Monday, March 9, 2015

This Memphis Emcee Teaches from the College of Musical Knowledge

‘Knowledge Nick’ Breaks the Stereotype Box
With Music and ‘The Suburban Itch’ Film

So many people told “Knowledge Nick” Hicks they did not think he was from Memphis that the popular Memphis hip-hop artist wrote a song about it.

“The M” chronicles Hicks’ view of his city, “from the ‘burbs to the hood” and “blessed, from East to West” and explains that people think he is from “up North.”

“People want to put you in a box,” laments Hicks, who also says he is "excited" about being part of "The Suburban Itch" film. 

Knowledge Nick and his music were, therefore, a perfect match to be featured in “The Suburban Itch,” a comedy short film which attacks profiling with humor and music.   

“The M” and “Leaders of the New School,” written and performed by Hicks and Bartholomew Jones will, respectively, open and close the film.   “The Suburban Itch,” a Moore Media & Entertainment film, was shot and produced entirely in Memphis. 

Hicks does not have a Southern accent – at least by local standards – and he is thoughtful and well-spoken.  A slender fellow, Hicks has a wide smile that flashes out from under his ball cap and black-rimmed glasses, which bring to mind a young Spike Lee.

Through music and his desire to shape a better community, Hicks is striving to break out of any stereotypes and lead a “new school” of citizens and performers.


You want your hip-hop artists to fit a stereotype?  You think a message-focused emcee is the same as a commercial rapper?  Knowledge Nick may not be the guy for you.  Hicks has no tattoos, and he makes music with a message of guidance for the people, rather than boasting about his cars, chains or “shorties.”

Perhaps the most un-rapper-stereotype about Knowledge Nick is his day job – Hicks is an actuarial analyst for a consulting firm.  

“I like working with balance sheets,” says Hicks, age 26, who has a bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Memphis.  “I would like to work more with investments.”

While he has no tattoos, Hicks says, “If I ever got a tattoo, it would say, ‘Discipline.’”


Knowledge Nick’s musical themes include uplifting the community and “using knowledge” to break out of constraints imposed on oneself or by the larger society. 

“I can’t stand to see the ignorance,” Hicks raps in “Listen to This,” and he knocks rappers who “compromise your soul to get a record deal.”

In “One Time for Ya Mind,” Hicks sings, “This is a state of emergency” and a “wakeup call for grownups and adolescents.”   He decries crime, low-hanging pants and gang signs.  He raps a message about “getting a bachelor’s or an MBA” and implores listeners to “help in the community…

“I preach, because, the youth we got to teach -- we are more than entertainers and athletes,” he raps, and, use “knowledge of self to combat what we was taught…instead of thinking a lack of intelligence is fine.”


Hicks and some friends had a bad experience with profiling and being hassled by police on Oct. 25, 2013, after a South Main Trolley Night downtown.  After the organized musical entertainment was over, Hicks and others continued a good musical vibe, “ciphering” a flow of improvised lyrics.

Police showed up and said someone had complained about the noise – although it was about 10:30, not especially late for a Friday night downtown.   

Hicks describes what happened next:

“The police came and immediately told the DJ to cut the music off, and the DJ complied.

“One of the onlookers joked to the police, ‘Let me see your license and registration,’ and that’s when all hell broke loose.  The police tried to arrest the onlooker, who was obviously joking.  Then, another individual accidentally bumped into one of the officers.  That’s when MPD began being rough with that individual, even using pepper spray.

“At this time a lot of people were pulling out their cell phones to record what was going on, and when the police asked one of the onlookers to ‘give me your phone,’ and the person refused, the officer took him to jail and confiscated his phone.   

“That violated the consent to search or take seizure without a warrant,” Hicks says. 

The musical gathering and fun vibe that turned into a police confrontation made the news, and Knowledge Nick was named as the “local rapper” who was leading the party. 

Not satisfied with how things went down, Hicks later trekked to the Memphis Police Department Internal Affairs office to complain and talk things over.  The MPD representative said, according to Hicks, “’Well, you did this, and you did that,’ but they never showed signs of accountability from the officers.

“He did not have the picture right, and did not want to,” says Hicks, who left disappointed, but determined to step up as more of a leader.

“I’m big on people knowing their rights, and on leadership and accountability,” Hicks says. 

Still, Hicks says there is room for improvement on the part of police and citizens, and he says there needs to be sensitivity all around.  “A policeman could be having a bad day, anybody can.”

