Anyone who denies the existence of ageism in hip-hop is kidding themselves. It’s the most youth-driven genre around (aside from perhaps EDM, but calling that a ‘genre’ is kinda of a stretch), and it’s rare for a rapper over the age of 30 to break out onto the scene. Of course, there are plenty of 30 and 40 plus emcees still making hits, but they’ve already been established since their 20’s and sometimes teens, before growing into accepted veterans of the game. So for a 32 year old rapper to pop up with a top 10 hit featuring one the biggest pop artists alive right now is kind of a big deal, and a bit out of the ordinary; in the States, at least.
Belly (short for “Rebellyus”) is a Canadian rapper from Ottawa who has a long-running friendship with none other than The Weeknd; naturally, that’s who his break out hit “Might Not” is a collaboration with as well. This is about the extent of what a lot of American fans know about him right now. For many, he’s just “that rapper on that Weeknd song that kinda looks like DJ Khaled”. But if they dig deeper, they’ll find that there’s much more to the man known as Belly.
While he’s just now breaking out on the U.S. scene, Ahmad Balshe has been a force in music for years. His mixtape Up For Days contains collaborations with not only his buddy Abel, but also Travis Scott, French Montana and Juelz Santana. How does this guy have so many strong ties to the top of hip-hop’s totem pole out the gate like this? Well, Belly has been a songwriter for many gold and platinum selling artists for close to a decade. Primarily, he’s helped pen some of The Weeknd’s biggest tracks, from the Grammy and Oscar-nominated “Earned It“, to #1 hit “The Hills“, to fan favorites like “Wanderlust” and “In the Night“. Belly’s American writing credits include Ariana Grande’s “Love Me Harder” and Wiz Khalifa’s “Remember You“.
But what about his solo work, as an up-front artist, that’s getting American attention now? Belly made noise in his native country for years, as the Palestinian rapper released singles with the likes of Snoop Dogg and Kurupt over the course of almost a decade, and is a Juno Award-winner. In 2011, he released a mixtape hosted by DJ Drama called The Greatest Dream I Never Had, a promising project that only hinted at the music he was progressing towards making. After establishing himself as a consistently rising Canadian star, it was time for Belly to go international, and that’s exactly what he’s done.
His aforementioned breakout mixtape Up For Days contains his best songs yet, with his best writing yet. Belly’s past work, while promising, was a bit generic and forgettable overall; despite being a strong lyricist, his delivery and the production behind it didn’t stand out. But on his latest work, he’s found an interesting niche that mixes the dark-but-thumping, ethereal production styles of Weeknd’s music with drug-fueled, witty lyrics, thanks to an excellent pen game. “Might Not” is Belly’s biggest hit thus far, but the other 9 tracks on the concise project are all heaters as well. His diversity is apparent, from bangers like the lead single and “No Option“, to low-key lyric-heavy thinkers like “Who Am I”.
We’re seeing young boys dying over foolish pride
What the fuck is color if we all feeling blue inside?
Seen the man in the mirror and told him “move aside”
Bellys’ music videos are another part of what’s helped him gain momentum in the U.S.. More than half the tracks on Up For Days got the visual treatment, and each clip is far from a boring, typical rap video. Each one is a stand out, from “Who Am I”, which chronicles Belly’s eventual death via gunfire first hand with an ongoing overhead shot, to “Maison“, which features Belly as an (already full grown) embryo waiting to be birthed in a hospital.
The Canadian veteran’s follow-up project, Another Day In Paradise (originally intended to be a retail album, but now another mixtape) drops tomorrow. It was prefaced by lead single “Zanzibar” featuring Juicy J; while not Belly’s strongest work lyrically, it’s catchy and features a creepy visual that puts an intriguing spin on the “strip club” cliche of many rap videos. The tracklist for the project has been released, and the feature list is even more impressive than its predecessor’s. Other than Juicy J, and Travis Scott making a return appearance, Waka Flocka, Lil’ Wayne and Cypress Hill’s B-Real all pop in as well. If you’re a fan of dark rap music that bumps and has catchy hooks without sacrificing quotable, quality lyricism, you should be excited for what Belly has in store next.
He hits the road on his first U.S. headlining tour in late June. Catch Belly at a city near you.