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Belly has distinguished himself as a rapper, singer, songwriter, and producer who has drawn from the cultural displacement, poverty, and hustling he endured and experienced as a Palestinian-Jordanian immigrant living in Canada. Active since the early 2000s, Belly broke through in 2007, the year he released The Revolution, which in Canada hit the Top 30, was certified gold, and won a Juno Award for Rap Recording of the Year. Subsequent joint deals with Roc Nation and XO led to wider distribution and greater commercial success in the U.S., beginning with the platinum 2015 single "Might Not," among his numerous collaborations with the Weeknd, and continuing through the 2018 release of his second proper album, the pointed and outspoken IMMIGRANT.
Born Ahmad Balshe in the West Bank Palestinian city of Jenin, Belly at a young age moved with his family to Ottawa, Ontario, Canada to escape violence and poverty. Belly was purportedly selling drugs on the street by age 13, and already distinctly aware of growing up poor and Muslim in a primarily non-Muslim country. Having long been interested in hip-hop, he began expressing anger over his situation by rapping, and soon garnered a reputation as a formidable MC. He even drew the attention of local record label entrepreneur Tony Sal, who signed Belly to his fledgling CP Records. By 2003, the still teenaged Belly had developed a strong local following and released various singles as well as several mixtapes featuring collaborations with DJs Kay Slay and Big Mike.
In 2007, Belly released his debut full-length album, The Revolution, which revealed a strong focus on religion and the turmoil in the Middle East. The album garnered the rapper considerable attention, achieving gold status in Canada and earning the 2008 Juno Award for Rap Recording of the Year, due in part to "Pressure," a Top Ten hit on the Canadian pop chart. Several independently released mixtapes followed before Belly returned to his proper solo work with 2012's Sleepless Nights 1.5. Included on the mixtape were the singles "Hot Girl," featuring Snoop Dogg, and "The Top," featuring Ava. In 2015, Belly released the mixtape Up for Days -- his Roc Nation debut -- and contributed to the Weeknd's Beauty Behind the Madness. That same year, he released "Might Not," which found the Weeknd returning the favor. The single earned him his first platinum certification.
Belly added to his mixtape discography in 2016 with Another Day in Paradise, which showcased guest appearances from Waka Flocka Flame, Lil Wayne, Travis Scott, and others. Included on the album was the single "Zanzibar," featuring Juicy J. That year, Belly also helped co-write "6 Inch" with the Weeknd for Beyoncé's Lemonade. Honored as Songwriter of the Year at the 2016 Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada Awards, he soon put out another mixtape, Inzombia, which featured Young Thug, Ty Dolla $ign, and Ashanti. He followed up in 2017 with the Mumble Rap mixtape. Featuring an appearance by Pusha T and production by Boi-1da, the set peaked just outside the Top 50 of the Canadian albums chart. Belly issued a handful of singles into 2018, including "Man Listen," "4 Days" with YG, and "Maintain" with Nav, and in October 2018 released his second proper album, IMMIGRANT. The outspoken set debuted at number 31 on the Canadian chart and in the U.S. hit number 169 on the Billboard 200. Its performance was strengthened with "What You Want," featuring the Weeknd, and the title track, on which M.I.A. and Meek Mill made appearances. ~ Matt Collar
- Jenin, Palestine
- Apr 7, 1984
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