Every artist starts somewhere. For many, their roots lie in making music in the confines of their own bedroom, recording in their closets and reassuring their not-so-convinced mothers that it’ll all pay off or make sense one day. For Philadelphia rapper Chill Moody, that day is getting closer and closer to finally arriving.
While it’s commonplace for an artist from a small city to have an innate urge to leave it behind them as soon as possible (with dreams bigger than their hometown in tow), for Chill Moody, the opposite rings true. With Philadelphia as ingrained in his identity as it is in his purpose, he’s never going to write off his humble beginnings solely as part of paying his dues. Instead, he’s taking his self-imposed responsibilities to help Philadelphia reclaim its prestige in the music and entertainment industry in stride, doing so by stacking up small victories. For now.
As Chill puts in his 10,000 hours of deliberate practice honing his craft as a rapper, he’s packing a lot more into his days than just his own music. The fact that he recently began assuming the official role of Philadelphia’s Music Ambassador makes for a perfect extension of his artistry; despite admitting he personally has a minimal interest in politics. For Chill, it’s more about seeing an opportunity to effectively bring about a positive change and accomplish what others in his city haven’t yet achieved, such as being the first rapper to perform at City Hall, as a way to inspire others to do the same.
As a trailblazer, Chill Moody is able to separate himself from the hometown hero-esque narrative he’s been quietly and consistently crafting over the years, proving that being a leader doesn’t always mean he requires the validation or the props that come along with taking charge. He’s got his eyes on the bigger picture, and he’s taking Philadelphia with him every step of the way.
From ensuring that his own branding stays on point to crafting his own beer to knocking out five shows at SXSW this year, Chill Moody is building a case playing off his recent EP that It’s Gon’ Be a Nice Year. With his “just getting started” mentality helping him maintain through the madness of making a name for himself in the rap game, Chill Moody is a living testament to the fact that at the end of the day, the goal is all about having nice things. That’s not necessarily in a materialistic way, either. As he puts his work in and motivates others to make the day a “nice one,” Chill Moody is redefining what it means to be a hometown rapper—by way of putting on for his city in every way he imaginably can while perfecting his own razor-sharp and relatable rhymes.
When getting to know Chill Moody through his music, stubborn passion shines through that makes it nearly impossible to want to root against him. With eyes on making his city a better place and his own exploration of his talents unwavering, Chill Moody’s got all the keys.
Do you feel as though attending this year’s SXSW proved to be fruitful for you this year?
This was my 5th year going and my 4th year performing, and it’s all about meeting a lot of people. This year, I probably met more people than I’ve met in any of my years going down there, especially in regard to people who can either directly help or support what I’m trying to do. This year, I went down there with specific goals and it definitely ended up being my best SXSW trip yet.
What was it like performing live now that you’ve got a footing as to how the festival works?
Every audience is different down there and with so much going on, it’s a different crowd every time. I had five shows this year and each one was better than the last. After the very first show, this guy walks up to me like, plastered drunk, says “Hey mate,” and ends up telling me he’s from Australia and that my set was the best he’s ever seen at SX, which is amazing. For me, there happened to be one of those experiences at every show. Either someone was like either “you’re one of the best rappers I’ve seen here” or told me the performance was great. It just felt really good.
Would you say performing live is your favorite part about being a rapper?
Yeah. I 100% lose myself up there. It’s also where I get the best feedback. There are a lot of people who love the music and support my movement but when they see it live, that’s when they’ll be like, “alright I get it now.” Especially because performing evokes a lot of emotion and even just hearing live drums as opposed to listening through your iPhone or something, can really help win someone over to become a fan. I’m pretty seasoned in working a crowd and have performed in front of bunch of people throughout the years, so I always just watch little pockets of the crowd and really just give my all ’cause I know what the takeaway should be.
Listening to your 2013 music versus your more current, it feels like two completely different artists at times. What inspired the transition in direction?
