The HYPE of ALMIGHTY

Interview by Alan Ng & Jenkin Au
Words by Jenkin Au
Photography by Jenkin Au

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Starting the collaboration issue is The HYPE of ALMIGHTY, a conversation between justalilhype! and Paul Belen. The justalilhype! Crew dug deep into the valleys and trenches of the mind of Paul to discover his intricate past. Faced with controversies and hardships, Paul dealt with problems ever since a child, whether it was coming from other people or coming out of nature itself. Paul was always casted as an outsider because he kept an open mind and discriminated no one for what they loved and what they did. Looking at discrimination in the face, he paid no mind to the thoughts of others. Although he didn’t realize it, he already employed a higher lifestyle and state of mind, persevering through all his hardships to get to where he is now. In retrospect, Paul discovered that his frame of mind was really his own and it is appropriately named “Almighty”. This name was derived from his struggle through the greatest challenge of his life, cancer, an experience that combined forces with other factors at the same time to rip open a hole in his life. Regardless, his determination and focus paid off and brought him to his status and place where he is now. Through this conversation, you will see into the black and white vision of Paul Belen, and truly understand The HYPE of ALMIGHTY.

Tell us a little more about your childhood.

Wow. I was misdiagnosed as a child with A.D.D. – I was a troubled kid, a bratty kid. I was born and raised in Canada but I was the only born and raised kid in Canada that went to E.S.L. Just because they thought that I didn’t know how to speak English. I was at a private elementary school and I just had problems learning. I did more art than anything and I would get easily distracted. At the time, the school didn’t have problems to help kids like me so they decided to send me for a full day testing at Children’s Hospital. They thought that I had A.D.D. – but I didn’t – and they thought that I was dyslexic – I was not. They brought me back to school but it got to the point where they were telling my parents, “He’s not learning. He’s not learning the same level as the other kids…so we have to move him to a school that can help him.” My parents were like, “What the hell?”

Anyways, back then, they were allowed to hit you. In grade two, I hit this kid with a branch. I hit him in the face that left a mark under his eye. I got sent to the principal’s office and I was all like, “Whatever, what are you going to do?” He actually pulled out this thick belt and it was thicker than the iPhone for sure. He was just trying to scare me, I thought, and he slams it on his desk, making this loud sound. That should shake a kid, right? No, it didn’t shake me – I just stood there. He said, “Put your hands out, both on top of the other. This is going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you. He hits me. What he didn’t know was that Filipino families hit you anyways, but it was just wild – you would get hit in elementary school. I got sent there often.

I was in grade two at this point and they knew that I had problems learning. I think that I was just being lazy, I guess. I wanted to play and I liked art more than anything. So, I was moved to a near by public school. It was so different going from private school to public school – it was the craziest thing. I learned how to be tough there. There were fights already! In grade two, there were fights in grade two, for the most random things!

I was taking special classes and was actually held back a year in grade three. How can you possibly fail grade three? I was such a slow learner. I went to that public school until I was in grade six. After that, we moved to Surrey. It was just a struggle for my parents, having their son go through all that. I guess I had a complex mind already at that point – I didn’t want to do the things people wanted me to do.

What were some of the activities or artworks that you were interested in as a kid?

I drew a lot. I loved drawing and I used to copy whatever comic books I had; all I collected as a kid were comic books. I lived on East 45th and Fraser and my friends and I back in elementary school used to go all the way to Main, near Science World. There was this comic book store and we used to bike there and buy comic books with what ever we had saved.

I’m such a nerd, collecting whatever was related to comic books.

Are you an only child?

No. I have a younger brother that is five years apart and he’s the total opposite.

In what way?

He’s totally text-book, whereas I am artistic…slash…street smart. He’s more sheltered, you know? He’s finished [school] and he works in hospital records. We’re totally different. He loves music but he’s not into doing music.

Going back to how you switched between private school and public school, what would you say is the biggest difference between the two?

Private school kids are just sheltered. It’s pretty cliquey.

Alright. We’re at high school now. What was that like for you? Were there any events that changed you?

