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The Palestinian-born, Canadian-raised rapper’s latest effort follows the release of 2018’s ‘Immigrant’, which saw him collaborate with the likes of Meek Mill, Yo Gotti and French Montana. It also comes after a period of self-discovery following the loss of his creative mojo, he told NME.
“This album was me really trying to find my footing again and trying to be comfortable making music,” said Belly (real name Ahmad Balshe), speaking from his home in LA. “I was drifting away from music and had been for a long time. I needed to unlearn a few things and try making music again.
“At a point I just had no emotional currency left. I had to get myself together to be able to even get stuff out. It was a tough mission, but with this album the more and more I created, the more I was able to loosen up.”
Belly added that it was important to him that he took the time to see that ‘See You Next Wednesday’ held together as a full-bodied piece of work.
“I wanted to make it cohesive; I didn’t want it to sound like a collection of songs,” he said. “I took my time, and that was probably the first time I’ve ever done that in my life. Instead of just being like, ‘Oh, we’ve got enough. Let’s roll,’ this time I was meticulous about everything.”
The album’s title was inspired by an unmade film by director John Landis – responsible for movies such as Coming To America, The Blues Brothers, Trading Places, and for directing the music videos ‘Thriller’ and ‘Black Or White’ for Michael Jackson.
The movie See You Next Wednesday began as a recurring gag for Landis, taking the line from the 1968 classic 2001: A Space Odyssey, where it’s the last line spoken by Frank Poole’s father during his video letter from his parents. The line is said to have been the title of a script that Landis wrote as a teenager, which he later went on to pay homage to via Easter eggs in some of his films.
“I always pay homage in my music and in my projects,” Belly said, explaining his reason for using the mythical film as the title of his album. “When I dug deeper, I thought the meaning behind it was kinda cool. It was the first script he wrote but he never made a movie about it. I felt like this project was my See You Next Wednesday.
“It was like: Am I going to be able to put this out? Am I even in a place mentally or emotionally to be able to put out music and take feedback? The internet trolls – am I ready for all of this? It was almost like the album that had the potential to never be made or never be released.”
He continued: “We were watching John Landis movies in the background while we were working. I wrote ‘See You Next Wednesday’ on a whiteboard as a working title, just as something to keep everything I was doing cohesive. Once I kept digging deeper into everything, it felt kinda tragic but cool at the same time: this is the one he never got to make. Once I started looking at it like that, the working title changed to what it is now.”
Made up of 15 tracks, ‘See You Next Wednesday’ was previewed by the singles ‘Money On The Table’ featuring Benny The Butcher and ‘IYKYK’. The most recent release, ‘Better Believe’, hears Belly team up with Young Thug and longtime friend and collaborator The Weeknd (real name Abel Tesfaye).
“Abel, that’s my family, my brother,” Belly told NME. “Thug as well. I consider him family too. The chemistry and the energy is what I really think makes the song. There was no real plan, just me and Abel got together one evening, conceptualised a song and made it that night.”
Boasting a shimmering backing track produced by Zaytoven, The ANMLS and DannyBoyStyles, the song features The Weeknd delivering a cocksure hook while throwing in a few of his trademark explicit lines. “Abel’s a different guy, man,” Belly said. “When he gets in his bag you know you’re about to watch something incredible unfold.”
Other features on ‘See You Next Wednesday’ include Lil Uzi Vert, Moneybagg Yo and Big Sean. One collaborator in particular that left Belly “speechless” was Nas, who appears alongside The Weeknd on ‘Die For It’.
“When he sent that verse back, I was in awe. I think I was speechless,” Belly explained. “Just being able to reach out to somebody like Nas is a blessing, but then to have him on a song with Abel on the hook was a real bucket-list moment for me.”
He continued: “I really love the song. It just has a different feeling to it. It’s not something you would commonly hear Nas get on. In fact, it’s not even something you’d commonly hear me on. We were able to step into a different world and create something dope and it has the legendary Nas fucking bucket-list feature.”
Besides being a rapper, Belly is also an accomplished songwriter, having co-written tracks by Beyoncé, Ariana Grande and The Weeknd. In May, Warner Chappell Music extended its worldwide publishing agreement with the rapper, following the mammoth success of The Weeknd’s ‘Blinding Lights’ – which Belly co-wrote.
“I was just blessed to be a part of that record,” Belly said of the track. “It’s dope that he even had the confidence to bring me in and involve me in something like that. It was really his vision and his baby, I just tried to compliment what he had already done.”
The song – along with its accompanying album, ‘After Hours’ – was snubbed by this year’s Grammys, not receiving a single nomination. Upon receiving the news, The Weeknd called out the Recording Academy and said he would be boycotting the Awards moving forward. He was subsequently defended by Elton John, who said The Weeknd had made the “song of the year”, and Drake – who said that his omission showed “the disconnect between impactful music and these awards”.
Belly’s opinion on the snub is that as long as the fans love the song, then that’s all that matters. “I don’t really have much to say about award shows,” he said of the controversy. “The world knows what’s up. The world knows the type of greatness we have in artists like The Weeknd. I think that’s the most important thing and all that really matters. The people come first, no matter what.”
Asked whether he and The Weeknd will ever do a joint project together, considering all the music they’ve made together so far, Belly replied: “I definitely hope so one day, at least an XO [Records] compilation or something. That’s something we’ll have to wait to see if it goes down in the future.
“But for me, just being able to be a part of this whole movement and being able to watch everything he’s been able to accomplish from up close has been incredible and inspirational.”
Belly’s ‘See You Next Wednesday’ is out now via Roc Nation/XO Records.