Ottawa, ON – The interior of Belly’s recording studio could be a shot taken straight out of MTV Cribs . . . in fact, it is. Plaques and awards line the walls as hardwood floors lead to the recording booth. Belly sits poised yet relaxed in his environment, taking a break from recording to sit down with HipHopCanada.
To some, Belly is known for his mainstream hits like “Pressure” featuring Ginuwine and “Don’t Be Shy” featuring Nina Sky. To many more, however, Belly has slowly but surely become one of the most recognizable names in Canadian hip-hop and has proved his talent and strong work ethic – going gold with his double-CD album debut The Revolution and taking home a JUNO award for Rap Recording of the Year in 2008. Belly has found himself working with the hottest names in hip-hop today.
Though his light has never dimmed, Belly says he’s Back For The First Time on October 27th with the release of his new mixtape. Wise and humble, – traits that may not necessarily come across in his music – Belly is prepared to continue his legacy through music. HipHopCanada had the chance to get to know Belly as he talked about everything from his upcoming mixtape to his plans for the future.
HipHopCanada: Looking back at where you started in comparison to where you are now, describe the process of you getting to this point of success.
Belly: It’s been crazy. [There were] a lot of days when I thought maybe this isn’t what I should be doing. There’ve been a lot of days where you get to the point where you’re like, “I don’t know if I’ve got the will to even do this.” It’s the type of game that doesn’t let you walk away so that’s what happened, I just kept coming back to it until something really happened for me.
HipHopCanada: And what was that pivotal point for you, if you can even pinpoint one?
Belly: I think the first time that I was getting stopped when I’d go out in public. People were stopping me, trippin’ out. When I was on tour in the East coast, I think it was in Moncton, a girl fainted in a Shoppers [Drugmart]. I walked in, and I’m not even like that, I don’t send people to get my shit . . . I like to walk around and see different places that I’m in. I walked in and the girl fainted and I was like . . . I don’t know, that don’t even feel right. Is this really happening? That’s when I really started to realize that the things I say really have an affect on people. And me as an artist, as an individual, I have a certain affect on people. So that’s what kind of held me to the game.
HipHopCanada: I know about girls crying, but fainting?!
Belly: She was out. Her mom was like, “what happened?” I was just like I didn’t do [anything]. I just showed up [Laughing].
HipHopCanada: You recently released the video for “Hot Girl”, a song with much success on its own. How did you end up collaborating with Snoop Dogg on that?
Belly: I worked with him for the first time years ago. He came out to one of my early, early, early on release parties, probably when people didn’t even know who I was. It was at G Spot [Lounge] in Toronto. That’s the first time I ever met him. Then a couple years later we did the tour together, which was like a month long. We were on 16 dates across Canada so that really strengthened to relationship between us in terms of even my camp and his camp. Since then it’s just been like every time I go down there I hit them up, every time they’re down here they do the same thing. Snoop really looked out for me big time. So when it came time, when I had the single I was like, “you know what, I love the song the way it is but if one person really could add that little OG to it, it’s Snoop.” So we hollered at him and he was like, “send me whatever, let’s go.” He got ready to do it and he hit me up like, “Yo, come down, let’s go.” So I actually got to get in the studio with him. It was an amazing experience for me.
HipHopCanada: How was shooting the video?
Belly: It was crazy. It was a long day. I had to have my hair out which I hate doing, that’s why it’s always braided. I was in a suit, button up shirt, I was uncomfortable, it was hot. We ended up going ’til like 7:30, 8 in the morning. It was a real long day but this is what I do. I love to be on video sets; that whole environment to me is like, I don’t care, I could be going through the worst shit but I’ll be over there having a good time.
HipHopCanada: “Hot Girl” is the first single off your mixtape Back for the First Time . . .
Belly: Honestly, it’s just the first single, I’m not going to say what’s it’s off of . . . you never know what’s going to happen. This is why I spend my time in the studio. I don’t put barriers and deadlines on myself . . . I just work and when it’s time to put something out, we put it out. That’s why when I do music it’s more current to what’s going on with me at the present time. It’s not like I’m thinking about, “I need to do this album right now so I’m going to structure the album on paper first and then I’m going to do everything that I think an album needs.” Naw, I’m just going to do music and when I feel like I’ve gotten enough music to put an album together then that’s when I’m going to do it.
