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Studio Sessions | Belly on how The Weeknd’s brotherhood and JAY-Z’s guidance helps him make music

Whether it’s Beyonce’s ‘Lemonade,’ Nipsey Hussle’s ‘Victory Lap,’ or almost any album by The Weeknd, Belly’s pen game is a memorable component of each.

David Black
Belly

For “Studios Sessions,” we delve into the stories behind the long hours in the studio and all that goes into making an album by talking with artists, producers, engineers, photographers, and more who are intimately connected to the recording process with some of the biggest artists in the world. These are the stories that rarely leave the booth.

Whether it’s Beyonce’s Lemonade, Nipsey Hussle’s Victory Lap, or almost any album by The Weeknd, Belly’s pen game is a memorable component of each. The XO Records artist attributes his bond with the latter to making classics such as “Blinding Lights.”

“We get in there and it’s easy to figure out what we want to do. And it’s fun. It’s like hanging out with my brother,” Belly told REVOLT.

In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” the songwriter sniper discusses how important JAY-Z’s opinion is to his album-making process, having family around when he records, and what he had to overcome to make See You Next Wednesday. Read the chat below!

When did you know you were making your new album See You Next Wednesday?

It’s weird. There’s this feeling you get and I was getting that feeling when I was creating new music. I was feeling like myself again when it came to making music. Once that came around and I was happy with what I was making, I knew the album had started.

What were the earliest songs you recorded for the album?

I think songs like “Zero Love,” “Snakes & Ladders,” and “Two Tone” were some of the earliest ones I made. I don’t even know around when I made those. It’s all a blur. But, it feels like at least a year and some change ago.

So, you’d say you’ve been working on this album since the middle of summer 2020?

Yeah, exactly. Some of them were mid-pandemic and some were in the beginning.

Due to the pandemic, Benny the Butcher was one of the few features you were able to work with. How did you two blend your creative styles?

It was dope. I’m in admiration of what he’s able to do and his skillset. I think he’s one of the best rappers in the game. It was mutual respect for each other’s craft, getting in the studio, and just vining at the house. We were telling stories, talking shit and that turned into a record. It took no time to make “Money On The Table.” It took Benny about 15 minutes to write his verse. I had been working on it already earlier that day. Before he came in, it was already something I was working on.

The album had a lot of dark undertones. What were those sessions like working on the album by yourself and digging into those dark ideas?

A lot of writing I did by myself. But, when it came down to the sessions and recording, I always had family around me. I always had The ANMLS or DannyBoyStyles around me. Those are guys I consider family like my brothers. Having your family around made the process of bearing your soul a bit easier. It’s not like I had strange people or people I didn’t know in the studio.

Did any of these songs stem from conversations you had with your family?

Nah, these were more conversations I had with myself. A lot of this album is about conversations I had with myself. I was just trying to find myself again. It was a process to get back to making the music the way I wanted to make it. That process of being reflective of everything going on with myself and putting it on records, and probably was the hardest part of the process.

You had collaborations with artists like Snoop Dogg years before you signed to The Weeknd’s XO label. Who would you say is the first major artist you worked with?

I’d say Scarface. He and I worked about 15 or 16 years ago. He was definitely one of the early ones. With ‘Face, we had a mutual relationship with someone I knew in Houston who linked that up. I just pulled up to the studio, and ‘Face didn’t even want any type of publishing or anything. He was just like, “Let me hear this shit.” I played it for him, he loved the tracks, and he was like, “Aight, let me jump on this.” When guys like Snoop came to the city to either perform or do club gigs, we always made sure we had a presence and people could see us. People were always asking questions like, “Who the fuck is that over there (laughs)?” We always made sure we had our section lit. That’s how we really got attention. When people came to the city, we showed them presence and that we were really out there.

Over the years, what have you got better at as a recording artist?

I think I had two relearn a bunch of stuff recently. But, writing is always going to be second nature to me. That was my first love when it came to making music. That is definitely my favorite part.

Another artist you connected with early in your career is Drake for the “Make It Go” song. How’d that come about?

Just us being from the same place, running around and seeing each other at different places. We were both on the come-up at that time, so it only made sense. We linked for that session personally through Myspace or some shit (laughs). We got in the studio and that was a historic day.

You’ve written for everyone from The Weeknd and Ariana Grande to Beyonce. What’s a typical writing session like when you’re working on someone else’s music?

I don’t think there’s a typical writing session. It’s more of the songwriter knowing how to adapt to every situation. They have to know how to adapt to the approach and the style of who they’re working with. It’s just about getting in where you fit in when it comes to putting the words together because you don’t want to cut off someone else’s creative energy. You want to adapt to their scene and their situation. You want to fit in like a piece of the puzzle.

One of my favorite songs you worked on was Beyonce’s “6 Inch.” How did you tap into the mind of a woman for that?

Honestly, I freestyled most of that song in Miami. I was just in the studio, DannyBoyStyles played the beat, and I freestyled most of that hook. A lot of times, it’s not about trying to embody anything. It’s about trying to capture the moment. I always try to capture how the beat made me feel and what did it make me want to say.

I remember seeing a photo of you in the studio with JAY-Z and it seemed like he was vibing to your music, and giving his thoughts on it. What is it like being in that sort of space with him?

I was blessed with having him pull up and give me his input. I think the pandemic made things weird so I sent him this album instead, but he still gave me his input. I don’t like to release an album before I play it for him and get his take on it. I think that’s the stamp before the album comes. The Hov stamp.

Jay-Z and Belly
XO Records

One of your best talents is relatable transparency and one of my favorite examples of that is your song “The Come Down Is Real Too.” What went through your mind making that record?

That was a different period of my life, man. I’ve grown a lot since then. I’m engaged now. Shit, sometimes you just have to get it out and talk your shit. I felt like I could talk my shit and get closure on a lot of shit.

What is your creative relationship like with The Weeknd?

It’s easy. Working with people you have real and long relationships with takes out a lot of the bullshit. It takes out a lot of the egotistical things that may happen in a session or whatever it is when you first get in the studio with an artist. Best way to describe it is easy. We get in there and it’s easy to figure out what we want to do. And it’s fun. It’s like hanging out with my brother.

How did you two work on “Blinding Lights”?

That was all him. I was just blessed to be called in to lend whatever I could to the song. All credit goes out to him. It was his vision.

What do you need in the studio to make your best music?

I just need to have my energy right. I need an easy kind of day. I make my best music on those days. Even when I have to talk about some dark shit, if I’m less panicked and can focus on exactly what I want to say, it’s the best for me to make music.

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