Chill Moody had just finished taping an episode of “The Q” on FOX29 where he was promoting his new album and handing out pounder cans of a hoppy beer he helped brew at Philadelphia’s historic Dock Street Brewery. It was one of the first stops on a whirlwind 60-date international tour that will keep the West Philly-born rapper busy through August, one that mixes his “Philly Over Everybody” attitude with some truths about being black in America.
He has teamed up with Donn T, soulful daughter of the late Lee Andrews Thompson (Lee Andrews & The Hearts) and sister to Amir Khalib “Questlove” Thompson (The Roots), to form &More. Their debut album titled Ethel Bobcat dropped on April 5. Chill Moody compared the hip hop supergroup’s sound to Gnarls Barkley and Run The Jewels, but quickly retreated. “Not really. It’s more soul and R&B, or that real Philly shit,” he says.
Three weeks prior, Chill Moody celebrated his 34th birthday by performing three songs from the new album at NPR’s Tiny Desk concert series in Washington, D.C. He started the jam session by saying, “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere” and tsking a big swig of nicethings IPA, a hazy juice bomb featuring Mosaic, Amarillo and Simcoe hops.
“I was there [at Dock Street Brewery] three to four times a week, chopping up pineapples and talking to the brewer,” Chill Moody says. “When someone tells me they like the beer, it feels the same as someone liking one of my songs.” He just finished tweaking the recipe for a second collaboration beer with Dock Street and hopes to release it in time for The Roots Picnic on June 1. “We’re putting blackberries in a cream ale,” he says.
Both of us are fighting hangovers as we sit down to chat about the first craft beers we drank, the current state of hip hop, and the time he got bit by a crazed fan.
First off, let’s get this out of the way. How the heck did you end up brewing a beer with Dock Street?
The short story is this: I went down there when they released a Wu-Tang inspired beer [Ain’t Nothing To Funk With] and met the head brewer and we started talking. I met the owner [Rosemarie Certo] and she was like, ‘Who the hell are you?’ That was funny and we laughed and chatted, and I just got a good vibe and we decided to brew an IPA called nicethings. I told them my aunt lives at the top of the block and that area is going through some gentrification. While some of the families in that neighborhood weren’t fans of what was going on, I told them I appreciated it. I appreciated what they were doing because they were doing it the right way. They weren’t chasing people out.
When I worked with Dock Street on brewing nicethings IPA, I was there three to four times a week, chopping up pineapples and talking to the brewer.”
What is your favorite style of beer?
I was first into porters and stouts. Edmund Fitzgerald from Great Lakes was my beer. I still love it. I’ll drink that one in the studio. Eddie Fitz, that’s what we call it—it gets you “in your feelings.” Seriously. We call that truth serum.
What was the first beer you ever drank?
Olde English 800 would be my first trash beer. First real beer? Innis & Gunn. It was something barrel-aged. Oh, and Mad Elf from Troegs. Those are the two I remember really liking. It was more than the way they tasted. It was the beer culture. People were literally lining up to get cases of stuff. It wasn’t just drinking, and that’s the part I want to bring with nicethings. There is so much more to it. You hear about people lining up for Heady Topper. I love that. I want to bring that aspect to hip hop.
You mentioned malt liquor...
Growing up, my people were drinking Colt 45 all the time. And they were drinking it to get crunked up, you know? That shit is terrible for you. It rots your insides. And, listen, I drank it too. But it’s not good for you, physically or mentally. It’s not good for your mindset.
Why do you think it took hip hop so long to embrace craft beer?
Honestly, I think a lot of the beverage companies dictated that. They were throwing money at these guys and all they had to do was mention the company or put their name on it. When I worked with Dock Street on brewing nicethings IPA, I was there three to four times a week, chopping up pineapples and talking to the brewer. Some guys might not have the time to do that, to really invest in being a part of the process like that. I also benefit from being from Philly, one of the fastest growing beer scenes in America. After we made our beer, I saw it start catching on more in the hip hop community.
This whole philosophy of ‘nice things’ that you keep throwing around. What does it mean and where did it come from?
It goes back to my aunt and all my cousins, it’s how we talked. We listened to a lot of Nas and Wu Tang and Mobb Deep and they all had slang they used. We needed our own slang. Nice things is about appreciating the important things in your life, like taking care of your family and counting your blessings—it’s my mantra throughout life. When hip hop started picking up for me, I needed a brand slogan. From the beer you drink to the clothes you wear—you need to create a brand.
You are in the middle of a tour for Ethel Bobcat and obviously you have been on plenty of tours. What are you drinking when you are out there on the road?
In my travels, I like to drink locally, try all the cool stuff in the area. I can honestly say I’m drinking for work… It’s research. I just had a great beer when I was down in Austin for South by Southwest. It was Zilker Brewing and they had this honey IPA that was really good. It reminded me of nicethings IPA, only they swapped honey for pineapple.
Have you had any really awkward moments out on tour?
Too many. Usually when someone says, ‘You’re Chill Moody.' I tell them, ‘No, that’s my brother...’ One time, a fan bit me. I was walking through the crowd and she was drunk—I mean really, really drunk—and she did like a zombie walk toward me and just fell on me. I was like, ‘Did you just bite me?’ We all laughed about it. She was like passed out drunk. You’ve seen this girl before at shows, way too drunk for this early in the day. I’m sure she doesn’t remember doing it.
There are so many different sounds out there, with mumble rap and country rap. How do you view the state of hip hop right now?
Hip hop is the number one genre in the world. The entire culture is embedded. It’s the culture of everything: the way people dress, the way people talk, the way people walk. You see everyone wearing those big Beats by Dre headphones—and that’s all part of hip hop culture, and indicative of hip hop continuing to grow. Look, we got a country song, 'Old Town Roads' by Lil Nas X, that is a rap song at the top the charts. Billy Ray Cyrus just came out and said it’s a country song, even though Billboard removed it from the country charts. It’s a rap song. It’s got 808s in it. I’m blessed about the state of hip hop right now. I always say hip hop got me here. I can walk into the room and people know me. They didn’t know me before.
You know a lot of famous Philly rappers, stars like Black Thought, Questlove, Freeway, etc. What does that mean to you being a native Philadelphian?
It means everything to me. It’s been a goal of mine to be a great artist. It’s been a goal of mine to be accepted by the great artists, and for them to co-sign me. I talk to everybody. Me and Freeway developed a tight relationship early on. He dumped some jewels on me, real gems about things he learned along the way—from falling and banging his head and getting back up. Me and Black Thought talk mad often, too. He’s always watching what I do. It’s good to know that I can reach out to him for advice, for a favor, or just to tell him a funny story.
You mentioned Black Thought being a huge influence. What was his best advice?
He told me about rapping and running: It’s all about breath control, so he told me I should be rhyming while I’m on the treadmill. If you watch Black Thought, his rhymes are rapid. He’ll go for 40 minutes and never take a breath. You have to practice that. He taught me that my lungs are instruments, muscles, and you got to work them out.
Rapping and running on the treadmill, huh? Any weird looks at the gym?
[Laughing] People give me weird looks all the time. My socks haven’t been matched since who knows how long.