HipHopCanada: So is that how you came up with The Revolution?
Belly: Naw, The Revolution was a different approach. That was studio lockdown. I looked like the Unabomber when I got out of the studio. I was finished. This time around I’m doing things a little differently. Not to say The Revolution wasn’t a beautiful album, I still listen to that album. It’s time to grow. You always grow and you try different things and you do things differently. A lot of music I do now I record myself, I engineer myself so it’s a different process for me. I get out more now; I see things and I do things that contribute to what I’m doing.
HipHopCanada: How long have you been working on the mixtape?
Belly: Like two weeks. I recorded that whole mixtape in about two weeks. And I’ve got some older stuff that I put on it, only about three or four records that people forced me to put on. I was like, “Naw, I don’t want this, it’s outdated.” They were like, “it’s outdate to you, not to the world. Stop trippin’.” But other than that it was all records that went down in Miami.
HipHopCanada: So the whole mixtape was done there aside from the ones you’d previously recorded?
Belly: Yeah, a lot of it was done over there. A lot of it was done with some of the top producers over there who are good friends of mine now. That’s like a blessing to meet people like that . . . My man Hugo Diaz, my boy Danny Boy from the Blackout Movement, my boy Blackout, they really looked out when I was out there. They gave me some fire for the mixtape.
HipHopCanada: Explain where “7 Days and 7 Nights” comes from . . .
Belly: “7 Days and 7 Nights”, all of that runs with the [upcoming] album. The album is SE7EN, that’s officially the name of the album. SE7EN is a number that’s always popped back up in my life and God built the Earth in seven days and seven nights, that’s how I’m going to approach doing this album. So when it’s time for me to actually finish up the album and do final cuts of everything, I’m going to line it up in seven days and seven nights. I’m going to document it, out the footage out, show people it’s not a fluke. So that’s what runs with it. And “7 Days and 7 Nights” is the blog.
HipHopCanada: Thanks for the clarification, because there were different names everywhere.
Belly: That’s what always happens. My thing is this, right: like I told you I always do music and I’ve always got music on the go. So I’ve got projects that are sitting there that are kind of tentative. It’s there and we know we’re going to put it out but it’s like when are we going to put it out? So sometimes some stuff ends up coming before other stuff. People are like, “What happened to that mixtape?” I’m like, “Sorry, man, they’re trying to put this one out first.” That’s just the way it happens sometimes. I’m sure I’m going to end up doing a 7 Days and 7 Nights mixtape, Hate Me Now, Love Me Forever mixtape. The Hate Me Now, Love Me Forever mixtape is already done, I just have to put it out. I’ve got a mixtape with Kurupt that’s been done for a long time.
HipHopCanada: And why haven’t you put it out?
Belly: Because now it’s like the onslaught. You’ve got to strategize before you shoot, so that’s what we’ve been doing: putting a strategy together.
HipHopCanada: How would you compare your work on this mixtape to music you’ve recorded previously? Would you say it’s a step in a new direction?
Belly: I don’t know, because like I said, I’m just doing me, I’m just making music. A lot of people are like, “Wow, it’s good you’re going with this different route and you’re doing things differently.’ I’m like, ‘word? I’m really doing things differently? I didn’t even notice.’ So it’s a good thing, that’s just growth and I’m happy, you don’t grow on purpose. That’s what’s been happening with me, it’s reflecting in my music and the feedback I’ve been getting this time around has been crazy. I got guys that hated my guts that are hitting me up like, “Yo, I know we ain’t cool but that shit is fire.” It’ been getting me a lot of weird responses and a lot of good feedback so I’m hoping for the best with this one.
HipHopCanada: Why did you choose “So Gone” as the follow up video to “Hot Girl”?
