Meet Hunter Heflin (C '18). Hailing from Bethesda, Maryland, this part time senior has been juggling Camp Kessem, his frat, and Spring Football during his time at Penn. And oh, yeah, he's also one hell of a rapper.
Hunter, who just goes by his last name, Heflin, in the music world, has been recording his own original music for the better part of a decade. His latest project, called Far From Perfect, aims to chronicle all of the ups and downs of being a student at Penn and dive underneath the surface of the college experience. Back from a year–long hiatus, and with three songs yet to be released, his mojo seems restored as only a true labor of love can do. We picked Heflin's brain to find out what it takes to balance school with writing/producing your own album (because we can barely handle class on its own).
34th Street: So, when did you start recording your own music?
Hunter Heflin: When I was 13, my parents got me this synthesizer for Christmas, and that lets you layer different tracks over each other. So I started producing then, but not really writing. And then, when I was 17, I would just be in my room for hours and hours doing stuff, cause you know, you kind of just get lost in it. But my brother came in one day, and heard what I was working on, and he told me, "Hey, this is actually sick. But no one is gonna listen to this unless you have words over it." So I started writing the words for it, not for me to sing, but for other people. So I started to collaborate with other people and make music that way. Before freshman year is when I started taking rapping myself seriously. When I was a freshman I would rap just to my freshman year roommate, and he was the only person who would hear it. I didn't even tell my parents about it and that I was this serious 'cause I was afraid as to how they would react. But then, that summer I rapped for my mom, and she was like "This is pretty good, I'm surprised you could do that," and it was sweet. So that's kind of how it evolved, I guess.
Street: So, you're your own producer then?
HH: Well, I put out a project sophomore year, and that one I produced. But then I just got really busy with classes and everything. So I just started going online and finding producers like that. It's one of those progress over pride things. I just feel like people who put all of their time and energy into producing are much better at it than I am. So, it's like, why not use that expertise to my advantage?
Street: What happened between that album and Far From Perfect?
HH: Sophomore year I got pretty concussed, and it was just a shitty time. But then junior year I started writing again, and this past summer I made what is supposed to be an album, but three of the songs aren't out right now. They really round out the project. Those are forthcoming soon, I'm just working on some sampling issues.
Street: What inspired Far From Perfect?
HH: If I had to pinpoint a moment where I knew that the title of my project was going to be called Far From Perfect, it was when I was at my uncle's house up in Connecticut just trying to record some stuff, and it wasn't happening. I just did not have the same energy as I did freshman and sophomore year. I felt like I was trying to force it, and I didn't want it to happen that way. So I was texting my mom and I told her, you know, "I don't really know what's happening, it's not going how it used to." And she told me, "you're trying too hard. You don't need to worry about whether or not it sounds perfect. You need to have fun with it and worry less if you think it sounds good and just see where having a good time leads you."
Street: Where did the rest of your inspiration come from?
HH: The title hits on a few points. One of the things I was trying to do was trying to deconstruct Penn Face a bit. I think you can see that even in my album cover with the upside–down iceberg. The whole idea is that there's so much more under the surface, you know, with what you can't see. That's sort of the elevator pitch anyways [laughs]. It's simple enough for people to get it, but enough to make them think twice.
Street: What are your some of your favorite artists that you would say have impacted your music?
HH: J. Cole is probably my favorite guy right now. You're smiling; do you like him? Have you listened to For Your Eyes Only? When I heard that, I was like "Shit, that's good." Drake is another one; I really like him; you probably could hear that on the project. Who else, let's see...Mac Miller, Logic, Future, Chris Brown, and a lot more.
Street: Tell me a little bit more about your recording process. What does it take to make a song, start to finish?
HH: I usually start with finding a beat that I like. I don't really write songs out of thin air, it's usually a back and forth between me and another artist or producer, whatever. I'm looking for something that makes me feel something, feel a certain type of way, and then it's that feeling that usually drives a song for me. And then from there, I start writing lyrics to tell a story or that emotion, it really depends on the song. A song like "Far From Perfect," I knew that one was going to be like a story. But with another one, like, let's take "Basics," it's really fun and I just wanted to kind of fuck around and make something that just sounds really good. Every song is a little different. But I want them all to have a sort of impact.
You can listen to Heflin's latest project Far From Perfect on Spotify and Apple Music.
**Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.