Everything that I do now is from my experience in high school with other kids in school or with the teachers. I was in grade 9 band at that time, I was playing the alto saxophone –  I sucked ass but at least I can play La Bamba. I remember my band teacher was saying that hip-hop was just a fad and that it wasn’t going to last. There was this one time where we were having lunch and he walked in on us listening to hip-hop. He was like, “What are you listening to?” We were listening to Public Enemy and he was like, “That’s not going to last. That rap stuff is not going to last.” Just listening to that, coming from someone you look up to, puts a dent in you.

“Are you serious?” I asked him. “Yeah,” he said. “All that Janet, Michael Jackson stuff, they can’t sing. It’s not going to last.” Who are you to say that to a kid? If anything, it just made me want to do my shit even harder.

Other kids at school would also go, “Oh, you doing that hip-hop thing? You trying to be a rapper or something? You’ll never make it, just ‘cause.” Just ‘cause what? Just because it’s predominately rock, or that’s what your parents say? Fuck that. That’s not for me. That just fed my motivation even more.

All the negative stuff that I experienced in school, I just channeled that into whatever that I was doing.

It seems like you were against the grain, by nature. How did your parents respond?

They support it but they still don’t understand it (now). With my parents, there is this huge generation difference. First of all, they were brought up in the Philippines and all their parents showed them was that, “We don’t have much money. We can’t buy you fancy stuff or whatnot. All that we can give you is education.” That’s what my mom tried to relay to me too. “We don’t have much and we try to give you what we can, but the only thing we really can give you is education and help you to be successful,” and that’s all they’ve been. All the artsy stuff and creative stuff is not even part of their vocabulary. For them to see me as a DJ or try to hip-hop or rap or what, it’s not a promising career for them.

It took them a while. “You doing that thing again? You’re just making noise. How do people actually understand that or dance to it?… Really? People pay you that much money to do this? Really? Too bad it’s not nine to five or you would be making more than a nurse.”

Once I started winning titles and getting awards for certain things, that’s when they started realizing things. “You’re on the cover of what magazine? On TV?!” They laid off after that. “We’ll let him do his thing. He’s a good kid – he doesn’t drink, he doesn’t do drugs, he has his mind straight. Career wise, that’s questionable, but we’ll support him with what he wants to do.”

Grade 12 is one of the most important years for a kid. What was your vision for your future at this point?

I didn’t know what to expect, really. I didn’t know what to do and all the kids at school were talking about what courses they needed to take to do well in university or whatnot. I didn’t know that you could take other courses to get to that point after high school. I thought you had to do everything in high school and that gave so much pressure. In grade 11, you start picking all your electives at that point. I wanted to do marketing and business but I needed this and that, and you needed math 12. I took math 11A and I graduated with that. I took slacker courses.

That’s my biggest thing –  I didn’t know what to expect after high school. All I knew was that I had to graduate and then I’ll figure it out. In fact, I didn’t graduate on time. I didn’t get to walk across the podium. I had to take one extra course in summer school just because I wasn’t concentrating in school. I was so childish, so immature.

After that, I finally graduated and never got to walk across the podium. That was my parents’ big disappointment. They got to see my brother doing it so that’s fine. What can I do now? It sucked that I didn’t get to walk.

At least you got the diploma…ish?

Yeah, “ish”. You know how I got my diploma? The funniest thing. During summer time, there was no one there except the people working throughout summer. I went to the office and got my diploma through a window. I was like, “Wow.” I made it so difficult but I did it to myself.

Wow. But you did something afterwards – you went to B.C.I.T.?

Yeah, I went to B.C.I.T. To my mom, I was like, “Do I have to go to school?” She was like, “Yeah. I want you to do something related to your music thing.” I asked her if she was serious and she said, “Yeah. I want you to do whatever music guys do.”

I took radio broadcasting and sound engineering. I took all these courses and wasted all this money because I decided to skip school. It wasn’t what I had expected. It wasn’t part of becoming a radio personality kind of guy. At the time, I wanted to get to point B without having to travel through point A. That was my biggest problem.

I changed majors. “Let’s do web.”  I took web design and I thought it was garbage. Who designs web stuff and needs to have the knowledge of using DOS? I had to learn DOS in order to do web. Who needs this stuff? There’s Dreamweaver to do that. I guess I just didn’t want to learn from scratch and I just wanted to do it right away. I dropped out of that and started a day job.

