Daryl "Chill" Mitchell: Survival Skills
Star of House Party and Brothers tells DX about childhood friend Rakim, onetime group Groove B Chill, and much more.
Ever wondered why Martin Lawrence’s deejay character in House Party had the not-so-common name of Bilal? It’s because the famed film that made Kid ‘N Play household names wasn’t supposed to star the Bronx/Queens duo of kick-steppin’ rappers, but instead was originally conceptualized with Long Island emcees Groove and Chill (a.k.a. Chili Dog) in the lead roles, with their real-life deejay, Bilal, as their bad breath friend on the ones and twos.
While the more known Kid ‘N Play were eventually cast over Chill and Groove by House Party writer/director Reginald Hudlin (who had gotten to know the animated trio of Groove B Chill while directing videos for their onetime label home, Uptown Records), the rappers they replaced still wound up contributing two of the stronger supporting roles in the 1990 coming-of-age classic - Chill, sporting his then signature black fedora hat, portrayed the nemesis to Martin’s mixing attempts who would eventually ensure his suit-sporting, stumbling down drunken friend Groove safely made his way “home.”
After House Party premiered (and Groove B Chill’s first and only full-length went under-promoted by the group’s label later that year), Chill found himself a hot commodity in Hollywood thanks in part to his befriending of Bill Cosby while appearing in an episode of The Cosby Show. The current clean-Rap advocate proceeded to help his newfound rapper friend secure work with Cosby Show home NBC (on the short-lived Malcolm-Jamal Warner-led Here And Now, which Chill followed with standout roles on The John Laroquette Show, Veronica’s Closet and Ed).
The naturally gifted comedic actor had to forfeit his music career in favor of what proved to be more lucrative television work since his supporting roles married him to the show’s shooting schedules, leaving little time to continue recording (unlike fellow rappers Will Smith and LL Cool J who could advance their actor/rapper ambitions as the leads in their own sitcoms on NBC at the time). Thankfully now, after an 18-year hiatus, Chill is being afforded the opportunity to resume making music as producer/co-writer of his own sitcom Brothers (airing Friday nights on Fox), in which he is the co-lead alongside former NFL star and Fox football commentator Michael Strahan. Also in which, he portrays a self-named character whose story almost exactly parallels that of his own - Chill was paralyzed from the waist down following a 2001 motorcycle accident.
Remaining remarkably motivated after his accident so as to care for his three children (including an autistic son), the founder of The Daryl Mitchell Foundation (and official spokesperson for the minority outreach program with The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation) has taken up the cause of being an advocate for those with spinal chord injuries (with plans to launch his own radio show aimed at the disabled community) while continuing his acting career, and even producing his own indie films (through Son To Son Media Group). But for his recent interview with HipHopDX, the discussion remained largely focused not on his on-screen pursuits, but on the Wyandanch, Long Island native’s relationship with childhood friend (and former crewmember) William Griffin (a.k.a. Rakim), Chill’s giving a then 19-year-old Pete Rock his first real break as a producer, and many more eye-popping music-related revelations regarding his history in Hip Hop that is often overlooked by the mainstream media that knows Daryl “Chill” Mitchell solely as one of the funniest actors on TV today.
HipHopDX: I gotta start off by asking you about something I learned from watching your episode of Life After on TV One, is it true that you spent a considerable amount of time posted on the block freestyling with the God?
Chill: No doubt. Me and [Rakim] [click to read] went to school together. Me and Ra was in gym class together. We was in the same deejay crew at one time, called the Chaos Crew. We used to be on the corner. That was the block on 26th Street. We used to be spittin’. Yo, half of the stuff Ra did – Ra musta had like 12 albums, man. Before his time, dog. Before his time!
DX: So Kid Wizard was always nasty?
Chill: Kid Wizard, baby, how you know about that? You know about Kid Wizard, huh? That’s funny.
DX: [Laughs] Was young Will Griffin always that stoically serious though?
Chill: Yo, always – You know what, I’d be lying if I say that ‘cause dude got a very, very funny, humorous side to him. But, he was a smart dude. He was always a wordsmith. He was always smart, and he’d pick up on things. And, Ra was like one of the first ones used to hang out and [rhyme] – ‘Cause he really [from], his origins is Brooklyn. He got a lot of people out there, so Ra used to be out there kickin’ it all the time and before you know it bruh, history was made. But he always was smart wit’ it. When he did it on the plateau that he did it, it was just like good night. I was like, “Dude, you on Soul Train. Only Marvin Gaye and Teddy Pendergrass be on Soul Train, what you doing on Soul Train, dog?” It was crazy.
