Chill Moody | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller |

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

All you Philly rappers and hip-hop fans reading this — think on the times you’ve been in your car singing along with Cody Chesnutt on the chorus of “The Seed (2.0),” and along with Black Thought on those verses too. Maybe you sang along live and loud too last July, when the Roots played “You Got Me” to a packed Parkway.

It might be easy enough to run those lyrics in the safety of your own home, or at karaoke one night up at Yakitori when your friends were too drunk to call you out properly because you mispronounced “Elysee Montmartre.” But even the biggest Roots fans might start to sweat, should they happen to be asked to perform those two tracks 1) live, 2) to a hometown audience of thousands, and 3) in front of Thought, Quest and company.

Chill Moody was tapped to do just that in October, with just a couple days to prepare, when The Roots were inducted onto the Philadelphia Music Alliance Walk of Fame.

As someone who’s by now shared everything from high schools and neighborhoods with the likes of Will Smith and Schooly D to a stage with The Roots, Chill Moody stands for Philly hip hop as a proper prodigal son, vetted and venerable. On topics of all things Philly arts, from Jane Golden’s prolific Mural Arts program, to our locally celebrated and nationally renowned rap artists, Chill Moody explains why Philly can have #NiceThings.

Chill Moody | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller |

Chill Moody | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller |

The Key: You’re a Philly native?

Chill Moody: West Philadelphia, born and raised.

TK: Where’d you go to high school?

CM: I went to Overbrook High School. Me, Wilt Chamberlain, Will Smith, Guion Bluford — there’s a couple of us.

TK: What do you remember about high school?

CM: 9/11. I was in high school, and that was like a shock, because the teacher’s class that I was in, where we were watching it happen, used to take the class every year on a trip to the World Trade Center, and he said the earliest he had ever done it was the 9th, so there was a chance we could’ve been there — slim chance, but there was a chance. And I wasn’t as knowledgeable about political things at that point, and all the goings on and whatever, but it kind of opened my eyes to the world a little bit more. So that really really stuck out. And just, like, the panic. And seeing the difference [between schools], because I came from Masterman and this was 9th grade at Overbrook — completely different type people, different type vibe. And I still have those friends to this day [from] Masterman, and seeing how they spoke about it, seeing how people in the hood spoke about it, so that really really sticks out to me.

TK: In terms of the social scene at your school, what do you remember?

CM: It was a fashion show. Overbrook was a long lineage of fly things. You had to be fly. The lunchroom, after school, whatever. And then around 11th grade, they implemented uniforms, so then it wasn’t a fashion show anymore because there was uniformity, but we still found ways to, you know, deck it out a little bit.

TK: How did you first get connected to the Philly music scene?

CM: I mean I been rappin’ forever. Like third grade talent shows, I was rappin’, things like that. The actual music scene — so my first show, it was at a spot called the Marbar, 40th and Walnut, right on top of the movie theater, where the Harvest is. A DJ by the name of HMD — who now goes by Get Up, and you might’ve seen his art around the city, he’s got the Ben Franklin with the boom box — he was hosting a show there, used to be one of the best hip hop DJ’s, probably still is one of the best hip hop DJs. He was hosting a show, and I performed there that night, and that was my first introduction to like, the underground scene, you know. Got introduced to Reef the Lost Cauze, and you know, those type of rappers, at that show. I made $15, and bought 40 ounces and cookies.

TK: How do you remember it feeling to be on stage that night?

CM: I have a big family, and a lot of us — pretty much all of us — live in West Philly. So, at any given time, there’s like twenty to thirty people that are like, immediately family and/or like, best friends of a cousin, or something like that. So it was love, because, I had been rappin’ for so long, and a lot of them knew that, and this was their first time seeing me onstage, so they automatically just showed me love, so. It kinda was like home court advantage the first time I was onstage. I never really have been nervous onstage. I forget my lyrics oftentimes, just ‘cause of alcohol, things like that [laughs]. I’m never really nervous, it’s like, you know, that’s work. I’m goin’ in to the office. So I can’t really be nervous goin’ to work.

