the need for an unapologetic album that can voice the frustrations most of us feel and the love we share for our homeland. As far as impact goes, I just pray it finds its way to whoever needs it most.”

The album is executively produced by Belly, DannyBoyStyles and DaHeala while featuring other Palestinian pop and hip-hop artists including Saint Levant, MC Abdul and ELYANNA. In December, Belly posted, “I’ve got a lot to say…” in relation to the forthcoming album, which emerged in the wake of the war on Gaza.

Belly goes on to mention that “Hip-hop, has always been deep rooted in resistance. It’s rhythmic poetry, and historically, poets and artists in general have changed the course of history more than once.” For Belly, this aspect of impacting change isn’t only limited to albums with strong messaging. He aims to continue engaging Light Sonic Division, the studio he founded, as a “support system for young Palestinian artists with a story to tell.”

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