It was mainly a change in producers. There’s always been a lot of instrumentation in my music, but I started working with new producers and new engineers who just brought a different vibe to the table. My voice sounds a little bit different from my older stuff, too. You know, just living and having more to talk about, as well as coming into myself, it all had me pulling back on the aggression a little bit. I’m also more sample-heavy now and just trying to find a balance with everything.
What do you hope people take away from listening to your music?
I want my music to be my representation. I want you to learn about me through my music, first of all. That’s the overall goal that I’m aiming towards, so I just try to give as much of myself as I can in my music and say a couple clever things in between. You know, so you can go tell somebody like, “Hey, did you hear what he said?”
What is your dream for Philly’s music scene specifically?
Just the reclaim. I always talk about the prestigious sound we used to have. When I was growing up, you always used to hear about the sound of Philadelphia and how the Jacksons came here to record… Patti LaBelle, Teddy Pendergrass and you know, just the sound of the old school. It all came from Philly. I had a lot of pride in Philly music growing up. It’s all my mom was listening to, so that’s what I came up on. As I got older, I started seeing things like what The Roots were doing and Jill Scott and so on, and it was like the city was at the forefront of music and somehow it kind of tipped off a little bit. Anybody that’s touring right now got something from somebody from Philly. So it was like, y’all should take more pride in this. I just want to reclaim that and be a part of reclaiming this prestigious spot we once had in the music industry.
How did you initially get involved in local politics?
I was named by Councilman David Oh as the Philadelphia Music Ambassador for an initiative called THL Live, which was kind of like a music festival meets a battle of the bands and was stretched out over a couple of months. It involved artists from all genres of music; everything from jazz to hip-hop to rock to pop and there was even a DJ category and gospel category as well. People from Philly submitted their music and we’d go through it to organize a show of our picks for each genre. Eventually there was a vote from prestigious and esteemed judges from Philadelphia’s music scene and an awards ceremony at the end of the year and everything. That was the initiative that I was very hands-on with, helping them put it all together and finding other outlets for independent artists in the city, such as connecting people with brands and helping them use some of the resources that the city has to offer.
Around two years ago or so, a councilman by the name of Mark Squilla tried to pass a bill that wouldn’t make any sense for our music scene. Everybody pushed back on it and there was a huge meeting at city hall. I was invited to that meeting and I suggested what I thought was wrong with it. I mentioned that he shouldn’t really be making music decisions without consulting some people who have a background in music. That led to the idea of a task force type of committee and now I’m a part of that even though it took a couple years to get started.
What comes with being involved with the committee? How hands-on is everything?
We will have monthly meetings but it’s still brand new. Right now, we’re picking board members, with the group being made up of 15 people. We’re really just there to be the liaison between the artist community, the music community and the city. So that goes as far as us suggesting stuff, us helping get stuff across that the city wants to do, and us taking the concerns of our constituents in the city and seeing how we can make things happen through the city. This also means providing newer, bigger opportunities because we have more resources now to do so. So more free subsidies, less venues shutting down hopefully and in my mind, the end all be all will be a more unified music committee. There are people on the board with classical music backgrounds; there’s like two conductors, lawyers, entertainment lawyers. I think I’m the only rapper. Either way, it’s a vast array of people so we should be able to get a lot done because we can connect through a lot of different genres.
What made you want to approach changing the local music scene by going through, per se, the actual system?
If you come at somebody the right way about a problem, and it makes sense, it’s going to be fixed or a compromise can be found. I don’t think you should get discouraged when things don’t happen right away. I’m also in the Recording Academy on the Grammy board for Philadelphia and I just got invited to go speak to Congress at Grammy’s on The Hill, which is a big invite-only two-day junket in DC. There’s an awards ceremony and a reception and all that, and then we go and basically lobby for artist advocacy. If I can go to DC and talk to congressmen about making progress, then why not?
Does your political persona change from your rap persona in any way, or do you balance these roles?
