You could be forgiven for not knowing of the Palestinian Canadian hip-hop artist Belly, whose 10th mixtape, Inzombia, was released last Friday. Despite being active for the past fifteen years, Belly’s only studio album came out back in 2007, spawning one serious single (the Ginuwine-featuring “Pressure,” which peaked at #10 on Canada’s Hot 100 chart) over its 110-minute running time. After releasing some more low-profile projects, Belly had a big break in 2015, signing to Roc Nation and being credited as a writer on six songs from The Weekend’s Beauty Behind the Madness, including “The Hills” and “Often.” His next two mixtapes, Up For Days and Another Day in Paradise, saw guest spots from big artists like Travi$ Scott, Waka Flocka Flame, Juicy J and French Montana.
Inzombia immediately feels current. The production is modern and moody, a la Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight, combining traditional beat patterns with electronic sounds that create a moody, textured atmosphere. Danny Boy Styles and DaHeala establish this mood on opening track “Die Alone,” which channels “Blood on the Money” as much as “Skyfall” to produce a dreary, ominous effect. There are also echoes of Rae Sremmurd and Bryson Tiller on this mixtape, forging a stylistic motif that is well-rounded and oh so very contemporary.
The songs on Inzombia flow nicely from start to finish. “Consuela” has potential to become the project’s most popular song, with its catchy rhyme scheme and potent Young Thug feature making it an enjoyable listen. “Outkast,” a collaboration with Ty$, pays fitting homage to the ubiquitous ATLiens, and is the closest thing to a love song on the mixtape. “Frozen Water,” which features Future, has the makings of a trap banger, but unfortunately the hook comes across as way too soft, ultimately destroying the track’s momentum.
I’m preferential to “Trap Phone,” a post-“Hotline Bling” composition that covers cell phone related drama like a soap opera version of The Wire. Jadakiss delivers a short verse, playing up his lavish lifestyle, one of the briefer (but still memorable) guest spots. “Seven Day Love,” featuring Ashanti, is another one I like, a more focused trap-soul piece that fits nicely into place near the end of mixtape. For his pop accessibility, it makes sense that Belly incorporates a lot of relationship drama in his music; that’s what the pop fans crave.
Inzombia serves to redefine Belly in a modern context, making him adopt the persona of someone a decade younger, while also exposing him to new audiences in the form of impressionable young listeners weaned on today’s radio rap. His stage name is, unequivocally, unpleasant and repugnant; this review would be incomplete without me mentioning how silly and stupid it sounds. And yet, his new mixtape is a rewarding listen, a crystallization of the sounds of 2016. Download it here.