What was that day job?

I worked so many different jobs. I worked at Aldo, a stockboy for Ingeldew’s, Below the Belt… Actually, that was when I first started a clothing line. It was Munkee Massv stuff. I was pretty cool with the owner and she was like, “I heard you design.” Once again, I was still only using the Print Artist software, messing around with text.

I made Munkee Massv tees with turntables and she actually released them – she actually sold them at all the locations in Lower Mainland. That was my first taste in getting things in the store, as a t-shirt designer.

That was in ’98. I quit Below the Belt and worked at a hotel which paid more and started doing radio , while working at Fido. I worked at Fido the same time I was working at the hotel. That was the best time because I made so much money then. I was buying random stuff. I became a rice rocket guy. I had a lowered Civic, rims, etc. and was into the whole import scene, pretending my car was fast. I totally went off…

Then moved to Toronto for a few years. My first job back from Toronto was at Foot Locker. I went back to ground zero, making minimum wage, instead of $15 an hour. Then, I met Hedspin at that time and he just got a position with Sony BMG. He was like, “Hey, I’m doing the street promo for BMG and wondering if you wanted to be on the team as an intern.” I agreed. That was my first actual experience in the big music industry.

Back then, promo was big time. We used to poster up at every event and function related to the artist. If it was Avril Lavigne, I would sticker bomb everything related to her. We posted up at every club and we hit everything. I worked for that for about three years and that was my bread maker, along with Foot Locker and playing in the club. I was playing at clubs but I was opening for DJs making only $50 or $60 bucks the whole night.

For most people in this scene, it’s too difficult to have our passions support us financially. What were some of the biggest difficulties in balancing the regular struggles in life with the passions in your life?

I had two jobs and a girl at the time who wanted all of my attention. It was hard because I would be going from one job to another and then in between, I would picture what I would do once I got home. As soon as I got home, what was I going to do on the turntables without wasting time? It was hard because I didn’t learn anything. I was a scratch DJ and I was trying to learn new techniques and I just couldn’t do it. During that four years of my life, I thought I was done. I thought that DJing was a hobby and thought I had to do real life stuff.

What was the moment that changed you back to believing that DJing is real life in your life?

I didn’t realize it until we broke up. I moved back from Toronto and I was starting from scratch again. I was used to a lifestyle that was all about working and family stuff. What am I going to do now? When I left Toronto, I left most of my stuff there. The only thing I brought back was my computer, my records and my turntables and that was all I had left. When I got home,  I sat in my room looked at my turntables and thought, “What am I going to do now?”

I got up and started scratching. “OK, let’s start this shit again.” I tried to be a better DJ, I guess.

After that, the biggest event of your life had happened to you. When did you find out about cancer?

It was in 2006… or 2007. I was doing the whole No Luck Club thing and it was after I came back from Toronto. I had been back two or three years already. I was with a totally different girl and was living with her. I thought that she was it. I was working on music harder, and the touring got heavy. I thought that was my life at that point, making music in my fantasy. I just finished completing the second album “Prosperity” with No Luck Club. We did an album release tour at New York, Montreal, Toronto and whatnot. I think, when we were in Montreal, actually I think I felt it about a couple months before hand.

There was a lump forming down there, in the testicular area. I knew there was a lump already that didn’t feel right. In Montreal, it got to the point that I couldn’t walk. I was sweating all the time and I couldn’t sit, I couldn’t sleep. I needed to get it checked but I didn’t want to just because of the fact that it was down there, being the dude that I was, I didn’t want to talk about “down there”. Before going on tour, I wanted to get it checked out, but I needed to tour because I couldn’t let the guys down. I was like, “OK, once I get back from the tour, I’m going to go straight to the doctors.”

I didn’t tell the guys from No Luck Club, Matt and Trevor, that I was feeling like that until the last day we were in Montreal.

During the time of the tour, my girlfriend at the time wanted to go separate ways, but wanted to work things out when I get back. When I got into Toronto (first city date on the tour), I called her and chatted for a bit. Next day, I called her she didn’t answer, the next day, the next day…  mind you, I’ve been on tour for about two and a half weeks. I had been calling her every day since and no answer. What was going on through my mind? This at the same time, I had to deal with the whole lump thing and touring.

