The "raw and authentic" story of Flint's music rebel Velly Beretta

FLINT, Michigan -- Within Velly Beretta’s (named after his first name and his favorite gun) eyes is the look of a man who carries the weight of the world upon his shoulders. Gathered by the expansive range of experiences he’s endured to make it to this point in his life, his eyes are that of a lion, gazing intently, drawing me into the many stories he tells. They smile when he speaks of his son and daughter and the friendship he has with their mothers. There’s a soft light that peeks through, remembering his youthful days growing up in Flint, graduating from Northern High School, and the humble beginnings of making music in his “homeboy basement to a 50 Cent beat.” Yet, they hold bittersweet pain from the tumultuous life of his former rap partner Phee and the passing of many close friends now tattooed on his right arm. I believe every word he says as we walk through downtown Flint with strikingly open energy and a peaceful temperament. 
Making something happen is in Beretta’s nature. He’s one of the city’s most celebrated Hip Hop artists.
“I started losing friends at a young age, and one of the things that molded me into the artist [I am] was my rap partner. [But now] Phee out here on the streets. That’s part of the hurt. That’s part of what keeps me going. I said in my raps, if I was to go, imma die from a broken heart. Everything that goes on in this city alone will break you down, will break your heart,” he says to me in a calm tone of voice, dressed in all black, adorned in a gold Cuban chain necklace, and covered in tattoos, as we sit outside of 501 Bar & Grill on a hot Tuesday evening. “I can’t be nothing but me and keep it authentic. I can’t lie and rap about cars that I don’t have, money that I don’t have, and about drugs I haven’t sold.”

For most, the task of being the family’s best or only chance at a better life would do more harm than good. And yet Beretta carries and accepts it with pride telling me that he’d “do whatever I gotta do to make sure my family is straight.” Although, he recognizes the familial obligation that “everybody’s looking at me to make something happen.”

But making something happen is in Beretta’s nature. He’s one of the city’s most celebrated Hip Hop artists, rapping about Flint’s underbelly and the grittiness he comes from. It’s why he’s amassed a large following across multiple albums, including 2020’s Back On My Rap S***, which features the hit song, Proud of Myself. More recently, he’s closed out one of Flint’s Concrete Jungle events and performed in the city’s first-ever Glizzy Fest. Beretta’s accolades continue to include star-studded features with Ace Gabbana, G-S the DreaM, Jada Ali, King Ca$hes, and extends itself to YouTube views, streams, and a clothing line called Bad Apple. It is no wonder that he commands great respect and admiration.

But this was before the popularity of Flint music blindsided many. Now that the landscape has more eyes, ears, and money flowing through, unlike years prior, Beretta aims to work harder and create better music. It’s a situation that he finds “crazy because we’ve been fighting so long to get noticed,” but one he hopes people will recognize that “there are so many Flint artists who have their own sound.” Though being Flint’s “black sheep” and “the one that’s going to go against everything and keep it raw and authentic,” sometimes finds him on the defensive, having to take extra care in what he says. Most notably, his comments back in March of this year under an Instagram post of Flint megastar YN Jay sparked massive debate and, for a while, divided the city. It’s a moment that Beretta, now through much reflection, continues to stand by but wishes he would’ve done differently.
“I posted it because it’s how I felt at that moment. I know Jay. We have that relationship. But, let me say this, I went about it the wrong way."
“YN Jay is such a great artist. I got high expectations for him, which has nothing to do with him—it’s just me as a supporter. We are from the same city, and I’m proud of him, but I’m also disappointed because I know [he] got way more than this,” Beretta says with his fingers coursing through his beard. “I posted it because it’s how I felt at that moment. I know Jay. We have that relationship. But, let me say this, I went about it the wrong way. I wasn’t thinking about how well my opinion is respected here.”

But that moment isn’t the only thing that has changed Beretta. His role as a father continues the trend of evolution and drives him towards excellence. His son, who “a week ago woke up in the morning, came upstairs with my hat and necklace on like I’m Velly Beretta,” reveals Beretta’s journey of being a Black man. That and the hard hustle mentality that comes from making music. Through his daughter, Beretta’s past mistakes—particularly with women—come to the forefront. She creates space within to “make up for so many mistakes I made with women [because] I wouldn’t want no man disrespecting my daughter. She changed me in that way,” he responds with confidence.

“I want to leave my mark on this Earth that’s gon' last 20 years from now and after I’m gone. I want people that listen to my music to cry."That confidence and level-headedness are present when I ask about his love and admiration for the city that “made me who I am, from the playground to the hoop courts to the teen and grown clubs.” With the 1855 City of Flint arch tattooed on his left arm, it serves as a reminder for him never to forget his roots, experiences, and the people who love and support him. It is a realization why he recently announced that his Glizzy Fest performance would be his last in Flint for a while. His reasoning, he tells me with a bold expression, is simple.

“I got to get out there, touch people, rub elbows, and network. I want to leave my mark on this Earth that’s gon’ last 20 years from now and after I’m gone. I want people that listen to my music to cry. I want them to feel that s***—feel where I’m coming from. [So] I’m not only rapping for myself, I’m speaking for everybody that goes through the shit that I go through.”

You can find Velly Beretta on Facebook and Instagram. To find out more about Beretta and listen to his music including his latest album, Back On My Rap S***, check out his website.

Read more articles by Xzavier Simon.