Belly Finds His Peace in the Studio
Isolation can be terrifying for most people while being alone with one’s own thoughts can be difficult for others to handle. However, for Belly, isolation brings tranquility in an industry that breeds snakes. For someone who’s been in the music industry since he was 15 years old, there’s nothing Belly, born Ahmad Balshe, hasn’t seen. That’s why he keeps his circle very close. The Palestinian-Canadian rapper, who co-wrote more than a few records for today’s biggest stars like his close friend The Weeknd, is tired of getting disappointed by people.
“Getting signed at young age and being in the industry for such a long time, it never really clicked to me until I got older,” he tells XXL over the phone. “Now that I’m older and see, when you come in the game young, people are going to take advantage of what you have and your talent, especially people that got a name already. You just have to be every aware and very careful. For me, I learned my lesson along the way in order to be able to maneuver now along the way and move the way I do.
So instead of surrounding himself with a crew of people he doesn’t really know, he’d rather be in the studio with only his closest friends writing for the likes of Beyonce. The studio is his safe zone. That’s where he can unwind about his troubles and the things that he goes through. With this process comes the influence behind his music.
When he signed to Roc Nation last year, some hip-hop fans in the States were asking who this mysterious rapper from Canada was, considering he was an unknown name to many. But since he linked with Jay Z’s company, Belly released three solid projects (Up For Days, Another Day in Paradise, Inzombia), his “Might Not” single featuring The Weeknd landed on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, peaking at No. 68, and he achieved gold status for the track last June. Now everybody knows Belly’s name.
“I reached all the accomplishments that I planned out to reach in Canada,” Belly explains. “That was that for me. I wanted a new phase in my life I needed something new. I stepped back, started doing song writing and various business ventures down the line. Song writing is cool. You kind of see what everybody wants and what everybody is fucking with. It got to a point I just started keeping all my shit and putting it out and here we are.”
For 2017, Belly is looking to drop a new album and will hitting the road with Juicy J for their Rubba Band Business tour. XXL got Belly on the phone to talk about his new mixtape, Inzombia, disappointments, why the studio is his safe place and his next album.
XXL: Inzombia is a really cool project. What was the process for making the mixtape?
Belly: Three months before it came out we decided we had about three months to complete the tape and put it out. I had this whole concept of like cool music; it wasn’t really going to end up how it ended up sounding. It was just going to be cool vibes. For me I just had a moment in my life, somebody just let me down a couple months ago and it just kind of fucked with me mentally. It slowed me down.
I had three weeks left on the deadline and my managers and shit came to see me to ask if we should push this back. To me, I couldn’t let my fans down. Even though I didn’t know when it was coming I knew I was dropping something this year. I didn’t want to let them down. I just locked myself down in the studio and worked for three weeks straight, staying up like five days at a time. I just worked until it was done. I guess the mental space I was in helped me tap into the introspective side.
How did you get let down?
Honestly, I don’t want to go into details. In personal life, everybody goes through it, whether it’s your friend or significant other, whatever the case may be. And that wasn’t the only event. It was just a few things in my personal life that really had an affect. I don’t like to talk about my personal life in interviews; I do that on the music. I felt like if people want to really know the story, a lot of it is in the music.
You’re a highly successful songwriter in your own music and for other people. How are you able to be that open and honest in your music?
A wise man once told me, “When you sit down and write, never be scared to embarrass yourself.” For me, when I write, I’m not worrying about what other people think or how people are going to perceive it. These are real life issues that I have. If people fuck with it, they’ll do, if people don’t then they won’t relate. Everybody that’s fucking with my music right now is relating to it on a whole other level because of that honesty, that vulnerability, the ability to speak opening to my fans and not trying to be this gimmick or a certain image. I rather be everything that I’m really am.
These last three projects have been very strong and very distinct from one another. These past two years must have been a roller coaster ride.
Yeah, for me, it’s been more like a slow elevator ride it feels like. I’m just really grateful of everything that went down. I just work, man. Until people tell me what’s really good out there, I don’t even know. I just be in the studio locked in. It’s four walls, my music and me.
Is the studio where you feel you’re most comfortable? Is it like your safe zone?
That is my safe zone, man. People are fucked up. I like to spend as much time away from people as I can. Every time I get my hopes up for something or somebody…human beings will be human beings, you know? I rather just be in the studio and keep making music because that’s the only thing that loves me back. That’s what I do. And I talk about all the shit that the real world provides. [Laughs] That’s really the soundtrack to me life.
Why do you like to stay away from people?
I know who my people are and who my core friends and my brothers. Outside of that I just don’t want to set up myself up for disappointment because 90 percent of the time people will disappoint you. That’s the facts of life. You can’t sit around and cry about it you got to keep on moving. I’m blessed to have a platform to let people know exactly what the fuck I’m going through but at the same time, that’s how [my fans] get through their problems. We feed off each other. I think that’s why this new project is so relatable.
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When you hear yourself over the last couple years, how would you assess your growth?
I drop every project with the intent to beat every project I previously put out. Every project that I drop I will always try to be better in every way. That will always be my outlook.
You learned English through music, correct?
Oh man, [Biggie’s] Ready to Die, that was my everything, that and Snoop’s Doggystyle. Those albums taught me to speak the kind of English my teacher didn’t necessarily agree with at that time [laughs]. I was mad young, I dragged my mom into the store and the only reason she agreed to buy [Ready to Die] was because it had a baby on the cover. She thought it was kid’s music. She had no idea the album was the key to the streets.
Did your parents say anything to you about becoming a rapper?
They supported the shit out of me and I got Middle Eastern parents. I moved out of my house when I was 15 so they didn’t have much of a say. They still always been proud and love what I’m doing. I left my house when I was 15 with a small suitcase and never looked back. I believed in myself more than anything. I slept on couches for five years I didn’t give a fuck. I knew what I was destined for so I stayed patient.
What would you say was a critical moment for you as you progressed?
I think just finding genuine people and people that genuinely fuck with you. Meeting good people in this shit is amazing, meeting peers that are actually great people too. The Weeknd, French Montana.
You have an album coming out next year?
I’ve been working on an album, just stashing certain songs, vibes and ideas along the way because I kind of have an idea about how my album will sound so I just have been really stockpiling everything that I need to make it happen. I’m already working on the album. The day that Inzombia came out I did a 24-hour session in the studio where I stayed there for 24 hours and just made new records.
That’s short, man.
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