Palestinian Rapper Belly Incites “The Revolution” With New Album

Barely 23 years old, Arab-Canadian rapper Belly (short for Rebellyus) can boast that he has a #1 single. Featuring R&B crooner Ginuwine, “Pressure” (from the forthcoming The Revolution) hit the top of the Canadian music charts just this week. I sat down with Belly, along with the rest of his CP Records team, at Tagine in New York City.

 

 

Remarkably thoughtful with self-possession beyond his years, Belly waxed poetic on music, politics and what it means to break down doors for other hip-hop loving Arabs.

 

Born in Jenin and raised in Canada, with stops in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Jordan along the way, Belly grew up listening to the likes of Fairuz and Umm Kalthum. After moving to Ottawa at age seven, Belly became transfixed with hip hop, forsaking a traditional formal education and schooling himself on the rap greats instead - 2Pac, Biggie and Jay-Z. At first, his parents were cautious, but when they saw their son’s dedication, their attitudes began to change. He says, “They’re so supportive, I gotta show them they’re supportive for a reason. When they saw how serious I was about what I was doing and the same kid that was running wild, was settled down and going to the studio, it really made them confident.”

 

In 1998 Belly stepped into a recording studio for the first time. Recalling how he‘s progressed as an artist, he says “I still have the same recording style, which is funny, the same formula from then until now.” As for collaborators, Belly prefers to not limit himself to a certain team of individuals. “Music is like vegetables,” the rapper declares with an impish grin, “You gotta shop for the freshest.” And indeed, the The Revolution lives up to Belly’s standards. Featuring appearances from Scarface (whom Belly introduced to Lebanese food in the Houston studio where they met up), Brooke Hogan, Nina Sky and, as previously mentioned, Ginuwine, the two-disc set is brimming with the potential the turn the music industry on its head. Simultaneously filled with club-bangers and socially conscious urban soliloquies, the album embodies the duality of what being an Arab means to many of our generation.

 

His favorite song on the album is “History of Violence,” a hidden track that “is from raw emotion, [it] came from…watching the news and getting so angry.” Currently being marketed as a “musical ambassador of peace,” I had to ask Belly if he felt that he had to sacrifice some ideologies as an Arab and Palestinian in an effort to not offend certain individuals. With certainty, he responds “I’m a militant with my words. The pen is mightier than the sword…Leaders make decisions and the people suffer.” He continues. “I feel like I needed to [represent Arabs], I needed to be that voice. You never know who might get pissed off, but I speak my mind. If I’m going to be in the line of fire, let [others] benefit from and enjoy what I did.”

 

In addition to his upcoming album, Belly discussed plans to release a Middle East mix-tape. “I have songs put away,” he says, “I sing in Arabic. Well, maybe it’s not singing. Let’s call it gangsta humming.” He has plans to start up a clothing label - B. Fly - intended to be “elite street - street gear with flash and style.” And he will also remain the VP of CP Records (headed by Lebanese-born Tony Sal). Ultimately, however, it’s the music that most concerns Belly. “Music got into me, it just happened.”

 

From the looks of things, it will keep happening for many years to come.

 

View Belly's new video, "Pressure":

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About Josephine Zohny

Josephine Zohny was born to an Italian-American mother and an Egyptian-born father in Pittsburgh, PA. She grew up in the Washington, DC metropolitan area and moved to New York City shortly before the September 11th attacks to attend college. She received a B.A. in Music Business, Writing (Creative Non-fiction) and Race and Ethnic Studies from NYU in 2005. She is currently the Director of Entertainment Publicity for WeRoqq Publicity and Promotion, primarily representing hip-hop and r&b artists. Her writings on music, pop culture and critical race theory have appeared on PopMatters.com, EURWeb and in Colorlines and Z!nk, among other outlets and publications. She is intensely interested in the issues of ethnic identity as it pertains to Arabs, both in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as in the diaspora. Her personal blog can be found at www.jzohny.com.

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