Hunter Beard is a born hustler. By the time he was 13 in Little Rock, Arkansas, he was selling drugs. When he was sentenced to adult prison at 17 for robbery, he spent his time recording songs off the radio and rapping over them until a guard hooked him up with her father, a promoter. And for the last year, he's been doggedly emailing and dropping off his music at the L.A. Weekly offices.
He and his musical partner, Kendrick “Keddy Mac” MacNeil, both 31-year-old MCs, are currently sitting in a recording studio at the SAE Institute of Technology on Sunset Blvd. Beard, ruddy and wearing glasses, and MacNeil, who sports an afro and speaks with a molasses-thick accent, are exceedingly polite and gracious. They are shaking their heads at the fact that they played the House of Blues recently.
“When I first moved here, I was starving and living off Ramen noodles. My [now wife] would fly out and buy us a $5 Little Caesar's pizza, and we thought it was a feast,” Beard says.
The temptation to return to hustling so he could eat was strong, but Beard is a 14 time felon, he says. After his stint at 17, he was apprehended transporting meth and coke up through Arkansas and badly injured a police officer, which resulted in his serving a third of a 10-year sentence. He knew another arrest could put him away for good.
Instead, he focused his energy on getting shows. “[My last time in prison], I realized the horrible stuff I've done, unfortunately, will lend validation to my words. I was tarnished. [I knew I couldn't] get a normal job. So I got out and started pushing music.”
His single “Want It With Us?” ended up in radio rotation in five states in the South, he says. It gave him the confidence to move to L.A.
Once here, he discovered the much disparaged “presale” system of some clubs on the Sunset Strip. (Clubs give bands without a proven fan base a certain number of tickets to sell. The bands pay for the tickets up front and then, if things go well, recoup their investment by selling all the tickets.) But, in his typically good-natured fashion, he says he understands why promoters use the policy.
“Even Guns 'N Roses did presale. That's the way of Hollywood. Arkansas, never once would you do that. But when you sell the tickets, you do make the money. Before I used to sell maybe 30 out of my 40 tickets just to be at these venues [we] heard about as kids. But now, when you get 100 presale tickets, and you sell 200-300? That's making money.”
He and MacNeil both say they have the “good problem” now of always running out of tickets. Like many confident and unknown artists, they can be a bit delusional, however. For instance, though they say they “played the House of Blues” it turns out they actually were booked in the tiny Foundation Room inside the venue — Cypress Hill was on the main stage that night. And while MacNeil has an easy, relaxed flow, Beard's can sometimes sound forced.
Still, his determination is inspiring. You get the feeling he'll never give up on music, but even if it doesn't pan out, it's clear he'll come up with another plan. The guys exchange smiles. “We're gonna be millionaires,” Beard says.