The last day, in Montreal, I called her and she answered. “Hey, where have you been? I’ve been trying to call you.” She tells me that she was going out of town for a person’s wedding with two friends. All that was running through my mind was that she was going with some dude. I asked her what was going on and she says, “I don’t think I can do this anymore.” I asked if she was breaking up with me over the phone and she said, “Yes…”

In my mind, I thought that everything in the world was crushing me. Musically, I was not happy. I was happy being a part of No Luck Club but I wasn’t happy with going on tour for a long period of time. Leaving for X amount of days and not making money and then come back home try to make X amount of dollars in X amount of days from DJing. Whatever I made DJing in Vancouver, I would save that money and go on tour with. I couldn’t save anything.

We were at a café in Montreal and I finally broke it down to the guys from No Luck. I broke it down to them how I was feeling sick. , “I have a lump…down there. I haven’t gotten it checked and I think it might be cancerous.” “What the fuck,” was what they said and they gave me the most disapointed look. “Why did you even tour with us? Not even for us, you shouldn’t have done that for us. You have to think about yourself, life and then music. Deal with your health. As soon as we get home, you go straight there (hospital). I don’t think you can even make it to our release party in Vancouver.” Our last release show was supposed to be in Vancouver. They were so upset with me. They were being the concerned older brothers that I had.

When I got home, another thing I had to face was telling my parents. I told them I was moving back home. They asked me why I was moving back and they blamed music again. The reason why I couldn’t keep a relationship was because of my lifestyle, they accused. Fair enough, though. Then I said, “Second thing. I’m going to the doctors tomorrow. I think I may have a lump.” My mom was like, “A what? Another what again?” She has to deal with all these “whats”. Next day, the doctor says that I have to go straight to the hospital and I had to get it removed. The doctor said it could be one of two things: malignant or just a blood clot. I was hoping to God it was a blood clot.

After the doctors, I was sent to see a specialist and next thing you know, I was in the waiting room, lying on a stretcher to be operated on. The problem was, there were so many emergencies that day that I didn’t get operated on. I didn’t eat the whole day again and I was trying to psych myself up while I was in bed. I was like, “Oh man, I’m going to get cut up.” I was so scared.

I was just hoping it was a blood clot, but the doctor said it was cancerous. They didn’t know whether if it went to my stomach and headed for my heart. They had to run a lot of tests. At this point, I thought I was going to die soon. My dad picked me up and he was waiting in the car. He was like, “So what is it?”

I told him I had cancer. My dad and I are close but we weren’t emotionally close. He was a man-man and we don’t talk about emotional stuff with each other. He’s a straight up dude. Driving home, he started saying stuff about not worrying about it and how God was going to take care of it. That was the first time in the longest time that I cried. I was actually human and did feel emotional about this.

We got home and my dad went upstairs first. I was downstairs grabbing something to eat. I went upstairs, there was a crack in the door that I could peak through. I saw my dad on his knees praying for me and crying. It was the craziest thing I’ve seen in my life – seeing my dad crying on his knees and praying that his son would be better.

I knew I had to be strong for my mom and dad. If not, they’re just going to break down. That same day, my mom came home from work and she was at the door and holding a bunch of bags. “What’s going on?” She asks. “I have cancer, mom.” She drops everything and drops on her knees and starts crying. She started saying stuff like, “If I have to die for you to not have cancer, I will die now. I want to die now. I was like, “Mom, you can’t think that way.” It just hit me that if I’m not strong, they can’t be strong. “Mom, don’t worry about it. If it is meant to be, if I’m meant to die, and this was how it was written for me, let it happen.”

After my surgery my parents picked me up and headed for home. I was bed ridden for months. I couldn’t lift, I couldn’t move and it was painful. All I had in front of me was my T.V. and my laptop. That was when I started working on music and piecing stuff together. I started working on a few things and a list of songs. I’m a scratch DJ but I learned production through sitting there.

Friends would call me up and be wondering where I was and I would just tell them that I was still away. The No Luck Club guys were still covering up for me because I didn’t want people to worry about me and especially my ex-girl knowing about it and potentially want to get back for the wrong reasons.

