It’s not uncommon for Bryce Gotta’s lyrics to be incomprehensible on first listen. Professionally known as Belis, she’s even jokingly apologized on Twitter: “Sorry if you can’t understand me, I’m speaking in Belish.” Often described as a “baby voice” by fans, her saccharine, high-pitched vocals are heard on standout singles “Hysterical Glamour” and “LEMONADE,” which have both racked up over 100,000 listens in just a few months on SoundCloud. Belis’ otherworldly sound may be a barrier to entry for some listeners, but it’s also one of the many reasons that the Charlotte, North Carolina native is taking the underground rap scene by storm.
There is also a reason why Belis’ rapping is so high-pitched and often difficult to decipher. “Can you see me right now?” she asks on a FaceTime call. As I nod my head yes, she hovers a finger just inches in front of her nose, aligning it with the center of her face. As she motions towards her left she explains, “This entire side of my face is paralyzed.”
Just five months ago, the 19-year-old was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a chronic, unpredictable disease of the central nervous system where the immune system attacks and damages healthy nerve tissue. Belis explains that MS affected more than just her muscles, “For months I was slurring everything, and it was just awful. Not being able to talk is probably the most terrifying thing ever.”
Her recent diagnosis hasn’t slowed her down in the slightest—in fact, it seems to have motivated her even more. Last month, Belis was in Los Angeles with Lil Aaron, where the two worked on various songs together. Just the other week she was in NYC in the studio with $NOT and producer Marvy Ayy. If anything, the way her partial paralysis has uniquely affected her speech has become a source of strength. “I don’t want this to be a sob story,” she proclaims. “I want people to be inspired from it.”
What is the Charlotte music scene like?
It’s actually very fun. It’s the only place I’ve ever done shows, I did like 20 of them here this last summer. So many people come out because there’s literally nothing else to do. So any time there is show, it’s like everybody in the world pops out there.
Were you always musical?
Yeah, I never really took it seriously though. I was just doing it for fun, like my friends that were in my neighborhood, we would always make music together. It all sounded like shit until last year. [Laughs]
Can you play instruments?
Yeah, I can play the piano and guitar. I started learning when I was like 10. My family is super musical, like mom, my father, and my mom’s parents are involved in music somehow. My mom was in a band and my grandma is still in a band—which is crazy. My grandparents always had instruments around their house, and I would fuck with them when I was younger. I taught myself for the most part, but my grandpa definitely taught me a lot, too.
Who are some of your influences? Who did you grow up listening to?
It was a huge mixture of people. My mom’s music choices definitely played a big part in what I listened to when I was younger. I’ll listen to everything except country music—fuck country music. [Laughs] But whenever somebody asks me about my influences, I don’t have a good answer. I don’t really take a lot of influence from other people’s music, I take it from my environment.
What about some artists you always find yourself listening to?
Mac Miller, Tame Impala, Black Sabbath, old Travis Scott. New Travis Scott is okay but I prefer old Travis Scott. [Laughs] I listen to a lot of Carti… Uh, I should just have you go through my Spotify. [Laughs]
What made you want to start taking music more seriously?
I was in such a weird point in my life that it was kind of the only thing I had to do. I just made music so often that I kind of took it seriously without making the choice to, if that makes sense.
What was the moment you realized that music was a potential career for you?
Last October, so like recently. Last summer I was playing show after show, and I wasn’t really dropping music consistently. I finally got an engineer in Charlotte. Like before, I hadn’t been mixing my music at all, so I’m surprised that it even got anywhere ‘cause it sounded like shit. I got my engineer and it was so crazy, it was like a whole new world to be an actual studio, because I was recording in my house before. It blew my mind, and I imagined it at a bigger scale, like I can do anything.
So you delete a lot of your music, right?
Yeah I do. I actually deleted a song yesterday. [Laughs]
Yeah. [Laughs] I only have four now. Damn. Really cutting them down.
Why do you delete them so much?
All the songs that I’ve deleted are the ones that weren’t mixed, so they just sound bad to me compared to the stuff that I’ve made in the last month. Like, oh my God, I can’t have people go on my page and see this. This is awful, I just didn’t like it at all, and if I don’t like something I’m not gonna keep it up.
I’ve heard you’re also just as picky with your beat selection?
Yeah, my voice is unique, so there’s a lot of stuff I can’t hear myself on. There’s people that send me things and I’m just like how can you picture me on that? There’s no way. Plus, I don’t really drop music often, so when I do find it a beat that I like it has to be amazing.
Speaking of your voice, you’ve mentioned how your unique sound is partially a result of multiple sclerosis. How has MS affected not only your music, but your life?
This whole left side of my face, I can’t move it. It’s been a year since it first happened and it still not fully better. Paralysis is not to be taken lightly in any way. I had to relearn everything I thought I knew about the mechanics of my fucking body. That was the first episode of my MS, and at the time it happened I didn’t know I had multiple sclerosis so I was just scared out of my mind. I thought I was never going to make music again. I couldn’t talk right.
I would practice talking all over again and trying to get my f*cking face to move. I couldn’t move half of my mouth, so I would have to speak in a higher tone just to be heard. Now you can hear that in my music.
