Palestinian-Canadian rapper and award-winning songwriter Belly has built a massive discography that dates back to the mixtape era when he, quite prominently, dropped three solo tapes hosted by a trifecta of mixtape-era giants: DJ’s Kool Kid (2003), Kay Slay (2004) and Big Mike (2006), respectively.
He’s since sold millions of records, written hits for names like Beyoncé and The Weeknd and worked with icons. Not to mention, he counts JAY-Z as a mentor (a massive flex in itself).
Now, at the age of 39, Belly is gearing up to begin a new chapter in his career — one in which he’s walking away from music — as he releases the long-awaited sequel to 2017’s Mumble Rap, the first of his final three releases.
“I think the joy now is just being able to put a final chapter on that era for myself and just to be able to bow out gracefully,” he tells DX.
Produced primarily by platinum-selling super producer and Nas’ current go-to collaborator, Hit-Boy (with his regular circle of producers DaHeala, DannyBoyStyles, Nick Lamb and The ANMLS in tow), Mumble Rap 2 sees Belly getting a lot off his chest.
“For my most rap-centric projects, where I don’t really sing, and I’m just pulling up with the bars, I like to lock in with one producer,” he explains. “I’m always going to have my guys … they’re with me on every project, and they’re with me on this one, too. But choosing Hit-Boy as the one was a no-brainer. He’s one of the dopest doing it when it comes to making the shit that could work today and still remind you of something from that golden era. He’s one of the few that can tap into both. A lot of guys are like one or the other.
“Working with him was great because it inspired me to dig deep and say the shit I’ve been wanting to say.”
Read and listen below as Belly breaks down some of his favorite tracks from Mumble Rap 2.
That’s the intro right there. It means a lot because this was an album I used to get some of my frustrations out, and it set things off right away. It was a great way to set the tone. I love that record.
Did you and Hit-Boy know what you wanted to do going into the project?
We had the blueprint for the album in the first couple of sessions; I sat down and hashed out the words, and then he polished up some of the beats and all that, but we kind of figured out a lot of it the first couple of sessions that we did together.
That’s another one. It feels personal to me … it feels like it’s a record I needed. Once I heard it, I was like, ‘Yeah, something like this is long overdue.’ And again, it’s speaking to some of the frustrations I’ve been holding onto. I don’t always like to be so themed; I love records where I can talk my shit.
“Loyalty Vs. Royalty” f. Gil Scott-Heron
We got Gil Scott Heron for this one; we sampled him for the hooks and cleared it. That was huge. It’s just a record where a lot of this stuff flowed naturally to me, and that’s what made it feel the way it feels. I didn’t have to force any of these records, and that one felt the most like that.
How structured are sessions with Hit-Boy? Are they as magical as Nas describes them?
It’s all about the energy in the room, and he’s got great energy, not to mention he’s got great music. The sessions are free-form, where we just set up a mic in the room. The energy in the room created what happened that day.
Again, this is one of those records where I could show off what I can do on the rap shit while simultaneously getting some of my points across. Just being able to talk my shit was vital for me, and it was like therapy being able to do that.
You mention feeling like Biggie and Puff in the same person. Can you explain that bar?
Yeah, man. Anything that came inspiration-wise with rap early on came because I was a huge, Biggie fan; he inspired me my whole life. The business side of me, thinking outside the box and trying to create new mediums for my team, is inspired by Puff — the way he stays revolutionizing anything he touches.
I approach things from both sides of this spectrum; many people will know you as the artist and not know anything else is going on. And honestly, I like it that way.
“Cocaine Spoon” f. Rick Ross
I (finally) got to work with Rozay. He’s one of my favorite rappers, man, and not until recently have people started to realize how dope of a rapper Rick Ross is. It’s not just the songs he makes … to me, he’s one of the top guys still making music that could rap at that level and make songs at that level. It was long overdue to work with Ross, so I’m glad I got to do that.
Are there any artists you still have on your bucket list?
At this point, it’s just the same bucket list shit everybody else got. One day, a [JAY-Z] verse, hopefully. I strive for the impossible, man. I want to work with Shady in any fashion, even as a writer. I’m open, man. I just want to be around greatness, try to soak it in, and learn from it.
I love this one because it’s like a diary-type record that closes out the album chapter; it’s not as aggressive or anger-driven as some of the other songs [on the project]. It’s more like I finally calmed down and explained where some of the frustration comes from. And that was just a great closing chapter for me.