DX: You said y’all was down together in a deejay crew, Chaos Crew?
Chill: Hip Hop was the little league of the ghetto. Nobody could afford a whole deejay [setup on their own]. You buy speakers, somebody buy – You chip in on the records, somebody come in with they mic, and you put together your crew.
DX: Who were you and who was Ra? Like, were you the speaker guy and he was the mixer guy?
Chill: Nah, Ra was one of the emcees, and Ra was a deejay. Everybody start out – You gotta be a deejay! The deejay was the premier man. The rapper wasn’t always the premier man. And then the younger you was on the turntables, that was like, “He can do that?!” So you wanted to be on the turntables. And [Chiq's] “Good Times,” that was my joint. I was a mad mixer. I could mix some “Good Times,” boy. But Ra was a deejay too. He still got skills on the turntables.
DX: Were you part of Ra’s Love Brothers rhyme squad or was Groove B Chill already formed?
Chill: Nah, believe it or not, Love Brothers was him and this other kid named Gerald Harrison. So that was him and Ra; that was them two. They was called The Love Brothers. That was a Rap duo, [with] Ra and G-Stro.
DX: I didn’t know there was another emcee partner with Ra.
Chill: Yeah, that’s his other emcee, G-Stro, but he doing a little time right now so we can’t talk to him right now.
DX: So why didn’t you and Ra like link up?
Chill: We was always cool, but the thing about it was…we were all trying, especially as The Chaos Crew. Because it wasn’t about the professional aspect, we was just trying to do what we do. And Eric B. came and just linked up with Ra, and it felt like the next day Ra was on the radio! So Eric came outta nowhere and just seen the dude and linked up with Rakim, and before we knew it, he was with Marley Marl [click to read]! It was like, “How that happen?” It was the same way almost like [Groove B Chill] go to the studio and next thing you know we meet Andre Harrell. And it’s like, “How that happen?” And before you know it we on Uptown Records. So, it was just like Ra was – Well he didn’t leave [Chaos Crew], he was just pulled away to a whole ‘nother situation, outta nowhere.
DX: Can you clear up some Long Island Hip Hop folklore, was Eric B. really looking for Freddie Foxxx instead of Rakim?
Chill: That’s what I heard, but I ain’t gon’ sit there and say I know that to be law. I never really got at Ra about that situation ‘cause I just – I know Freddie [Foxxx] [click to read], and I know Ra, and they both my dudes. That’s supposedly what happened, but I don’t know. All I know is I seen Eric come out to Bilal’s house, to my deejay Bilal’s. He pulled up, he had the WBLS van – he used to work with them – and before I knew it…all I know, he left, and the next thing I know Rakim was on the radio. I never even seen Eric meet up with Rakim, all I knew is before I knew it – I remember seeing Eric, and then all of a sudden it was Eric B. & Rakim.
DX: It coulda been Eric B. & Chili Dog.
Chill: It coulda been, Eric B. & Chili Dog. At that time he didn’t come [to Wyandanch] talking about, you know, I’m looking for a rapper or none of that. He just came in and was kickin’ it with [promoter and subsequent EPMD bodyguard] Alvin Toney, and before you know it was like – Alvin wanted to bring him through to meet us ‘cause we was the premier deejay duo in Long Island, me and DJ Bilal.
DX: So you and Bilal was together, and then Groove came along…?
Chill: Yeah Groove came along and was like he need a deejay. Because he had The Rock Squad with Parrish Smith and them, and they was a group on Tommy Boy. And they deejay had left, so Groove came and found Bilal. And then another member left [and] Bilal insisted that I got down with the group. And I was like, “Aiight, cool,” but I wanted to be a solo artist, bad. But he was like, “This our opportunity to get in the game ‘cause they already got a deal.” And I was like, “Alright, let’s do it.” And that’s how we [eventually] formed Groove B Chill. I think the last member of The Rock Squad left, and then we tried to use the name and realized Tommy Boy owned the rights to the name so we couldn’t use it, so that’s why we changed the name [to Groove B Chill].
DX: Rock Squad, do you know if that was Parrish and Erick [Sermon] or just Parrish?
Chill: It was just Parrish and his brother Smitty. There was another brother named Smitty that was down with the group.
DX: I didn’t realize Long Island Hip Hop was so interconnected…
Chill: You know what I tell people, we didn’t start Hip Hop, but we stabilized Hip Hop. Long Island stabilized Hip Hop… It put it where it needed to be. You could name maybe five groups that came from the streets of New York that made classics that [are] gon’ last forever. It might be five, maybe seven. But you go to Long Island, you 20 and 30 artists deep.