TK: Which Philly venue is your favorite to play?

CM: The Blockley was my favorite. Sad to see the Blockley go. The Blockley was my favorite just because of the shows I went to see there, great beer selection — I’m gonna sound like an alcoholic this whole interview [laughs], but um — great beer selection at the Blockley. The bartenders were really nice. It was intimate enough that you could, you know, touch every fan, and afterwards go speak to them or whatever, but also if you packed it out, it was a nice-size venue, so people leave knowing about you. It was in a good location, right in West Philly, but close enough to Center City where people didn’t mind traveling to come. The Blockley was really like the stomping grounds for a lot of upcoming hip-hop artists. So that was my favorite venue to perform at.

TK: Mic Stew said the same…

CM: Yeah, of course he did! Me and Mic Stew had a funny story at The Blockley one night. He was about to perform, and he was a little gamey, and he said like, “Chill you got any deodorant in that book bag?” — ‘cause I always carry a book bag — and I was like, “I actually do Stew.” And I gave Stew some deodorant, before he went onstage and rocked. That was a funny night. That was a great night for us.

Chill Moody | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller |

Chill Moody | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller |

TK: What do you love most about the arts scene in Philly?

CM: Well I love that, when you ask me about the arts scene in Philly, there’s no one answer. There’s like a vast arts scene in Philly. There’s the street art, there’s the contemporary art, there’s the fashion, which is art in itself. Then there’s musicians, there’s rappers, there’s singers. The fact that art is such a broad category in this city is a really big deal to me, that’s something I take a lot of pride in, the fact that, you know, I can link an artist like Get Up with Evan Polk — another street artist — and then you know, incorporate music into that. It’s a good pool of talent.

TK: What if anything do you find most frustrating or being an artist or trying to grow as an artist in Philadelphia?

CM:: The most angst as an artist in Philadelphia comes from the fact that — not all times, but sometimes — it feels like, the love that you want — not necessarily the love that you deserve, but the love that you want — doesn’t come from home first, at all times. The big looks don’t often come from home first. Sometimes, especially in hip hop, it’s like someone outside has to cosign you first, for the city to appreciate that. And it’s a double-edged sword. You know, it’s bad because, you know, “why doesn’t my city appreciate me?” but, when they do appreciate you, you know that you did something right. You know, we don’t take no bullshit in Philly, whether it’s sports teams, whether it’s the artists, whether it’s the rappers, whatever. So when you get that all-city love, you’re special. You’re Kevin Hart, you’re Will Smith, you’re something like that, and those guys are very very special in what they do. So, it’s frustrating at times, because it doesn’t come right away, when you might think it should — and then on top of that people in Cali is fuckin with you and people in New York is vibin with you, it’s like, “why isn’t radio in Philly playin’ me but radio in New York is playin’ me?” You get a little frustrated. But when they start, it’s like, oh, I see what it was.

TK: Which neighborhoods have you lived in?

CM: West Philly. From 56th and Lansdowne down to 52nd and Market, 52nd and Pine, around that area. My family’s there. I can legit walk to at least twelve different family members’ houses from my house. Family’s there. Anything go down, my family’s there. If I wanna throw an emergency family barbeque, everybody’s comin’ over ‘cause they’re all right there.

TK: So as an artist with such deep roots here — a number of artists we spoke with for this series have talked about a kind of glass ceiling in Philly for recording artists, that they can’t really propel themselves to a national level, where their ambitions are. How do you feel, is there a tension about trying to leave, or wanting to leave?

CM: Hopefully it’s not that long-winded of an answer, but I said in a song, “they said I hit a ceiling down in Philly, around that time I made another floor.” So, you know, if I’m at the ceiling, I’m gonna make sure everything up here is live. I’m gonna make sure, you know, I’m up here with the music — but also, I built a label, Nice Things Music, so now, there’s an infrastructure here, so the next person to come up to this ceiling doesn’t get asked, “do you have to leave Philly to make it?” No, you can make it in Philly because there’s a label here, and on top of that, you can ask artists in New York, “do you feel like you gotta go to Philly to make it since Nice Things Music…” or whatever it’s gonna be. And that’s just the first brick laid as far as building the infrastructure here.