Belly: That was actually the first one that I did. I did that one a while ago in Miami . . . Jordan Tower was in town, he’s a good friend of mine, we’ve got the same management. He was in town, he was staying at my crib and he was like, “Yo, let’s shoot a video.” So we start playing my records off the mixtape and he’s like, ‘this one, this one.” So he set the whole thing up right quick, him and Sal from CP Records, Sal was hittin’ mad people up, getting everything in line. Before I knew it I [was] standing in front of lighting, trucks and all types of shit . . . The good thing about a place like Miami is when people like what you’re doing and they latch themselves onto your movement, what ends up happening is when it came time for me to do the video a lot of people looked out and just showed me love. What could’ve cost me $20,000 cost me like $500. So it was just a blessing to have that group of people around me. I had Purple Popcorn in the video, who’s a crazy rock band, they’re coming up crazy. As a matter of fact Danny Boy from Purple Popcorn and Blackout, they did “This Is Why I’m Hot”, the beat and Purple Popcorn did “This Is Why I Rock”. And that ended up being an iPod commercial and all types of crazy shit. Purple Popcorn, they’re crazy. I’m working with them as a band and I’m working with the production team in terms of a lot of the stuff I did on the mixtape and a lot of the stuff that you’re going to hear on the album is done by Blackout Movement and my boy Danny Boy.
HipHopCanada: How did you make so many connections in Miami?
Belly: It just goes from one person to another, man. It’s cool because everybody in the business over there is meshed to each other in one way or another. It’s like you meet one, you’re just going to meet everybody eventually because literally every body’s connected in one way or another. It was just amazing, it was that connect the dots. I’m blessed to have a lot of good friends out there in Miami that really believe in what I’m doing and they really take care of me when I’m out there. Shout out my nigga Zoe. Zoe holds me down like crazy when I’m down there. Miami’s definitely like my home away from home.
HipHopCanada: You seem to have a really good network in general whether in Canada, the U.S., you even had success with your release of The Revolution in the Middle East.
Belly: Yeah, it actually debuted at number one out there so it was a good look for me to drop a number one album where I’m from. And down there a lot of the mentalities are a lot more conservative so to see a guy like me come out with the tattoos and the braids and all that, it’s like I kind of changed things; people look at things a little differently. I debuted at number one, that was a controversial thing, and I did it.
HipHopCanada: Another controversial thing was your track, “History of Violence”. That song is so socially aware and the fact that it was banned on MVN really says something about it.
Belly: Of course. I already know that video was being reviewed by different authorities . . . and that’s what really made me think: okay, this is what happens when we talk about what’s going on, when we talk about what a lot of people don’t want to talk about. This is what happens. So it changed my outlook on a lot of things but then again, a lot of positive things came from it as well like being on Geraldo, Fox News. Having Geraldo talk about me coming down to the States and all that, that was crazy for me. Without “History of Violence” that wouldn’t have happened. “History of Violence”, the buzz that it garnered was probably more than anything, and especially amongst media outlets. When I did that media run there wasn’t one outlet that we missed. Everybody was hollering at us: Fox News, CNN International, Al Jazeera, The Associated Press, every magazine, radio [station], TV [network], it was crazy. At that point, all because of “History of Violence”.
HipHopCanada: Which is understandable seeing that not many rappers have those types of images in their videos, but why not? We see it on the news and are expected to feel bad about it but when it’s in a music video it’s a different story.
Belly: Yeah, exactly. [It’s like] “Whoa, whoa, whoa, who gave you an opinion?” That’s what happened. As soon as I got an opinion about it everybody wanted to get their panties in a bunch about it.
HipHopCanada: So back to SE7EN for a bit . . . With the success of The Revolution, do you feel pressured to live up to the standards your first album set?
Belly: I take it up a notch every time. At the end of the day it’s in God’s hands, whatever happens is going to happen. But I’m taking the necessary steps to do what I’ve go to do and bring people the next level of music from Belly and letting people see what I’m about right now. I think just from the response that “Hot Girl” is getting, a lot of people are behind me, a lot of people are ready for me to come back into the game. I stepped back out of the game, I worked with Danny Fernandez, wrote his album, we put that project out and that project did amazing. I gained a great artist on my roster and a great friend. Those two years I don’t look at like a loss, I needed to take those years off and do what I had to do. And I wrote for over 30 artists during that time, from rappers to singers to whatever. For me it was a good time in my life to really reflect and to really see my effect on the game. Because you don’t see your effect on the game when you’re there, you see your effect on the game when you’re gone. It’s like the lack of you [being] there is what’s going to show you how much people actually care about you. That’s what really brought me back to the game and that’s why I say I’m “Back for the First Time” with this mixtape because, realistically, I’m coming back like I was never here. That’s exactly my mentality right now. I’m not coming back as Gold-selling, Juno Award-winner, it’s not even Belly anymore, it’s not Rebellyus, it’s nothing. Untitled. Just listen.
