Belly Takes Back the Term Mumble Rap on His New Album
Many artists aspire to attain instant success and become a star overnight, but in many cases, that can ultimately become more of a curse than a blessing. On the other hand, a slow grind can be burdensome on a creatives psyche at times, but the relationships and lessons learned along the way can prove invaluable when you take the path less traveled. Rapper Belly, the latest export from Canada to catch the hip-hop community's attention, is an example of the latter. Although the genesis of his pursuit of a rap supremacy extends further than a decade, you could say that he's made a comeback after emerging from a self-imposed hiatus, which began following the release of his 2012 mixtape, Sleepless Nights 1.5.
Already established as an artist and songwriter in Canada, Belly was tapped by fellow countryman The Weeknd to join the crooner's XO movement in 2015. When Belly released his Up for Days mixtape, which penetrated the U.S. market, it made him the guy many had heard about, but couldn't quite put a face to. He was once again a person of interest. However, Up for Days would prove to be the calm before the storm, as Belly's stock would skyrocket after the rapper was prominently featured on The Weeknd's Beauty Behind the Madness album, earning six writing credits and, ultimately, a 2016 Grammy Award.
Belly's work would pique the interest of JAY-Z, who inked the rapper/songwriter to a deal with Roc Nation in November 2015. He would later unleash a pair of mixtapes, Another Day in Paradise and Inzombia, in 2016, both of which would further help ingratiate Belly to rap fans stateside. Now, with his profile bigger than ever, Belly throws the gauntlet down and showcase his worth as a wordsmith with his latest project, Mumble Rap. The effort features production from the likes of Boi-1da and Ben Billions, among others, and features a collaboration with Pusha T. While the title, which appeared on billboards in New York City and beyond, was a bit of a mystery to fans who didn't know what to make of the cryptic offerings, the fact that Roc Nation would go to such lengths is indicative of Belly being a pretty big deal and part of the label's future.
XXL caught up with Belly during the release party for Mumble Rap at the 40/40 Club in Manhattan to discuss the inspiration behind the title of the album, working with Roc Nation, his charitable initiatives in conjunction with TIDAL and more.
XXL: 2016 was a big year for you in your career, with a few Grammy Awards nominations due to your work as a songwriter. How did it feel to have your talent in that arena recognized on such a large scale?
Belly: You know, just being recognized for anything musically for me has been, like incredible because this is all I do, this is all I got. So whenever people can recognize and acknowledge that I'm out here working and doing the best that I can and it's actually paying off and doing something for me, it's a blessing. That's the best way I can put it; it's been a blessing.
You also released your last project, Inzombia, in 2016, which was one of your most high-profile projects to date? Were you satisfied with the response and do you feel that project did what you set out to do?
Yeah, I mean, for me, the project was very therapeutic. It was like a personal project and just putting it together was damn-near enough. And having the response that it got, it wasn't a big commercial breakthrough, but critically, it was critically acclaimed and I think credibility, to me, in this music shit means a lot. It means more than numbers and stats and all that shit. I think people understand now that I really do this music thing. I love it, I love this shit hip-hop shit with all my heart. I'm really working towards perfecting my craft every single day.
Two years ago, you took a big leap in your career by signing a deal with Roc Nation. How did that relationship originally come about?
I think it came through just a bunch of chance situations. Shout-out my brother Gee Roberson who ultimately was the reason Hov heard my shit and once Hov heard my shit, I heard they were doing something, I can't remember. And he played the music somewhere and somebody that was there called somebody that I know and was like, "Yo, Hov playing your shit." That was the first time I heard anything and then some short time after, me and him met up and decided we're gonna do this thing together.
What would you say are some of the ways working with Roc Nation has impacted how you approach your artistry and overall brand?
Man, it's inspiring to be in that kind of arena, to be working where the head of the company is one of the most prolific, iconic artists in the world, you know what I mean? So it's inspiring every day to wake up and wanna be better and wanna compete on the grand scale knowing that you got what it takes and the resources you need to do it. It's incredible, man. It's a different approach, you know? It's given me as much confidence as I had in what I do; it gave me even more confidence in my music and what I do, you know?
Your song "Immigration to the Trap" examines the current plight of immigrants in the wake of Donald Trump's presidency? Was there anything in particular that sparked you to put pen to paper and tackle that issue?
Yeah, I'm a young immigrant and I came to Canada with nothing. We struggled and made it through the worst of circumstances, so I lived the immigrant experience. So I wanted to let young immigrants out there know that they're not alone, man.
