by Dan MacRae
Sitting on a tour bus with a rap artist in heavy video rotation on MuchVibe is pretty similar to what you imagine. There's weed, chains, and a laid-back attitude that makes Stephen Wright look high strung. The entourage is in force, and cell phones are kept on at all times. A fun place for a reporter to hang out, but old hat for the rapper living in the environment. "Canada's a big beautiful place, man," sighed Canadian hip-hop star Belly, puffing on a blunt and melting into his couch. The Ottawa native isn't bashful about his success and how that could spin off for other artists. "We have our distribution in Canada locked down," said Belly of the work he's doing as an artist and as VP of Capital Prophet Records. "As far as Canadian rap goes, I hope I'm open- ing the door for everybody right now." As is the hustle of the day, Belly is a decorated mixtape warrior. He's appeared on albums composed by such career-making mixtape DJs as DJ Big Mike and legendary DJ Kay Slay. "Mixtapes are necessary in rap," said Belly. "If you don't put out mix- tapes when you're a rap artist, you're not going to sell to your full potential. You've got to connect with the streets as a rap artist and [mixtapes are] the only way you're going to do that." Recent troubles with the RIAA (the grandma-suing, file-swapping- hating American music industry reg- ulatory board), have made aiming for that connection even tougher. Mixtape crackdowns have resulted in high profile arrests of some of the genre's brightest lights, such as the oft-celebrated DJ Drama. "My DJ Ox works under DJ Drama and the Aphiliates," said Belly with a tone of detached annoyance. "I think it's a shame. They treat it like it's a drug case or a murder case. He didn't do nothin.' It's the labels that come to guys like Drama to get street exposure for their artists. Labels need to step up and say, ‘we gave Drama the music he used on the mixtapes.'" Fortunately for Belly, his relation- ship with the Canadian music indus- try has been much more positive. His Top 20 single "Pressure" has been playing around the clock on Canadian video stations, and as a songwriter he's managed to crank out three Top 10 singles for neatly-beard- ed R&B star Massari. This kind of suc- cess for a Canadian hip-hop figure is rare, and for an Arab-Canadian hip- hop figure it is unprecedented. "I'm proud to be Arab," said Belly, his mouth breaking out into a pleased grin. "There's a lot of Arabian talent across the country and across all of North America that is undiscov- ered and they don't have the resources to get out there. I'm gonna be the one to open that door." An opening slot with Californian rap legends Ice Cube and Snoop Dogg earlier in the year, and a guest-heavy debut album slated to come out in this summer, doesn't hurt gaining visibili- ty either. "You just treat it like class," said Belly about stars like Ginuwine, Fabolous and Southern rap kingpin Scarface making appearances on the album. The guestlist doesn't end on the album. Hulkamaniacs take note, Hulk Hogan makes a cameo in Belly's last video. "He's a G," recalled Belly of his encounter with the wrestling icon. "He's laid back. He had a lot of advice for me. He really hyped me. He was on the radio talking about me. Me and his daughter [Brooke] did a great song together." Belly. Rap star, proud Arab- Canadian, friend of Hulk Hogan.