Belly Inspires Students at Berklee's 15th Business of Hip-Hop Music Symposium

The Roc Nation/XO recording artist and his team discussed his rise to success and shared business advice for working in the music industry.

October 13, 2021

Berklee's Music Business/Management Department presented its 15th annual Business of Hip-Hop Music Symposium on Thursday, October 7, with special guest Roc Nation/XO recording artist Belly.

The Palestinian-born and Canadian-raised Belly is an award-winning singer, songwriter, rapper, and producer who has accumulated more than seven billion streams across his catalogue. After writing "Love Me Harder" for Ariana Grande and the Weeknd in 2014, he cowrote six tracks on the Weeknd’s four-times platinum album Beauty Behind the Madness, including "Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey),” which received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song. Belly's latest album, See You Next Wednesday, was released to critical acclaim, accumulating over 100 million streams and featuring artists such as Nas, the Weeknd, Young Thug, Lil Uzi Vert, Moneybagg Yo, and more.

Hosted by Tonya Butler, chair of the Music Business/Management Department, the symposium provided an opportunity for students to hear firsthand about Belly’s music industry experiences, from being an independent artist and landing a deal with a major label to the importance of owning your intellectual property and maintaining your creative freedom.

“Belly’s journey resonated with all of us on a very personal level,” said Butler. “When I asked Belly about his brand and how he wanted to be seen, and he replied that he’d rather the world hear him, rather than see him, I almost dropped my mic. I was already impressed by his artistry and business savvy, but I had no idea about the depths of his wisdom and his ability to inspire our students.”

Joining Belly on the panel was his longtime marketing and strategy consultant, Lola Plaku, and one of his frequent collaborators, Canadian songwriter and producer DaHeala. During the event, Belly and DaHeala reminisced about how they got their start making and selling mixtapes, and Plaku talked about joining the team nearly 15 years ago when she was a journalist in Canada. She had interviewed Belly and later ended up writing biographies for him and his record label. They liked what she wrote, and the rest is history.

DaHeala rose to prominence after his extensive work alongside the Weeknd and other artists including Halsey, Future, Lil Uzi Vert, Gesaffelstein, French Montana, and Nav. He coproduced the majority of the Weeknd’s debut album, Kiss Land, and was an executive producer on Beauty Behind the Madness, which debuted at no. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and earned a Grammy Award for Best Urban Contemporary Album.

Plaku is now the founder and CEO of the Toronto- and New York–based agency Lola Media Group (LMG), which specializes in artist marketing and brand development. Since its launch in 2017, LMG has worked closely with SALXCO and XO Records, consulting on projects including French Montana’s Jungle Rules; Nav’s Bad Habits and Good Intentions—both of which debuted at no. 1 on the Billboard 200—and Belly’s Mumble Rap, Immigrant, and See You Next Wednesday

“Belly, DaHeala and Lola were three of the most generous and gracious guests we’ve ever had,"  said Butler. "They are all honorary members of the Berklee family, and I look forward to their continued success.”

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