Born in Palestine and raised in Canada, 27-year-old rapper and mogul Belly has fought long and hard to get where he is today. Although you may not have heard of Belly here in the states, please believe that, in Canada, he is no stranger to a dedicated work ethic resulting in enormous success. His first album, The Revolution, was certified Gold in Canada and led to his first Top 10 single “Pressure,” featuring Ginuwine. Belly also earned consecutive MuchMusic Awards for Best Rap Video in 2007 and 2008. That same year, he won his first Juno Award, which is the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy, for Hip-Hop Recording of the Year.
In 2011, he released two mixtapes, Sleepless Nights, hosted by DJ Ill Will, and the more recent The Greatest Dream I Never Had, hosted and presented by DJ Drama. On the heels of his newest mixtape hitting the Internet last month, Belly has begun setting the master plan in motion to crossover from one side of the border to the other, the result of which should be a huge reception for his sophomore follow-up, due sometime next year.
AllHipHop.com spent some time with Belly recently to talk about The Greatest Dream I Never Had, what the success of other Canadian artists like Drake and The Weekend mean to him personally, his Palestinian roots, and much more. Check out the exclusive interview below:
AllHipHop.com: What’s going on, Belly?
Belly: Not much, man, just kicking it at the crib in Toronto right now.
AllHipHop.com: Nice. Well, first things first, you recently released The Greatest Dream I Never Had which was your seventh mixtape that dropped a couple of weeks ago. Now that the public has had some time to digest it, how do you feel the response has been based on the feedback?
Belly: The best out of anything I’ve released, for sure, since the album dropped out here in ’07, since The Revolution. I haven’t really seen people react like this. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s been an amazing response, and I have such an amazing fan base of loyal fans, but this one is over the top. It’s not just the fans that appreciated it; it was even people who never liked me before. They heard this, and they see me in a whole new light.
AllHipHop.com: Do you believe it’s your best work?
Belly: I just make music, man. I don’t know. I’m the worst judge of my own music so, to me, everything is personal and everything is something I did so, you know, I look at it all the same.
AllHipHop.com: When you’re working on new music, do you find yourself trying to top what you did the last time, or is it more in the moment, creating music based on what’s happening with you at that exact time in your life?
Belly: Yeah, it’s definitely about being in the moment. I love music to the point where I can get inspired by it in any form. I might hear a little melody in a movie or something and just run off that. It might spark a whole new project just based on that one sample; that one melody that might have inspired me. That’s what happened with this tape [The Greatest Dream I Never Had]. I did “Purple Drugs” first, and when I did that, I knew I had to do a whole project of music like this. I loved where I was going with it.
AllHipHop.com: I saw that you also handled some of the production on the mixtape.
Belly: Yeah, I was right there throughout the whole production process, but like, not to take anything away from Da Heala and Danny Boy Styles, man – those guys are geniuses, and it ended up where they just kind of split the production duties and nobody had no egos. It was just real smooth, man. Definitely the best experience of working on a project was this.
AllHipHop.com: Is that something that you started doing recently, or have you been producing your own stuff for a while?
Belly: Yeah, I think I always made it a point to have at least one production by myself on each project, and then somewhere along the way, it just faded away and I focused more on the writing and my own music. But yeah, it’s dope. I think production is like the foundation, so being back involved with the that has been amazing for me.
AllHipHop.com: Some of the hottest producers right now are all from Canada. What’s in the water?
Belly: [laughter] Oh, man, I think Canada’s got it right now with producers. Boi-1da, T-Minus, Arthur McArthur, Tone Mason, Da Heala, Danny Boy Styles. I think it’s right here right now.
AllHipHop.com: The Greatest Dream was also presented by DJ Drama. How’d you two link up in the first place, and will we ever get a Belly-fied Gangsta Grillz?
Belly: I’ve known Drama forever. Drama’s just someone who’s always held me down, and there’s never something I’ve asked him to do that’s he wasn’t down to do. I think it was in like ’07 or something like that, I had a shot a video with Ginuwine. Hulk Hogan was in the video, it was crazy like a circus, and I flew Drama down and he appeared in the video, so we’ve been homies ever since. Every time I hit him about something, he’s always down to work so Drama’s that dude, man, very influential cat. And maybe, man, maybe one day. People are getting The Greatest Dream I Never Had, and I already know what my next two or three projects are going to be. I’m already working on those, so maybe a Gangsta Grillz after that, definitely.
AllHipHop.com: What can you tell me about those projects that you already have in the works? Are those mixtapes or your next album?
