For the past couple of years, the momentum in music has been teetering towards the country north of the border. With Canada’s onslaught on the mainstream scene orchestrated by Drake, The Weeknd and Justin Bieber, one promising star is hoping to help his Canadian brothers keep the charts hostage as well. Enter 32-year-old, Ahmad Balshe, better known as Belly.
In 2015, Belly notched a deal with Roc Nation after releasing his mixtape Up for Days. His lauded project featured several prominent acts including Travis Scott and French Montana, and his partner-in-crime, The Weeknd (Belly also has close ties to the singer’s XO label).
It was also Belly’s penchant for songwriting that propelled him into notoriety. He landed six writing credits on The Weeknd’s ultra-successful album, Beauty and The Madness. He upped the ante and co-wrote Beyonce’s “6 Inch” for her 2016 effort Lemonade.
Hungry to prove that his artistry was as equally comparable to his songwriting prowess, he released his mixtape Another Day in Paradise in May. By nabbing Lil Wayne for his hypnotic banger “Barely Sober” and Travis Scott for his slow-churning track “Money Go,” Belly began leveling the playing field on his career. Less than five months later, Belly doubled down on his efforts and swung for the fences by dropping another mixtape titled InZombia, for which he nabbed Future, Young Thug, Ty Dolla $ign, and Jadakiss.
This past weekend, the Canadian upstart kept his hustle going as he shot the video for his drug-laden record “Trap Phone” in the heart of the Bronx, New York. Decked out in a vintage white Tommy Hilfiger jacket, Belly echoed the swagger of his counterpart Jadakiss, who was drenched in gold chains, as they drove around the city in a minty white BMW. Billboard spoke to Belly about landing his dream collaboration with Jadakiss, balancing songwriting and being an artist, and also, his thoughts on Donald Trump’s upcoming presidency.
How did “Trap Phone” come together with you and Jadakiss?
It was a record that I was already working on for InZombia. For me, it felt like I already heard him on it, you know? I reached out to him through somebody mutual and man, he’s one of the realest, for real. He’s probably the realest with just the way he approached the whole situation. I ain’t know that he was even up on my s–t so that was like exciting to know that somebody I’ve been a fan of my whole life was up on what I was doing and was supportive of everything that I was doing. That s–t blew me away.
It must have been a dope experience for you hearing his verse on your track the first time you heard it.
Oh, man! I laughed for like the next week every time I heard the song. I’d just laugh to myself. It was to the point I was doing listening sessions and people be looking at me like, “You’re really excited about this Jada verse.” I’m like, “Hell yeah!” Ever since I was young, he’s one of the ones that definitely sharpened my sword in terms of lyricism, bars, and just all around what he’s brought to the culture.
You’re talented not only as an artist but also a songwriter as well, having written for Beyoncé and The Weeknd. Which do you prefer doing more: songwriting or being an artist?
I mean for me, I can’t really say I differentiate ‘cause when I go into the studio to make music, I just make music. Sometimes, it just ends up with me, and sometimes it doesn’t. I think for me, both of them are just important. I love both of them the same because they both have brought so much to me. My songwriting has brought so much to me as an artist and my ability that I have as an artist has brought so much to my songwriting that they live off each other. Without one, the other one dies.
You have a great crop of artists featured on InZombia including Future, Ty Dolla $ign, and of course, Jada. Which feature blew you the way the most and why?
Man, you’re on set right now. [Laughs] Shout out to all the homies, man. You know, I vibe with all those guys. They’re all actual friends of mine. They all keep it so real with me all the time. Jadakiss was like a lifelong dream. It felt good to be out here. Got the 90s whips out. The vintage Tommy [Hilfiger jacket]. We really just wanted to capture the vibe and just bring it back.
Where is the creativity coming from? This is your second mixtape in just a matter of months.
I’m a humble dude, man, but when it comes to this music, it’s about holding stuff back. It’s not about releasing [everything]. I could release 10 [mixtapes]. Again, I’m not being cocky. I live in that studio. I make music when they party. I make music when they go on romantic trips and on vacations. I’m working. That’s what I do. This really has all my attention all the time. I think because of that, I’ve been able to just stack up. I have an artillery. I have 2017 already figured out so 2018? We’ll start figuring that out soon.
Everybody has been chiming in on Donald Trump winning the election. What were your initial thoughts about him becoming the next president of the United States?
I can’t say that I was shocked. I can’t say that I was surprised or anything like that. I was definitely disappointed. But again, it was somebody that gave a voice to a bunch of people that went into hiding because when things were politically correct, I think America was in a good place. A lot of people [who supported Trump] went into hiding and felt like they couldn’t be comfortable. Now, a lot of them are out. They’re probably the ones that won him that campaign. But, at the same time, seeing everybody come together on our side since he won has been a beautiful thing. It united so many of us. There’s a silver lining, sometimes — or the orange lining. [Laughs] You gotta look at the orange lining in that situation.