DX: The whole golden era is because of Long Island truthfully.
Chill: Yeah, dog. It wasn’t that we were better, it was just the fact that we were from the suburbs. And more people [could] relate to a suburban area than they could to the bricks of New York. It’s [but] so many stories in the city, you seen one high-rise you done seen ‘em all. That’s why House Party worked so well. If you notice, all the premier artists that was actors [in the movie] were from New York! And we shot it in California. But it was something that everybody could relate to, like all around the country, and most parts all around the world. It was like trees and sidewalks. Little white kids, black kids, Hispanics, everybody got trees and sidewalks once you get to [Long Island].
DX: That [environment is] what I got to ask you about. I don’t wanna keep asking Rakim shit, but the line from “Paid In Full,” “I used to roll up, this is a hold up,” was he kinda exaggerating a little bit…?
Chill: No. None. And he know I’ll go on record saying it. Not at all. Ra, he got a sheet.
DX: What is that, Straight Path I think it’s called [is the hot spot]?
Chill: Oh yeah, Straight Path. Yeah, Ra, he got a [juvenile criminal record].
DX: Well let’s get back to Groove B Chill, how long is the threesome firmly in place before y’all were discovered by Andre Harrell at that recording studio [in 1986]?
Chill: It was like a year. We was in the studio flippin’ with [producer] Nate Tinsley out in Wyandanch. Then we went to this other studio…we went out there and we was doing the mixing. Nate was working in the studio at the time, and that’s when Dre heard [our] stuff and was like, “Who is that group?” [And Nate was like], “Groove B Chill.” [And Andre was like], “I’m feelin’ that! I need one more group for my deal – I got a deal for five acts on MCA.” [So] they called us up like, “Dre heard y’all stuff. He interested in signing y’all to [Uptown] MCA.” That’s all we needed to hear. We was like, “We on our way!” We met with Dre, and the rest was history, baby.
DX: So in ’86 was y’all's sound like that New Jack Swing sound?
Chill: Oh yeah. We was all down with that stuff, that Uptown era with Teddy Riley [click to read] and Eddie F. That New Jack Swing was crazy. “Swingin’ Single” was our New Jack joint on our album.
DX: So I gotta ask then, why the chanting on [the label’s debut single] “Uptown Is Kickin’ It”?
Chill: You know what it was, we was on our way to the studio, we stopped [on] Jamaica Avenue to get our stuff, and I was sitting in the car and I was like, “Yo, we the last group on the [Uptown Is Kickin’ It compilation] album, what could we do?” So now I’m thinking of what we [should] do. I’m sitting in the car while Groove and B went, and they came back [and] I said, “We ain’t gon’ rhyme, man. Let’s do something…” Because nobody really knew us on Uptown Records, we was the last group that signed. I said, “Let’s do something including the whole [label roster] so we can show them that we ain’t coming in here trying to be hostile, and we paying homage to everybody that came before us on the label.” And that’s where we came up with the chant. And that’s [why] we named everybody, put ‘em in the joint. But it just turned out to be a hot joint ‘cause it was like something everybody could sing along [to], which everybody wasn’t doing at that time.
DX: What happened then with y’all and Uptown; why didn’t Groove B Chill put anything out through the label?
Chill: Well it was just a matter of – Dre just didn’t know what to do with us. He loved the group, he loved the sound, but it was like, “How do I market these dudes? They sing; they dance. Are they Hip-Pop?” He didn’t know what to do with us, man. And it was obvious that we were very animated ‘cause it’s showing up today while I’m doing television. That’s the way I was in music. And I look back at the songs that I [wrote] over that time and it was like everything had a story. It was that kinda thing. And Dre, he just didn’t know what to do with it. Not that he didn’t feel us, [but because] he just didn’t know what to do with it.
DX: So he let y’all go over to A&M [Records] no problem?
Chill: Yeah, he sent us over to A&M and then A&M tried to really put they – We stayed Uptown Management, so [Andre] still was having his influence. But, I think we should have just [stayed with Uptown Records]. We woulda had more of a Puffy influence. We [would have] been alright ‘cause Puffy loved Groove B Chill. Puff was in love with Groove B Chill, oh yeah. Diddy was like, “That’s my group right there.” Anytime something went down, Diddy was like, “Get Groove B Chill here.” ‘Cause he knew when we came we came to put it down. We always gave a show. We had dance routines. We had all kinda stuff, man. And Diddy loved that. He’s a showman, so he always had respect for our group.