Hicks’ experience and that of others who have been hassled or arrested while taking video of police gave rise to a movement to resurrect and strengthen a Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board, which had been abandoned and de-funded while it continued to exist on paper.  The Mid-South Peace and Justice Center and other groups have been leading on this issue.

“The Suburban Itch” takes on racial profiling by police and others, and it opens, tongue-in-cheek, with police hassling a white jogger for running out of his element in North Memphis near Chelsea and Hollywood. 

“This reverses the familiar story of police hassling young black men, and it challenges people to examine if their emotions change, when only a person’s looks change,” says Gary Moore, writer, director and producer of “The Suburban Itch.”  

“Nick has experienced this sort of thing first-hand,” Moore says, “and it makes him an even more ideal artist to have as a partner in delivering a moral message about how we treat one another.”


“I have been able to see multiple perspectives on life,” Hicks says.  “That has molded me to understand different things and people.  I like to think, community first.  What can we do as a community to bring us together?”

Hicks’ experiences have included working as an intern his entire senior year for the US Army Corps of Engineers and a summer growing beans, squash, tomatoes and corn on his grandparents’ farm outside Covington. 

Yoga and meditation are also among Knowledge Nick’s interests.         

“I am a spiritual person,” he says.  “I have this spirit about helping people.” 

Hicks says, “It’s character, values and standards, that attract you to good people.  I don’t mean that in just a boyfriend-girlfriend way.”


Released last year, The New Memphis was the fourth and last of Knowledge Nick’s albums, and he has a full-length album, The Diary of Knowledge Nick, ready to be released soon.   

Hicks puts down musical artists who have “sold out” their principles for fame and money.

“To me, music is therapeutic. “


Knowledge Nick’s publisher views Nick as a “different breed,” just like his line in “The M.” 

"What sets Nick apart from other artists is that he's a change agent,” says Kevin Youngblood, CEO of Artist Tree Entertainment.  “The trolley incident proves that.  Most artists probably would have ranted on social media for a few weeks, recorded a song to post on Soundcloud or Bandcamp, voicing their displeasure. That would have been all.

“Nick took the issue beyond himself and his music,” Youngblood says.  “He could have easily used that to promote his music -- one person actually suggested that was what he was doing with everything surrounding the incident.  Nick didn't let this define him, and he didn't use this as promoting himself.  He was genuinely looking for answers and looking to be the change he wanted to see.”

Artist Tree’s artists, including Knowledge Nick, Iron Mic Coalition and Max Ptah, recently donated their performances to Hip-hop Fam Jam Vol. 1, a night of family-friendly hip-hop at Crosstown Arts.  WMC-TV aired a story about the Fam Jam in its “good news” segment.  Link to story:

“Mainstream media tends to give hip-hop such a negative connotation that it hurts the hip-hop scene here,” Youngblood says.  “When a music venue hears ‘hip-hop’ or ‘rap’ or ‘rapper,’ they think we are bringing in a rowdy crowd, maybe a vulgar or violent element.

“Actually, it is the total opposite,” says Youngblood.  “We are socially conscious – but having fun is one of the principles of hip-hop.  We represent integrity.  The stories that we tell, we know about.  We are living it or have lived it.  Integrity is the cornerstone of Artist Tree.”


In the film, an African-American college student, Mary Beth Miles (played by Charisse Norment) comes to the rescue of the white jogger when police hassle him.  Police handcuff the two together, calling it “street justice.” 

When Mary Beth must come home in handcuffs and face her irascible father, things not only do not go well – dad James Miles (played by Delvyn Brown) discovers the young man is an out-of-work reporter who wrote negative stories about Miles’ company.

“James Miles would love for his daughter to bring home Nick Hicks,” Moore says.

“The Suburban Itch” is coming out of post-production this week, and the film will be submitted to U.S. and foreign film festivals, including Indie Memphis.

Those who question that Knowledge Nick is from Memphis have it backwards, says Jenni Moore, executive producer of “The Suburban Itch.”

“Memphis is open to creativity and gives people room to be who they are, without having to follow a pattern, more than most places,” she says.  “In that way, Knowledge Nick is very much from Memphis.” 


Gary Moore
Moore Media & Entertainment
Moore Media Strategies
Business, Non-Profits, Entertainment, Sports, Politics, Public Policy
"If not you, who?
"If not now, when?"













No comments:

Post a Comment