That was the hardest thing ever –  having to face myself, my priorities, my music, and just being diagnosed with cancer, moving back home and losing a girlfriend that I thought was something special. That was the lowest point of my life. So far so good. I’ve been running tests for a couple years now and no sign of the disease.

Through all that, what was the greatest lesson?

I see life so differently now. Everything you do, day to day, you have to cherish it more. You know how growing up, all you think about are your friends? Your friends are your new family. But in reality, it’s your mom, your dad, your brother, your sister, your cousin…they are the real family. I look at them differently and I feel different about them compared when I was growing up. I feel like I’ve taken up so much shit to know that if it does come back, I got to finish all the stuff and goals that I have in life.

After that, dude, I feel like I can face anything. That’s how I came up with the Almighty. You know the saying where people are saying, “FML (fuck my life)”? I’ve never use that term because there are bigger things in this world than that shit. You think your life is garbage because of something small happening in your life? There are other things to think about. Until shit like this happens to you, yeah, you’ll look at life differently.

Shit.

Yeah, major downer eh?

Big time. Not that many people know about this right?

Yeah. I’ve talked to a few people about this but they forget about it because I don’t act like it happened. I don’t act like I’m sick. Fuck that. I believe that there’s something bigger that’s going to take me out in life. I’m destined for greatness. I’m not finished yet. Until when I’m done, then let’s call it quits. But I’m not done yet.

And how have your past relationships, especially with that girl, how have they affected you?

I’m a long term relationship kind of guy. I had one girl throughout high school, and when she broke up with me, it was the biggest thing. I thought my life was over. It took me a while to realize that that was just puppy love and it wasn’t real life stuff. I didn’t get with another girl until like a few years after. Life wasn’t over and I met up with another girl and that lasted almost four years. Each time I go into a relationship, I go for broke. I figure that this is the girl I’m going to marry and if I’m going to introduce you to my parents, it’s big. We lived together for a while but over those years, I realized that we weren’t the same and we weren’t on the same page. In a relationship, I’ve learned that you guys have to have communication and be very supportive for each other and what the other person is doing. I think it took the third girl for me to realize that I don’t have any feelings anymore.

I guess I’m old fashioned. I thought that if you sleep with somebody, you’re in a relationship. I’m so old fashioned and that’s all I thought back then. There was this one girl that I was just in lust with. I put her on a pedestal and I was so infatuated with her whole persona and how she carried herself. It was like, “Oh man, I got this dime piece on my arm. This is crazy.” She didn’t say that we were together but when we were alone, we were together. Thought we were in a relationship, felt like one. I finally cut her off. She was unhealthy for me. She was making someone who I wasn’t.

Until a couple years after that came another. We were friends, if anything. We were friends before and then we became something more. She was my homie and hung out almost every day. We just took it to the next level and we shouldn’t have. We were better as friends than anything. We were friends longer than in the relationship. She just had a different agenda in life and I thought I knew her, but I misread her. She wanted to succeed in her own, which is fine, but she just didn’t believe that I could bring her to that destination that she wanted. We’re both good. She’s happier now and so am I.

After that, I just didn’t take girls seriously. If a girl comes, she comes. If a girl goes, she goes.  Until then, I was just going to be selfish and concentrate on me. Forget what girls feel, concentrate on what I feel. Bad, I know. I mis-treated some girls. I got what I wanted to do and that’s it. It’s my way or the highway.

Then I met someone, whom now I’m with. You’ll never find a wife in a club and it’s all about meeting them randomly or through friends. I was working with her through 1st Love and we’ve been together since then. We connected in a way that I’ve never experienced. Though, we have nothing in common, we have a strong connection and understanding. This is the first time that I’ve been with a girl that is not Filipino, and it works. All my past relationships back then were the same nationality. We have great communication and we have support for each other, which are strong points.

I do the music thing and she understands – I would see her right after. When I work on the computer, she’s right beside me, doing her thing. She works, I work, and there’s no being needy. About a year in we’re having a child. The plot thickens.

