Belly is an Ottawa native and Roc Nation artist who has evolved greatly in his musical journey. As a kid I used to play in community-organized soccer tournaments and this huskier gentleman with the baggiest of clothes would be on the sideline rapping his breath away. To us Belly was a local celebrity.
Shortly after, he had his first radio spin with the song Spitfire credited to his old record label Capital Prophets, later known as CP. This growth continued with Belly’s success in the mixtape world with Death Before Dishonor volumes 1 and 2. Belly was a neighbourhood rapper, and through jealousy, envy, or appreciation you either loved or hated him. But regardless of how the city felt, he was on a path to musical genius regardless of the opinion of his peers.
After connecting with the Weeknd, XO used him strictly as a hook writer, but Belly’s substance surpasses hooks; he really is a lyrical genius (not to say that his hooks are not some of the best in the game). That’s exactly what he showed us on his latest offering, Immigrant. He’s merging the two sounds that we know him for. He’s merging the old and the new. He’s combining metaphoric lines of poetry with catchy hooks which refuse to leave your head.
As with most musical projects, there’s always room for improvement. Some of the songs just didn’t fit, further supporting the idea of albums sitting at the comfortable six to seven song range. His beat selection could have been better. To be fair, there was very little in regards to the production, which really impressed me.
Even in terms of subject matter, it’s nice to see Belly get back to his revolutionary self. He’s talking about his journey of immigration. This isn’t a metaphor–it’s his real life experience as an immigrant, similar to his older music which really gave this disenfranchised community some pride in knowing they were being represented in hip-hop. This isn’t to say that this album refrains from talking about the classic hip-hop stories of trappin’, money, drugs, and liquor. Instead, this album outlines the realistic life story of an immigrant with all the vices included. It’s valuable as a diary of an immigrant that will fall into and be tempted by these immoralities which come with the landscape of being undervalued and underprivileged in society. He’s speaking our truth, the one that isn’t necessarily pretty, but nevertheless, it’s real.
“The flow is sassafras I had to razzamatazz the risk Immigrant, I’m what happens if Aladdin had some bricks Jasmine had a pimp Ride a magic carpet with the tints Diamonds in the rough Over pressure that I underwent”
Track by track:
Another note – This song lays out a great background to the album. It sets the stage for what to expect here.
Xion – Hands down the best song on the album in terms of production and lyrical quality.
Who Hurt You – The Weeknd sampled production here really adds to the ambience of the track. Unfortunately the artistic attempt at no chorus makes the track feel fairly empty, I would’ve liked to see a classic Belly hook here.
Immigrant – This beat sounds like the last track the night before the revolution. I imagine all of the old Capital Prophets crew rocking back and forth to Belly spitting this. And then post-prison Meek Mill with his classic flow, entering the realm of political hip-hop. M.I.A was clearly on this track for subject matter association, rather than creative contribution.
Numbers – Meh.
All for Me – The hook-master is back on this one. Storytelling and melodic hooks.
Dust – This song takes the album in an unexpected turn, a more upbeat and fun French Montana makes an appearance here. Also notable line, “You softer than Ben Stiller in a chinchilla”
What You Want – I’m not sure what this is or why it’s on this album. It frankly doesn’t fit, and sounds like it should be written for a pop artist.
What Does It Mean – This is a song for contemplation. You need to sit back reflect and allow Belly to speak to you.
Maintain – This is very clearly a filler song and nothing more.
Street Cathedral – This song leaves the album empty. It left me wanting more, needing some sort of closure.