DX: What’s interesting is that y’alls sound kinda changed though. How did Pete Rock’s first real production credits end up coming from Groove B Chill’s sole full-length, 1990’s Starting From Zero?
Chill: That [title-track] was a joint that…I sat down and wrote, and [he was like], “You going all out.” He felt it when I was kickin’ rhymes to him. And that’s when I first got a producer to score what you saying. He was like, “I’m feelin’ that,” and he just dropped that beat, and we was like, “Yeah.” So it was definitely a good collaboration [for that song and “There It Is”].
DX: You met Pete through Eddie F?
Chill: Basically through Eddie F, through Uptown. Pete [click to read] was hangin’ around Uptown as well. Uptown was the official…we was the premier [label at the time]. We had all the R&B [influenced Hip Hop], you know the easy Hip Hop joints. It wasn’t hardcore. We had that R&B-Hip Hop down, man. And I just think if things woulda been done differently, aww man, we woulda been there. I mean you talking a label that had like seven records on the radio at one time [in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s]. That’s unheard of these days. Heavy D., Mary J. Blige, Jodeci, Groove B – we had ours…Guy had joints on there, Woody Rock was playing, Finesse & Synquis was playing. We had joints! Then people started coming to the label like Christopher Williams, and we had Chubb Rock for a quick spell. We had dudes on there that was doing joints. Yeah, Uptown had it.
DX: Going back to Starting From Zero, I just heard that “Top Of The Hill” joint for the first time on YouTube, did y’all purposefully link with Prince Paul to get that Native Tongue vibe?
Chill: You know Prince [Paul] from Long Island, and he was like, “I got joints for you Chill.” And I was like, “Bet.” So after that we got into the studio and he started playing joints [and] I was like, “Oh yeah, that’s it. That’s it right there.” And we had a joint we wrote called “Top Of The Hill” and I was like, “Yo, this is the lick.” Being from L.I., and he was hot with De La [Soul] at the time, so it was like, c’mon, how could you turn down a Prince Paul track?
DX: Speaking of De La, “Let It Roll” sounds like a lost track from 3 Feet High And Rising.
Chill: That was Prince Paul! That’s the thing, man, back then producers, they had a distinct sound. You don’t get that no more. I’m working with a cat now, Sharif Islam, ‘cause I produce the music on [Brothers]. So we partnered up, and me and him – he outta Brooklyn – we gon’ try to do some things. We on our way to the studio now with Snoop [Dogg] [click to read] to do some stuff, so I might make that little introduction, let [Snoop] know what we doing, and who knows, ain’t no telling. But, [Sharif] has a distinct sound. And I’m like, “That’s what we gotta do. We gotta hit it and play with it.” ‘Cause ain’t no telling [if I might jump on the mic]. ‘Cause I feel it’s a grown man sport right now. I mean c’mon, Rick Ross [click to read] - these ain’t no little kids rappin’ no more, man. [And] it ain’t like I’m doing something that’s far-fetched. I just know I’m making grown folk good music. I ain’t no gangsta. I ain’t trying to be one.
DX: Going back to that Groove B Chill album, so Pete Rock, Prince Paul…and Stevie Wonder? How did Stevie end up [contributing to your] New Jack slow jam?
Chill: Groove came up with the idea [to replay a sample for “Where Were You”], ‘cause he heard that piece in the song [“Superwoman”]. He was like, “We need to sing that.” I was like, “Let’s do it.” ‘Cause Groove can sing. So that’s what we tried to give – I think that’s another thing too, that album never really had a true identity, ‘cause we was doing so many different things. It didn’t have no continuity. To put it blunt, it was all over the place. ‘Cause we just was trying to do a lot in one album, when we coulda did a little bit here and a little bit there and saved some for the next album. We was just trying to give everybody our best effort of course. But people loved the group. They still do to this day.
DX: No matter what you do, it ain’t nuttin’ like Hip Hop music [Laughs]. That [“Hip Hop Music”] joint is a classic…
Groove B Chill - Hip Hop Music
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Chill:That’s the one that everybody likes like, “That’s the joint.” We was just paying homage to Hip Hop. When I said, “Elvis Presley ain’t do nothin’ that we ain’t doin’ now / Sellin’ records by the millions, girls gettin’ laid / We must be doin’ somethin’ brother ‘cause bills gettin’ paid.” Like, yo, how you gonna say it ain’t music?