Belly’s brand of social activism has always been delivered through his music. The Palestinian-Canadian rapper has used his bars to candidly address everything from racial profiling and police brutality to depression and his own mental health struggles. 2018’s Immigrant, depicted a journey saturated by hardship and heartache. Its title track, which features Meek Mill and M.I.A, expressed disdain for America’s broken political and socioeconomic systems.
In addition to rapping, Belly has written hits for The Weeknd and Beyoncé, proving just how multifaceted his artistry is. He co-wrote “Blinding Lights,” the biggest song of 2020 and believes his close relationship with The Weeknd is to thank. “What we have is more than just the music we make…it’s much bigger than all of that,” he says. “I really consider Abel as somebody that’s like a brother to me. That’s what makes our chemistry so strong. Anything we do is going to sound like we’re family.”
His next project, See You Next Wednesday, is due out on Roc Nation later this month. As the second single from it, “Zero-Love,” drops today, SPIN caught up with the artist to talk about the meaning behind it and why he is intentional with his platform.
SPIN: Let’s go back to 2007 when The Revolution was released. What was the mindset behind making your very first album? You were political right from the gate.
It’s hard for me to not say something. From the beginning, I’ve always wanted to say what’s on my mind and give my perspective. At the same time, I love making music so bringing the two together is something that I don’t even got to strive to do. It just happens naturally with whatever I’m making. The Revolution was my baby. That was my original album and I just wanted it to be perfect. I tried to bring everything that I could to that album. My mindset was just being a young kid that was ready to fly. I was ready to take off and see the world and The Revolution was my ticket. That’s the best way to describe it.
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Do you think it’s a rapper’s responsibility to talk about current events in their music? I’m all for it if they’re authentic and actually know what they’re talking about.
It’s not for everybody, you know? No one has any responsibility except to stay true to the art. People have become less afraid to talk about things and stand on something and believe in it and be vocal about it. But if you’re human and you’ve got compassion and decency, then you need to stand on the right side of history. A lot of times, if you aren’t really educated on something it’s better to just shut up than say something and not make any sense or not help the situation at all. So no…I don’t think it’s for everybody but for the people out there that do it, God bless you. And if you’re not doing that but still making some beautiful music that we can vibe to, God bless you too.
How did you decide that “Zero-Love” would be the next single from the project?
“Zero-Love” is the sleeper, you know? Every time I play a few songs for people off the new album, they’d be like ‘hold on—go back to that one.’ I love that feeling when you don’t expect it. With “Zero-Love,” it’s a song where I just loved the vibe. As soon as we had it, I was like wait a minute. I heard Moneybagg Yo on it already. I could hear him rapping on it so I was like we gotta get Bagg on this and go crazy. And honestly, it turned into one of those records. This and another one called “Flowers” are probably my two favorite songs on the album.
Speaking of collaborations, Nas makes a cameo on See You Next Wednesday. In the past, you’ve worked with artists like Jadakiss, Juicy J and Snoop Dogg. Do you ever get nervous or intimidated in the studio?
Once you get around the greats, you gotta bring your A-game—and I welcome the challenge. As soon as there’s a challenge, I feel like the best of me comes out. I actually appreciate those moments more than shy away from them. Getting to work with Nas on this album was incredible. When I was younger, I got to work with Scarface and that will always be something that was super special—I love Scarface. Those two take the cake for me. There’s no better feeling than being around the guys that taught you how to do this. You better step up to the plate because this is your shot. You better come with it.
I know you can’t say much about See You Next Wednesday yet, but what’s the message you want fans to take away from it?
My message is that no matter what you do, if you love it nurture it because I almost lost the thing. I almost lost music. I almost lost my mind in the process. My love for music is what brought me back. It was like a circle. The more I fell back in love with it, the more it made me come back and make the type of music I’ve always dreamed about making. See You Next Wednesday means so much to me because this is my return…this is my celebration to myself. Not some big champagne and glitter celebration. This is my own celebration to myself…that I’m able to come back and make music again…share it with my fans as well as the world and say something meaningful. That’s the dream come true.