You recently released a powerful visual to the song, which was shot in the 93 District in France. Was filming in that location your idea?
It was the vision. I wanted to show, like, neighborhoods in Canada and Europe and stuff like that are integrated with all of us, you know what I mean? People live together harmoniously and they teach each other culture and they teach each other things that school can't teach you, only real life can teach. So I wanted to show people that side of the projects and that they do exist.
They make it feel if we don't live a part and if they don't separate us, everything's gonna go crazy, but the facts the facts, we're human. We look at that type of situation, everybody's living harmoniously. Even though some people are in the most dire situations they've ever been in, they can still find a way to live harmoniously amongst the people that they live around, so I wanted to show an example of that.
Your new project, Mumble Rap, is out. What was the inspiration behind the title?
For me, it was because I did mad interviews and the hosts would always be like, "Yo, you can really rap. So how do you feel about these mumble rappers?" and I'm like, "These guys are actually my homies. A lot of the guys you're trying to disrespect right now are really my little brothers and shit, you know?" So I just wanted to take the term back and make it something different so I put together a project full of bars and raps and I called it Mumble Rap.
So, hopefully, if it does what I want it to do, then when people think of mumble rap, they gonna think about this and not think about those talented ass muthafucking kids that's killing shit right now. And people just undervalue what they do, so I just wanted to take the term away from these cocksuckers, that's all.
So you're aligning with the so-called "mumble rappers'" and saying that you're with them, basically?
One hundred percent. Everybody know that, though, I've always been somebody that defends every facet of the hip-hop game. I think it all belongs here and I think it's all important. As long as the people like it, who the fuck are you to judge? People like it, they're streaming it, they fuck with it, who are you to judge, man, you know what I mean? If you don't like it, that's cool, that's your opinion, but you can't deny that it's making waves, and it is. So I just think it's disrespectful to title it "mumble rap." The shit's a lot more powerful than that.
Your team made a big splash with the Mumble Rap billboards. How does it feel to see Roc Nation putting the push behind your project like that?
Shouts to Roc Nation, shouts to TIDAL, Shouts to Apple and Spotify, shouts to XO. Shouts to my team directly around me that's killing shit and making shit happen every day. That's really them, bro. I have to give the credit to my whole team for that.
What are some of the themes and topics you explore on this project?
Just life. Anybody that knows my shit knows I make honest music. I make honest shit and this shit right here is probably the most honest project I've ever made in my life, the most vulnerable. I just rap. I wanted to rap, so that's what I did.
You have a Pusha T collaboration on "Al Cantera." How did it come about?
The song is called "Al Cantera" and I just kept hearing him on it after I recorded it so I just reached out to my brother Slow [of Slow Bucks] and we connected, me and Push connected. I sent him the joint, he sent it back, the shit was fire. Yeah, man, he killed that shit, bro. I'm glad I got him on it.
Pick three tracks from Mumble Rap for somebody that's never heard your music. And why choose those?
Definitely "Immigration to the Trap," just based on the fact that it means a lot to me. Like I said before, being a young immigrant that came here from nothing and making something out of life. I think that's a real important one for me. I think "The Come Down Is Real Too" is really important one to me, and I think "Mumble Rap," the title track, is an important one for me. I think those are the three that the fans should check out.
What statement were you setting out to make with this project?
Honestly, I don't even go into a project trying to make a statement, I just wanted to put out some shit to show the side of me that people forgot that I can do. A lot of people were familiar with my singles, the "Ballerinas" and the "Might Nots" and "Frozen Water" and whatever, and a lot of people didn't know that I could really rap and that was really the point of this shit.
You released the track "Lullaby" in anticipation of the album. How did that track come together?
Boi-1da was the producer on that. Yeah, that was just, like, some diary raps and some shit that I had on my mind that was kinda weighing me down and I wanted to talk about it and that was the song I used to talk.
You've been working a lot with TIDAL on their initiatives regarding the recent hurricane relief efforts. What's the story behind that?
I mean, just being a human and seeing what's going on, you know? Something inside you has got to move and that's what happened. What's been happening and the help that people need, it's apparent and it's obvious and I'm trying to do the most that I can in anyway that I can. Anytime that I'm asked to help I step up and I try and I do the best that I can in that situation.
What's the next level for you as an artist and a brand?
Man, all I care about is that these people listen to what I gotta say, man. That's what I'm in this shit for, it's to make people listen and the more ears I can get and the more traction this shit can get, then I'm happy. That's what I live for.
See New Music Releases for November 2017