Holding his phone to the laptop microphone so I could hear, Jonah Jurick (W '22) plays excerpts from his hand–picked playlist over Zoom, fully immersed in each second and moving his head slightly to the beat. Comfortable playing the drums, guitar, and piano, he spends his free time listening to and creating music as Hei$t, with over 250,000 Spotify streams on his track “Romeo.”
Hei$t’s “Holy Grail” playlist features some of his biggest inspirations, each with special significance in either his music or personal life. With songs from the likes of A$AP Rocky, Jay–Z, and Future, Hei$t’s favorite tracks share a two–hour playlist runtime with some of his own music.
A slight contrast to the mostly–energetic rap on Hei$t's playlist, the soothing, contemporary hip hop/R&B lilts of Mac Miller appear more than any other artist. “He’s probably the most influential musician I try to base my music off of. He’s incredibly intelligent with his writing and has so many good songs, but I chose ‘Good News’ specifically, because when I listen to the lyrics, I could almost cry.” In line with his admiration of Miller’s lyrical mastery, Hei$t identifies writing as the hardest aspect of his creative process, and often the slowest component. “There’s just so much I want to say but it’s hard to fit it all in, get the right number of syllables, and make them rhyme.”
Along with Mac Miller, Kanye West stands out as another titan of inspiration in Hei$t’s playlist. “I chose ‘Use This Gospel’ because Kanye uses so many different samples, which makes his songs really influential. He also uses a lot of effects on his voice depending on the project he’s working on. For this specific song, he uses a vocoder to make his voice fuller so you feel like you’re listening to a gospel.” The playlist’s inclusions of “Use This Gospel” (2019) as well as older numbers like “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” (2007) speak to the rap legend’s steady influence on Hei$t over the years, especially since he began working on his own music much earlier than his arrival at Penn.
Hei$t’s stage name originated junior year of high school during an ordinary lunch period with his best friend. “I’d already made a couple of songs but nothing serious, and my friend goes, ‘We gotta make this official. We gotta give you a name right now.’ So we start brainstorming and he’s asking me what my favorite thing in the world is, what I want, all of that. And I said, ‘I love money. I love Benjamins—who doesn’t?’” he explains, laughing at the memory. Taking inspiration from the movie Tower Heist, he replaced the "s" in heist with a dollar sign, and has been using the name ever since.
Even with Hei$t’s lighthearted comments about loving luxury, it’s clear he creates music for the music alone. Recognition, fame, and money are second to everything from the inception of a song to the promotion of the finished product. As he excitedly explains his creative process, Hei$t details how he submerges himself in every aspect of formation from start to finish.
“My creative process has changed over the time I’ve been making music. In high school, it was listening to a beat in the car, freestyling with my friends, and then going to a studio to record it. There wasn’t really any writing. But then I met Johnny High (aka Will Nellis C'20) when I got to Penn, who's an incredible producer—I worked with him on ‘Romeo,’ ‘Sweet Susie,’ and a bunch of other songs. When he starts to make a beat, I’m in the background feeling the vibe, giving suggestions. As we’re working on the beat and bass line, the idea for a song starts to formulate.” Before the finished product, though, Hei$t writes lyrics based on a roughly–hummed outline of the refrains. The final touches come after the words find their places in the melody; During the last stages, Hei$t and his producer focus on mixing, mastering, and considering how they will add their own personal styles.
In “Sweet Susie,” one of Hei$t’s favorites of his own, he imagines the perfect girl over dreamy guitar strums marked by melodic bars and a distinctive chorus. Hei$t and Johnny High treated the track as a project, letting the bass line speak for itself and direct the atmospheric feel of the song. Every feature of his music reflects the personal care placed into his work; Hei$t even directs the creative vision of his album art, reaching out to several different artists on Instagram with an unreleased cut of the song and brief description of what he’s looking for before deciding on one for his track.
Hei$t possesses the laid–back confidence of someone who uncompromisingly understands his passion for music. From a young age, his father served as a role model for him as a drummer in various bands for the majority of his life. Listening rapturously with his father at a Jack Johnson concert in eighth grade, Hei$t recalls the hold Johnson had on the audience. “We were outdoors in Brooklyn and it was incredible—everyone in the crowd moved together. He played all my favorite songs like ‘Banana Pancakes’ and ‘Better Together,’ and that was when I realized: Damn, I wanna be like this guy.”
Still, even with the bravado conveyed through his lyrics, Hei$t notes that no musician is immune to criticism. “Negativity and doubt of my own personal success is something I deal with on a day–to–day basis. [I am] constantly thinking about what my listeners will think about the song or project that just dropped, or even specific lines within a song. Other people doubting my success as an artist is also something I’m faced with every day—getting chirped at on social media, texts saying my shit sucks. I guess what I’ve learned is the best way to deal with criticism is to use it as a motivator, because that’s the only way I’m going to improve. Not everything I put out is going to be liked by everyone, so the more feedback I accept, the more I learn. That’s all.” Despite the criticism and pressure, Hei$t seems to be keeping his word to use any negativity as fuel: His first full–length album is dropping early 2021.
Hei$t’s ambition saturates both his path as an artist as well as his time at Penn. Studying real estate and finance with a minor in music, Hei$t is unsure of where his career will take him, but he doesn’t feel immense pressure to get signed because regardless of what he ends up pursuing, music will be a part of his life.