Words by Jay Balfour
While other rappers might try to leverage a new music video or mixtape into a blog post, Chill Moody traffics in a different type of traction. “I always wanted to work behind music. I like promoting the brand,” the West Philly emcee says. He’s positioned that passion as fuel for his own rap career, and he’s just as comfortable spitballing in a branding meeting as he is freestyling in a cypher.
You might not yet find Moody’s music on the Billboard charts, but he’s managed to sneak it into your TV set: A few days ago, “I Came To Win,” a triumphant track released without much fanfare online, began airing sporadically on ESPN. As soon as the placement was secured, Chill began campaigning for the song to appear on next year’s NBA 2K soundtrack, perpetually looking for a new audience.
“When I first started rapping, I was trying to be something,” Moody tells Indie-Life between sips of water at Gold Standard Cafe. “I was rapping about selling this, shooting that, all of that. That was me trying.” He’s long ditched the try-hard raps is now constantly stewing on cementing his own career.
“I wasn’t coming up thinking I was gonna be a rapper,” he admits. “Honestly, I wanted to be in A&R. I always had an eye for talent. I was always one of those guys that was like, ‘Oh, y’all not listening to this yet?’ It’s so much easier to be that guy when you’re from Philly because everybody was out, like Major Figgas, Jill Scott. Look at that spectrum there.”
The Roots, of course, sit right at the center of that Philly music spectrum, and Moody has smartly nestled himself into their stratosphere, most recently becoming the first artist to be announced as a performer at the band’s upcoming inaugural New York edition of their swelling Roots Picnic festival. “This is my third time on the Roots Picnic,” Chill says proudly. “I did two in Philly…Nobody’s done it more than me but The Roots. That means everything. That’s the old heads. That’s the one you want to be. I wanna do what they’re doing.”
During our interview, Chill fiddles with his latest piece of merch, a G-Shock reminiscent digital watch with a replaceable wrist band. He talks excitedly about sourcing the electronics and custom manufacturing his “nicethings” logo onto the watchband—the same one he’s not only transplanted onto t-shirts and sneakers, but also water bottles and backpacks. As an approach to marketing, it’s a way for Chill to sidestep a crowded marketplace. “It’s cluttered right now,” he says of the music industry. And pointing out a passerby: “She could put up a song right now on SoundCloud if she wants to. You gotta find a way to separate yourself.”
Moody’s latest distinguishing tactic is a collaboration with West Philly’s Dock Street Brewery. Last month, he hosted a music-themed event for one of Dock Street’s celebrations during Philly Beer Week. And this fall, Chill will release his own beer with the craft veterans. “I’m working on a project tentatively titled Six Really Good Songs,” he says, “so you get a six-pack of beer and Six Really Good Songs. That was my whole thought process.” Instead of competing with eager SoundCloud rappers, Chill is squirming his way into traditionally untapped markets.
This Monday, Moody’s adding flavor to the 2016 Democratic National Convention event roster by headlining at Philly Feast, a daytime food truck fest set at Third and Arch streets from 11am to 3pm. But perhaps his most savvy move is his recent turn towards local politics, where he’s pushing for City Hall’s support for Philly’s growing but frequently stunted music scene. “I see the trajectory of the city right now,” he says. “The Rail Park that they’re building, they got me involved with that, [plus] being a Philadelphia Music Ambassador and doing stuff for City Hall with PHL LIVE Center Stage initiative. We’re starting a Philly Music Commission that’ll be up and running in late October. I’m a heavy part of putting that together.”
Moody doesn’t want Philly artists to feel trapped or stunted by the city as much as supported and fostered by it. “You land in Nashville, and they’re playing independent artists in the airport. We don’t have that. We should. You pull up to the TLA in Seattle as an artist, you get 45 minutes to an hour to unload without having to worry about the local parking authority. We don’t have that. That’s simple. Pass legislation where it’s like, ‘Alright, if you’re artist, we know you’re here to do work. You get your loading time.’ That’s simple, but it shows that we, as a city, care about our city. That, in turn, will make artists want to do more for the city.”
Visuals by Mzizi Media