I’ve always like I’m me, everywhere. I’ll go to City Hall in sweatpants and a snapback one day, or I can also go there in a full-out suit and I feel I’m still representing myself well. I don’t have to be like, “Oh, you know I’m going to talk to a senator today so I gotta be a little…” Nah. Hip-hop got me here. I’m here because I rap. I don’t gotta back off of that. If a Senator comes out to one of my concerts, they ain’t gotta act hip-hop.
So do you have an interest in running for office someday, or do you feel like you can be a leader without being in politics? How does this influence your music?
I have NO interest in politics. Not at all [laughs]. It all came from the type of events I was performing at in the city. So a lot of people don’t know this, but for the past six years or so, I don’t really curse in my music. A lot of people don’t know this because I’m not like hugging a tree or saving the world in my lyrics, but there’s no profanity. Because of this, I was able to get a lot of shows that a lot of other rappers in the city weren’t able to get. Everybody loves hip-hop but everybody still feels a certain way about it when it’s playing loud. I was actually the first hip-hop artist to perform at City Hall like ever because I chose to do that. It’s like if the radio wants to play your music, you have to go get them the edited version anyway. This way my mom can tell her friends I’m a rapper and she doesn’t have to worry about me saying ignorant shit. I didn’t make those choices because I wanted to be a political figure one day. If I was a different type of rapper, I’d never be able to perform at City Hall. For me to be able to keep doing those types of things is really important to me. The message is the same and I’m not changing who I am; I’m just replacing words with other words, really. I definitely don’t want to be a politician one day, though. I feel like not helping others to achieve their goals is just plain evil and weird. I’m like addicted to the idea of “Yo, this is wrong so let’s fix it.” I’m an avid problem solver.
How does repping for your city come into play?
I’ve never been anywhere or met anybody from outside of Philly that didn’t know I was from Philly. Either they knew me or they said something or I told them. You’re gonna know I’m from Philly because that’s a part of me just as much as my last name is. I carry the flag proudly and I make sure I rep everywhere I go. Not only do I represent, I also don’t misrepresent my city in any way. It’s kind of like when your mom takes you to a store and tells you not to embarrass her. You don’t want to do that!
When did you realize that rapping was going to be more than just a hobby?
The first Roots Picnic I did in 2012; it was live. I performed for maybe 5,000 people, and when I was performing, people knew the words and were really engaging with me. Out of all of those people, my mom was standing right there in the front row, and my dad was right over her shoulder. It was like, “How did you get all the way up front?!” Looking at the bigger picture and seeing my family right there made me realize I’m doing something right. They’ve been supporting me from the beginning, and my family ain’t about no bullshit. They ain’t yes men. So to see them there, it was like, aight we good. That was one of the biggest moments of my career so far for me actually.
Tell me more about your alter ego, Drunk Chill.
I just created it so that I could have a separation from the stuff that I really want to say when I’m drunk. Like I had just performed at City Hall and did some other shit, and it’s like, I shouldn’t probably be tweeting about this. So I made a drunk Twitter just so I could sound off on there and be funny.
Interestingly enough, I recently brewed a beer with Dock Street Brewery called Nice Things IPA. It will cater more to the beer crowd when we relaunch it in a bigger way but seeing Jay-Z and Diddy take things to the next level with alcohol, it’s pretty cool to get involved with something like that. I went to the brewery and learned about the process for about three or four months. I helped pick the ingredients, I put my marketing plan together for it, and I learned everything I could about the product. My hands are in this, so it’s a little bit different from other types of endorsement deals where people are just drinking it or promoting it and get involved that way. I don’t think people know how much I did with that and I really take a lot of pride in it. Had a lot of fun too.
What’s up next for this year?
My goal is to take the show on the road, as cliché as that may sound. Leading up to Fire Fly, I’ll drop some records I’ve been holding onto. I feel like I’m underground but not necessarily new, so just seeing my message continue to spread to bigger outlets. What I’m doing needs to be as big everywhere else as is it is in Philly.