Belly: I mean, it depends; as far as the album goes, I’ve been working on my album for a minute and the vibe and sound is so different that it’s easy to differentiate when I make music, what I’m going to keep for the album or what I want to use on mixtapes. It’s a work in progress. When I approach a mixtape, I approach it as a project. When I did this one, I recorded all the songs in the same type of environment, I wrote all the songs in the same type of environment, and it just gave the mixtape a certain mood and a certain vibe, and that’s what I like to do. But sometimes a song will pop up here and there that I’m like, “we need this for the album,” and I’ll put that on the side.
AllHipHop.com: What can you tell me about the title, The Greatest Dream I Never Had?
Belly: Well, it’s the follow-up to Sleepless Nights, which was the last tape that I just did with DJ Ill Will. I was staying in Miami at the time on literally no sleep. Me and Danny Boy Styles was just grinding it out, so that’s how that tape came about, and I think just as a follow-up, The Greatest Dream I Never Had is like I’m still sleepless, I’m still chasing this dream. I feel like I can’t get sleep until I accomplish this.
AllHipHop.com: In the short but successful career you’ve already had, you’ve worked with a ton of huge artists like Drake, Snoop Dogg, Kurupt, and The Weeknd. How are these collaborations constantly coming about?
Belly: It definitely goes back and forth between here and over there. With the big homie Snoop Dogg, we were on tour together across Canada, and that’s how we built that relationship. We always just linked up; we never really worked. He would come into town or I would go to L.A. if he was in town and not touring the world somewhere, then we’d link up or if he was here in Toronto we’d link up. We did that for like two or three years before we actually got in the studio together and did the record “Hot Girl,” and then since that we just did another record called “I Drink, I Smoke.” We flew down to Amsterdam and shot the video. Shouts to R.T. for shooting that.
AllHipHop.com: Why didn’t that record end up on The Greatest Dream I Never Had?
Belly: It was never supposed to. The mood of that mixtape can’t handle a song like that.
AllHipHop.com: So, what is the plan for that record?
Belly: The plan is to have that on the album, but you can’t really plan albums and singles or none of that no more, you just have to make music and put it out and let the people decide. I’ve got a loose plan, but the people got the blueprint, the fans got the blueprint.
AllHipHop.com: I like that. So, of all the artists that you have worked with, if you could choose one to only work with for the rest of your career, who would it be and why?
Belly: Wow, one person that I can make music with? That’s crazy [laughter]. Damn, man, who would I work with? I would have to say The Weeknd, man; that guy is a genius.
AllHipHop.com: That’s interesting, and I know he also did some production on The Greatest Dream I Never Had. What is that relationship like?
Belly: Oh, man, me and him, that’s like a genuine friendship man. That’s one of the guys that I met in this game that has kept it probably the most real with me. He basically put it like this…we had the house built with The Greatest Dream, and he came in and renovated it you know what I mean? He just polished it, and sonically and melodically, he just brought so much to the tape. It was exactly what it was missing at the time. I think he definitely brought that to the table. Aside from that, that was the first time me and him have worked together. We’ve been friends for some time now, and that was the first time we actually got in the studio and worked. These are friendships before they’re working relationships.
AllHipHop.com: What is the status of the friendship/relationship that you have with Drake now, and have you gotten a chance to hear Take Care?
Belly: Yeah, he played me a few songs off the album before it came out, and I was just in awe, man. Drake is like the hometown hero. Come on, like he took this thing worldwide from Toronto, so it’s dope to see him do what he do.
AllHipHop.com: So, what does it mean to you as an artist from Canada who has also had a ton of success up there to see your fellow friends and musicians like Drake and The Weeknd crossover into the U.S. and be some of biggest and most talked about artists?
Belly: That’s my “I told you so” moment because when I was coming down to the states in ’07 and ’08 and doing radio runs and all that type of stuff, I told everybody that the West had it, the East had it, the South still got it, but like the North has got to come up at some point. And, what’s dope is that it did come up here, and there’s a lot of artists that are buzzing and crossing over and erasing that border that some guy drew. So, to me, it’s a beautiful thing to see that New York is back on, the West is buzzing, the South is buzzing, the North is buzzing. Hip-Hop is at a strong point right now, and it’s a beautiful thing.
AllHipHop.com: How different would you say the actual music scenes are in Canada as opposed to here in the U.S.?
Belly: I think the music scene out here is just, for Hip-Hop, it’s a little tougher. We don’t really have radio stations that cater to what we do or what we really want to do. So, a lot of times, for artists to get on the radio, they have to cater to the radio. I think that’s a struggle out there that artists face, definitely, especially in Hip-Hop music.
AllHipHop.com: We briefly talked before about your earlier success, but for those that don’t know, your debut The Revolution went gold in Canada. You’ve had a number of Top 10 singles, and I’m sure one of the biggest moments of your career had to be winning the Juno Award.
