Long before Belly became a Roc Nation signee and award-winning songwriter — credited with co-writing on Beyoncé's lauded Lemonade — he was a young Muslim immigrant navigating life on foreign turf. The Palestinian-born rapper, born Ahmad Balshe, was just a boy when his family emigrated from the West Bank. Yet the poverty they'd hoped to escape greeted them upon their arrival in Ottawa, Canada. By age 13, he'd taken to the streets and slung drugs for survival.
His personal experience is part of the reason why the negative rhetoric around Muslim immigrants is more than politics to him; it's personal. Rather than appear on the same stage with Donald Trump during last year's presidential campaign, he and frequent collaborator The Weeknd canceled their scheduled appearance on The Jimmy Kimmel Show.
"I just didn't want to feel like I was a part of a celebration for somebody who has beliefs that majority of us don't agree with," he told The Associated Press at the time.
Last week, Belly dropped his latest mixtape, Mumble Rap, which, despite the ironic title, is a deft display of his lyricism. The intro song, in particular, hints at his own autobiography. Premiering today on NPR Music, the video for "Immigration To The Trap" was shot in France's immigrant-heavy Seine Saint-Denis district to convey that reality.
As commune kids ride on the hood of a Rolls Royce, the juxtaposition of poverty and luxury puts a stark spin on the meaning of trap rap.
"I wanted to share a glimpse into the life that many of us live as immigrants coming from a foreign place, trying to adapt to our environment," as Belly tells NPR, "all the while dealing with the culture shock that comes along with it."