My whole left side of my face shifted down almost. It was insane. It caused me a lot of trouble with my personal life because I used to go out to a lot of parties and stuff. The first time I went on my house after my episode had happened, I went to a party and this girl came up to me and she was like, "What the fuck happened to your face, are you on crack?" That crushed me. It was something I couldn’t control, and at the time didn’t know what the fuck it was. After that, I didn’t go out of the house for like a five-month period.
I wasn’t going out of the house because I was scared of my physical appearance getting ridiculed. I would practice talking all over again and trying to get my fucking face to move. I couldn’t move half of my mouth, so I would have to speak in a higher tone just to be heard. Now you can hear that in my music.
What was your reaction to getting diagnosed?
I wanted to give up. I wanted to give up everything. I was so mad, I didn’t think I deserved that at all. Me and my family were devastated. There’s a lot of unexpected medical bills we needed to pay. It took a lot out of me and my mom, it was emotional for sure. I was in the hospital for like two weeks for tests every fucking day just to figure out if I had MS. And then I had to get steroid infusions for three days straight because my leg actually went into paralysis. That’s how we found out that I had MS, because my leg felt like my face and that’s when I realized it wasn’t a coincidence.
But I’m actually thankful that it wasn’t something worse than MS, because there’s a lot of worse things that could have been. Also, people usually don’t find out until and they’re in their 30s, but I’m glad I found out early because now I can stop further episodes from happening and I’m taking medication for it.
Being 19 and finding out that you have MS and that you have to pay for health insurance for the rest your fucking life just to take medicine that you don’t want to take—that’s a lot to deal with. That was such an awful time period. It fucked with my head a lot for sure.
Do you feel like you’re finally out of that headspace?
Absolutely. I realized that nothing positive is going to come out of the situation if I think like that, so I kind of had to get comfortable with the progress that I was making and turn it into something positive.
What’s your reaction to people saying your vocals sound foreign?
It’s kind of offensive to me given my situation, but I can see how someone else thinks I have an accent. But it’s just how I talk.
I don’t make pop trap, I don’t make K-pop, like what the hell? You don’t go up to Lil Uzi or D Savage and be like, you make pop trap. They would beat your ass. I would beat your ass.
Do you have any other pet peeves when it comes to people describing your music?
The whole pop trap thing. That’s literally the most ridiculous thing that I’ve ever heard. There’s so many rappers that do what I do. I don’t make pop trap, I don’t make K-pop, like what the hell? You don’t go up to Lil Uzi or D Savage and be like, you make pop trap. They would beat your ass. I would beat your ass.
I think a lot of people say that just because you’re a girl.
Mhm. Which is ridiculous because girls can be rappers. Like what the hell?
So what are some of the positives and negatives of being one of the few female underground rappers?
Well, one of the positives are there’s only a few. So it’s so cool to see other girls inspired by the few of us. I get messages saying stuff like, “You inspired me to rap or produce.” That’s so cool to hear. I always reply back to those girls. I kind of wish I had someone to look up to you like that when I was starting out, so to be someone like that for someone else is really cool.
There are also a lot of negatives. You don’t get respect as easily. Everyone thinks you’re a joke until you put them in their place. I feel like I have to prove myself more than a lot of these other people do, which is fucking shit because I can out-rap half of these stupid ass people. When you walk into someone else’s studio session, they’re going to think you’re a groupie. They’re not going to automatically assume you’re there because you make music, they’re going to assume that you’re there because you’re fucking someone who makes music, and that’s so disrespectful. And that happens to a lot of people.
It’s interesting that a lot of the comments you get aren’t “Belis is my favorite rapper,” but “Belis is my favorite female rapper.”
Right? I hate that. It’s just like, why is that a whole other subsection of rappers? Why can’t our music stand on its own?
So you recently flew out to Los Angeles, where you worked with Lil Aaron. What was that experience like?
Aaron is awesome, I became friends with him in like a day. It was so fun to be in the studio with him. He’s an insane song writer. Personally, I don’t like people writing songs for me. I’ve written every one of my songs, but anytime I would get stuck on something Aaron would be like you should talk about this or you can talk about that or you can say something about this. And the studios were super nice. I was just in the studio for two weeks straight, and people don’t think that’s fun, but if you really love doing it, it’s gonna be fun for you.
When you walk into someone else’s studio session, they’re going to think you’re a groupie. They’re not going to assume you’re there because you make music, they’re going to assume that you’re there because you’re f*cking someone who makes music, and that’s so disrespectful.
What can you tell me about your collective Neilaworld?
Oh those are my brothers. John [Glasear] asked me if I wanted to join, and I was like yeah of course are they serious? I had talked to Callari and mixed matches already before, I had beats from them already. They all kind of fucked with me before I was even in the group, so it made the final decision of who to add really easy.
We try to go on trips together a lot. The second week I was in LA, a lot of them were out there and I got a studio booked for us. We had three rooms, and they were all cooking up for me, it was insane. I would record in one room and then I would do a loop around the studio and walk into another room and be like alright what did you make for me. We did that every night from like 8 p.m. to 3 a.m., it was so fun. They’re so stupid and they’re so bad at making plans, I love them.
Lastly, what can we expect from you in the future?
I don’t really want to answer that, only because I have no idea what’s about to happen.