AllHipHop.com: So, it’s safe to say that you’ve conquered Canada and you’re prepared to do the same over here, but what do you want your next major accomplishment to be? What is the goal that you’re trying to reach right now?
Belly: To me, over the years, my goals change. Right now, my biggest goal is just to have my music heard by the most people that I can possibly have it heard by. I think that would be my greatest accomplishment, to know that people in every corner of the Earth are listening to the words that I wrote down.
AllHipHop.com: You also do some ghostwriting as well. Is there anything you’ve worked on from that perspective that you can talk about?
Belly: Well, a lot of the stuff that I do for certain rap heads, I definitely can’t talk about, but a lot of the R&B stuff that comes out here, the radio stuff that comes out here, I write a lot of that stuff. Probably 40 percent of what plays on Top 40 radio out here.
AllHipHop.com: I’m getting the vibe that Canada is a lot more Pop and R&B oriented in terms of the major music genres. Is that the case?
Belly: A lot of R&B and Pop, man, and I just get my hands into everything. I co-own one of if not the #1 independent record labels in the country, CP Records. We built up the label to the point where we’re basically competing with the majors out here.
AllHipHop.com: What about the artists that you’ve signed? What genres do they fall into?
Belly: We go for everything, man; we go for talent, that’s first and foremost. We don’t have an assembly line around here. We take time and we develop artists and we take our time, and if a single doesn’t work, we don’t drop somebody. We really try and push and give as many looks as we can to our artists and stuff like that, and it’s been working out. The loyalty is there. Artists know that if they go somewhere else, they’re going to get shuffled around, and as soon as somebody else new comes around, they’re gonna get pushed to the back. Around here it’s not like that. Everybody’s got priority.
AllHipHop.com: So, you obviously have a great business sense, but are you looking for a major label deal knowing that you have CP Records and seeing what happens to a number of artists singed to the big labels? Has that kind of put you off from wanting to accept some of the things you’ve been offered?
Belly: Well, shout out to everybody ’cause there’s a lot of people that reached out to us already, and we’re talking to a few people right now, but I’m not really concerned, man. Like I said, I’m taking such a different approach and putting music first and that’s what it’s coming back to now, ’cause the music is being put back into the hands of the people to decide. That’s all I’m really focused on is making the music, and I know everything else will come after that. All I know is I’m not gonna sell myself short. I know what I’m capable of on so many levels, and I do so many different things when it comes to music, so I won’t sell myself short. But, I’m always open to hear a conversation and see what somebody’s saying.
AllHipHop.com: So you said earlier that you were working on your next few projects already, one of which is your album. Is there any tentative release date for when that will drop?
Belly: I mean we’re definitely hoping for a 2012 release and we’ll drop a video soon enough for “I Drink, I Smoke,” and see what happens and just go from there.
AllHipHop.com: Do you have a title for the album yet?
Belly: Yeah, it’s called Champagne Dreams, Marijuana Thoughts, and the next mixtape is called Thank God I’m Faded.
AllHipHop.com: Alright, I like that [laughter]. Before I let you go, I want to ask briefly about your Palestinian roots. You actually grew up in Palestine, right?
Belly: Yes, sir. I grew up in the Middle East and bounced around between different countries like so many other Palestinians have to do, but yeah, I came to Canada when I was seven.
AllHipHop.com: I know you’ve also done some songs in the past about Palestine and the Middle East, but because of your roots and where you come from, do you feel obligated to make people more aware of the situations occurring over there through your music?
Belly: I mean, it’s not that I’m not focusing on it. Every now and then, I’ll just get the inspiration to drop a new one and basically, I like to just say everything that pertains to a certain time period on a record. I don’t like to exhaust that avenue and be doing 15 records about that all saying the same thing. So if I feel like people aren’t saying what should be said, then I drop a record.
AllHipHop.com: Fair enough. Lastly, for people that may be discovering you for the first time through this interview, or who maybe just heard The Greatest Dream, what do you want people to know about Belly?
Belly: The Greatest Dream I Never Had is me. That’s the most current, personal, introspective embodiment of me. From top to bottom, that’s me right there. I think people need to just pick that up and listen if you really want to get my side of the story: “Numbers,” “Purple Drugs,” “Fallen,” “Dreamer,” “Downtown,” all the records that the people are really hitting me about right now. The Greatest Dream I Never Had, man, I think that’s the best way to get to know me.
AllHipHop.com: Thanks, Belly. It was a pleasure speaking with you.
Belly: Thank you, man. I appreciate the opportunity.
For More Information on Belly Visit www.BellyLive.com