I procrastinated for the longest time, thinking about how to break it down to my family. My mom and dad were downstairs and they were in a happy mood. I thought, OK, this is a good time. I sat there with my coffee with my mom and dad in the kitchen and I was looking at pictures of my nieces and nephews on the fridge.

“Wow, how old is so and so?” I ask. “How is that going?… oh, that’s cool.” Then I brought up my friends who have kids. “Oh yea, so and so are a couple months already. Yeah, I’m so excited for that.” She says, “Yeah, I wonder when you and your brother, are going to have kids.” They thought they were going to be non grandparents.

“Really?” I said. “Well, funny that you asked that? …You guys are going to be grandparents.” My mom was like, “Yeah?!” She looked like she was being sarcastic but she had a smile on her face. “How many months?” OK, this was serious now. She’s asking about how many months. “Three months,” I say. She asks me if I was ready or not, and I tell her I am. “I have figured out what I need to do in life – I’ve figured it out.” My dad stands next to my mom and he hugs her and asks, “How does it feel to be a grandma?” Wow, it was official. In my head, it was crazy. It was like they were being poked with a needle and it didn’t hurt. “It’s about time,” they said. It’s about time?! Last time I saw, I’m still being me living under your roof. A DJ, a musician. “I think this is going to change your life and turn it around,” they said.

I had a harder time telling my brother than telling my parents. I picked him up from the Skytrain from work and he got into the car and I was like, “How do you feel about going to Vegas in a year’s time?” He was kind of suspect about why I was planning this out so early. “What’s the occasion?” He asks. “Stag.” He went, “What the… you guys are going to get married?” Then I ask him, “How does it feel…Uncle?” Then he goes, “UNCLE?! …You know you’re going to have to change your life around.” My kid brother is telling me how I have to change my life. He has never told me what to do in life and he’s always asked me for advice. He told me I had to change my life to make things work and that it was real life shit. I was nodding my head like a little kid. It was the craziest thing. My kid brother telling me to change my life.

How do you plan to mentor and raise your child?

Just being supportive. I am going to listen to everything what my son is saying and what he likes to do. I’m not going to force feed what he is supposed to do in life, career wise or what he should be doing. It’s just listening and it’s a big thing that I learned growing up. My parents were supportive but they didn’t really listen to what I wanted to do in life. That’s one thing that I want to do. I want to be supportive and whatever he wants to do in life, I’m going to help him do it and try to power it. If he wants to be an entrepreneur, I’m going to help him. With Almighty, I did it with my money. I had $500 from my own pocket. Back on point, I want my son to be open-minded. I’m going to introduce him to a whole spectrum of things and just let him pick what he wants to use and do in life.

At the end of the day, how would you define who Paul Belen is, as a person?

Lost? I don’t know. There are so many personalities. I’ve lost myself, honest to God. I’ve lost myself trying to figure out who I am. I’m still struggling between what’s love and what is work. I love sitting in front of the computer and designing stuff, no matter what – even if it’s for someone else. I love working with other people and collaborating with them. I don’t know whether or not it’s work. For me, I just have to do something, and that’s my problem.

That brings out your emo side, too.

Yeah. I’m just a workaholic. I can’t stay away from my computer. I have to be connected, always doing something. While I’m doing it, I think that I need rest, but rest to me is kicking back and working on something. That’s my struggle.

And who were some of the close people that made a big impact on your life?

I guess the people I grew up with back in high school. Our personalities are the same but when it comes to likes and whatnot, it was all different over the years. Back then, we were all into the same shit but after that, we were all different. We still have that connection. No matter what you do and what you’ve done, they will always be there. Those guys have been there since day one and they always have my back. The remaining out of the seven, the four guys that I still hang out with, we still link up and hang out. Over 12 years out of high school, we still have this relationship. We’re family.

Throughout all these struggles and experiences, it has led to the Almighty attitude. Please summarize this motto.

Dream, create, believe. I’ve dreamt about it, since in high school. Then going abouts to create it, you just don’t know what to expect, such as being diagnosed with cancer. You just have to get up and do it, and then believe in it. A, this is my life. I am going to push my life to you as a product, my lifestyle. I was dreaming this as a kid and always had some sort of vision. Now, I’m creating it and finally believing it.