HipHopCanada: Which is a really humble way to come back . . .
Belly: I just want people to put the titles away and put the perceptions away because people really have to understand: what you see and what you hear on YouTube and the News and all that, it’s not what it looks like, it’s not what it seems, it’s not what it is. Most of the time when you look at somebody off of an image they’ve built, it’s the exact reversal of whatever that image is. So if you see somebody like me and all these people saying negative things, 90 percent of the time it’s because I’m doing a lot of positive things. Last time around it was all about addressing the haters, the haters, the haters; first song off of The Revolution in 2006 was “Hi Haters”. That’s what I was addressing: haters. This time around I don’t care about the haters, straight up. I don’t address them, I don’t even think about them. I spent so much time focusing on them that I forgot about the people that actually love me. And that’s who I’m focused on this time around: the people that want to listen. The people that don’t want to listen, don’t listen. This is for the people that want to.
HipHopCanada: Is that whole album being recorded in Miami as well?
Belly: Shit, I was recording before ya’ll walked in! [Laughing].
HipHopCanada: In an interview with Dose at the Juno Awards you said that Canadian artists can turn obstacles into stepping stones. How would you say that you accomplished doing so?
Belly: I’ll tell you exactly how. Number one, being somebody of my background, I’m Palestinian; in the environment that we live in today and the events that’s took place in the world on September 11th . . . a lot of people never thought an Arab could be embraced by all types of people. I’m kind of like the person who’s showing that it doesn’t matter what you are. If I walk down the street you’d think I’m Puerto Rican before you’d think I was Arabic so none of that shit matters until you find out what I am and take opinion to it. If you never knew what I was you wouldn’t take opinion. So I’m living proof of that.
HipHopCanada: There was a quote in your press release where you said that you’re going to take you time and do things “right” this time. What exactly did you mean by that?
Belly: [Laughing] I’m not implying I ever did things wrong! At the end of the day it’s not like that. There’s a lot more at stake now. Before, it was good that we did things the way we did things because we had to run the blitz, that’s what we had to do. But right now, like I said, it’s all about timing, it’s all about strategy, it’s all about really tapping in to what people want and at the same time doing what I want and making those two meet in the middle. So I’m taking my time, I’m not in a rush to do anything.
HipHopCanada: You also said it was sad for you to say that as much as you’ve accomplished, you feel like you’ve accomplished nothing. Please explain [Laughing].
Belly: A lot of people ask me about this, believe it or not, this is probably the fourth interview [where] somebody’s said that to me and they had the same sentiment that you do. It’s not like that. I’m not trying to say I accomplished nothing, I’m just trying to say that at this point in my life, I don’t want to look at what I’ve accomplished and hold it like it’s my trophy. I’ve got so much more to do; I don’t want to put that gold medal around my neck yet. When I accomplish ten times what I’ve accomplished already, I’ll start thinking about that. But a better way to put it is I kind of forget about it. I do it and I forget about it. And I just work and I do things as if it’s still day one. That’s a better way of putting it, not that I’ve accomplished nothing. I’m blessed and I feel blessed for what I’ve accomplished and I thank God every day. I look at my plaques and all these plaques keep coming in and I look at them with my name on them and I’m like, “Damn”. I really thank God every time that happens. So it’s not like I feel like I’ve accomplished nothing, I just have to forget about what I’ve accomplished and just accomplish more.
HipHopCanada: That makes sense! Is there anything else you’d like to touch on?
Belly: Not really, that’s it. The blog: 7DaysN7Nights.com. Just stay tuned. You’re going to see a lot of things. You know we’re not stopping now. That’s why we dropped “So Gone”, we’re about to drop the mixtape, we’re about to drop “Hot Girl”. The bombardment begins. October 27th is the mixtape.
Editor’s note: To go directly to the mixtape download link, click here. For more information on Belly check out http://www.bellylive.com and follow his blog http://www.7DaysN7Nights.com.
Written by Chantle Beeso for HipHopCanada