I got upset when I started doing more interviews, more blogs started interviewing me, and I got upset when they asked “do you feel like you gotta leave Philly to make it?” Saying it like it was the thing to do, and I’m like, I’m not from Wichita, I’m from Philly. Like this is the big city, like this ain’t Smallville, like, why am I leaving Philly to make it? Mohammed Ali moved to Philly. David Ruffin moved to Philly. Patti LaBelle’s from Philly. Like we have a lineage, why the hell do I gotta go anywhere when I’m in Philly? I thought I had the advantage ‘cause I was in Philly. It turns out I didn’t, but, I don’t want the next person to have to feel that way, and if I gotta be the one to bite the bullet to do it I’ll do it, because I’m confident enough in my music, in my message, in my brand, that I can do it here. And, you know, my goals, my dreams, are manageable. I’m not trying to have seven ferraris and all of that stuff, I wanna sustain doin’ what I love, and I’m cool with that.

TK: You’re not trying to get on MTV Cribs?

CM: Nah, I don’t even want anybody in my house [laughs].

TK: What’s your favorite way to get around the city — bike, walk SEPTA?

CM: Uber, when I got the 50% off joints. Uber’s fun because you never know what kinda driver you’re gonna get, you never know what they’re gonna play, it’s gonna be a different thing every time, and then you ain’t gotta pay for parking. Parking in Philly is terrible. I hate parking in Philly.

TK: You’re been in the city your whole life. How have you seen the city change in terms of the arts community here, and has it been for the better or worse?

CM: Definitely for the better. And I’m not sure if that’s because I’m more in the scene now I notice it, or because more people are noticing the scene now, and pickin’ it up. But whatever it is, it’s definitely bigger. I’ve done a lot of things with Jane [Golden] and everybody at Mural Arts, and I’m like a big fan of everything they do, how like community-driven they are, I’m just a fan of everything Mural Arts does. So, seeing that type of stuff, seeing, you know, artist communities coming together, seeing musicians come together at a First Tuesdays event or something like that, or the Recording Academy does a lot of things with independent artists. Seeing that happen is like, you know, we’re doing things for artists here. But like I said, I don’t know if that’s because I’m involved in it, or because that’s just what they’re doing.

Chill Moody | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller |

Chill Moody | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller |

TK: PBC or Yards?

CM: Yards.

TK: 2015’s in the books and it’s year-end mania at The Key. Give us your top five list of Philly’s best hip hop artists to look out for in 2016.

CM: I have a bunch of music dropping in 2016, and some pretty dope collaborations with some major brands. Hopefully you are already “looking out” for what I have going on, so here are five other hip hop artist you might not be aware of but you REALLY should be. In no particular order:

Boogieman Dela (@BoogiemanDela) | One of my all time favorite emcees, extremely slept on. A style like none other. Recently released a new album, Dirty Harmony, which should carry him to a good position in 2016.

5 Grand (@5GrandLife) | Two words: Work Ethic. This guy lives in the studio, pushing out nothing but quality music. 2016 people are sure to catch onto Grand’s music, mainly because of the volume of product he’s going to be pushing out.

B-Roc The Prophecy (@Roc_music808) | Newer guy on the scene, first project I heard from him was Something Real which I think he produced himself as well. Very serious lyricist, great story telling.

Ground Up (@TheRealGroundUp) | These guys haven’t missed a step in the last few years. Killing it in Philly and abroad with big tours, and their live show is always a great time.

Beanie Sigel (@BeanieSigelSP) | A vet in the game, i’ve heard some of what he has coming up in 2016 and yeah…Beans is looking to reclaim his spot at the top of Philly hiphop this year. I’m really looking forward to it all.