One of the hyper-specific parts of being a small town Midwest kid in a modern age is that social media shares of crime-based news is sometimes the most grounded you'll feel in the lives of the people you once lived amongst. In my hometown of Salina, Kansas (exactly 1500 miles from both New York City and Los Angeles, in the geographic center of nowhere), our police force autoposts mugshot bookings and the associated accused criminal infractions directly to Facebook. The legality of such action is certainly the cause for some concern, but on rare occasions, it alerts you to the shocking revelation that a girl you once loved is now booby-trapping her apartment meth lab; or that the weirdo who once dated your sister is now being prosecuted for child pornography, and you get to repeatedly text your parents, reminding them that you were so goddamned right about him that they should send you an edible arrangement; once they've confirmed that your sister never posed for his "art".
Still, I'm hyper-protective of my hometown, in the same way I've spent a lifetime being hyper-protective of my little sister; when there is even the faintest hint of inpropriety, I immediately price out flights back to be the six foot seven inch juggernaut of justice, or at very least a dude with an expensive journalism degree and just enough law school slash drunken confidence under his belt to make a mole hill into a shit show. So, when the rumblings of this story began, I lost my goddamned mind.
Welcome, my friends, to Hick Hop.
Hick Hop is the country/rap hybrid we've all tried to pretend was unsustainable ever since Robert James Ritchie (i.e. Kid Rock) first got in the pit and tried to love someone, or (for the more visually satiated) the Kid wiped his ass with toilet paper that said "Radiohead" in a video designed to convince us that his 2006 marriage to Pamela Anderson would redefine monogamy. (They divorced in 2007.)
I'm equally shocked that we're engaging in conversation about a plague-like musical trend from a bygone era, yet I assure you it is for purposes more percipient than a good old fashioned Uncle Kracker slam. It is because my picturesque Kansas hometown is under sudden and increasingly forceful siege by a marketing street team who shares more in common with the deplorable methods of Scientology than a hick-ish goodwill tour.
This brings us to Mikel Knight. Mikel is a good ole boy who does light rap about parties and friends over acoustic guitars and drums loops. Here's a seminal track he did in 2011 called "Texas Bad Boi (Urban)".
There. You've received the introduction. Mikel has black friends and thoughts on Jared Leto and the points within a song where the drums and guitars should be introduced, based on historical precedent and/or which of his friends served in the armed forces. If you stick out through the end, like an Avengers post-credit sequence, Mikel and the full force of midi-based synthesizers will let all the white girls know when would be an acceptable time to "get low."
If you've even seen this article, chances are better than good you belong to the educated yet self-destructive world of ironic detachment which has claimed more than a decade of my life. We can all agree that Mikel makes bad music for bad dumb people and we are all capable of pointing and laughing at this flyover-state fiasco who steals just enough from black culture to not be outright offensive, but not enough that anyone would ever actually fuck to it.
The problem is, after twenty-nine years of hipster taste hysteria, I actually need you to treat this musical crime as a serious goddamned problem, and years of shouting "THIS BAND IS THE APOCALYPSE" has left me ill-equipped to draw your attention to a real danger dilemma.
The situation, as reported in multiple online blogs
, is this: A street team comprised of multiple vans and a tour bus is aggressively dispersing street team members throughout small mid-western towns, just like my hometown of Salina. Despite warnings from local law enforcement to not engage these die-hard Knightheads, local parking lots (such as those of Walmarts and Targets) are flooded by pushy team members, demanding compensation for Mikel Knight CDs. There are even reports out of Iowa
of street team members running vehicles off the road to force Mikel Knight albums onto unsuspecting pedestrians.
This is probably an important time to submit the following information: Mikel Knight has not released an album since 2010 and his website lists zero upcoming live performances. To reiterate: there appears to be an unholy mash-up of Blues Brothers and White Walkers aggressively demanding fandom and compensation for an artist that hasn't been seen in five years. This is genuinely horrifying.
Holt County News out of Nebraska was the first to turn their eye from the invading vans and the undeniably ridiculous nature of this whole thing, and instead focus on the social media interaction. There they found a highly trafficked fan page called Families Against Mikel Knight and the Maverick Dirt Road Street Team
. This page documents several years of reported harassment towards street team members suckered into this work but unable to fulfill daily requirements. As they published:
"Allegations on that page include physical abuse when the individuals do not meet their quotas for selling CDs in parking lots. Others alleged malnourishment and not being able to shower for over a week when failing to sell enough music, according to posts on the above Facebook page. There are also allegations of sales being a scam. Several charities have been publicized as benefiting from sales of the music, but that cannot be confirmed. Some stated Mikel Knight has donated in the past while others said they could not identify anyone who has donated."
Members of the street team have repeatedly been fined for failure to have a solicitor's license.
The engagement of the anti-street team has led to hourly updates about the current location of this illegal music caravan, which even at five a.m. for me is currently being tracked as approaching my neighbor city of Hutchinson, Kansas.
To unpack what we've detailed here: what a shitshow.
Much of the conversation surrounding these accusations, as is customary of my delightfully Laissez-faire upbringing, is the outcry that these kids are actively working to better themselves and government shouldn't strike them down simply because their nomadic behavior is not conducive to receiving properly documented permission to carry out capitalism. My friends from big city background are all but numb at this point to having weird independent burned compact discs shoved into their face while being met by simultaneous demands for outrageous compensation. So across the board, there are elements of this story that seem blasé. But then you introduce the notion that misguided twenty-somethings have been kidnapped for an inter-state campaign of coordinated harassment behind an artist that may no longer exist, and well, I think we all agree that deserves a horrifying amount of attention. Even the most Ayn Randish amongst the Free Market commentators takes a massive step back when you mention marketing vehicles running pedestrians OFF THE ROAD. There are even accusations on the "Families Against" page of collisions inherent in the group's daily plan of action which have resulted in fatalities, and were met with responses from Mikel himself of accusing the dead party of attempting to rob a drug dealer.
Seriously. This nightmare has everything. And that's what leaves me horrified. See, I've watched my hometown subjected to political threats in the past. For example, once every few years the KKK threatens to hold a march down Main Street, and while they never show, their outrage and pearl-clutching at the First Amendment always gets a disproportionate amount of ink, in a place where the newspaper still matters. So when I watch some weird Facebook page about kidnapped teenagers enslaved by HICK HOP get passed around the kids I went to high school with, I'm inclined to respond with a hearty, "Thank Christ I moved to LA." But when their parents and friends and ministers start sharing the page because they feel under siege by a Mad Max-esque group of viral marketers; that's when I nut up.
I spent my holiday weekend looking up every shred on the internet about this group, and after calls, emails, and threatening shouting I'm still at a loss to point towards any element that has a hint of being untrue. I can't fly out in time to catch up to this caravan of damaged boys, but here's hoping that this publication shines enough light that law enforcement might find a way to get these kids home. As a teenager who once participated in street teams for bands I've be horrified to admit to today, I'd love to take a call from anyone who is currently stuck in one of those vans, riding along other scared cards but closing off a disbelief towards the inevitable acceptance that the person you are breaking the law for will never know your name. The huge takeaway from the "Families Against" website is that so many of you have love, acceptance, and forgiveness waiting for you back home, so if you can find a friendly face in a Walmart parking lot or an understanding nod in a truck stop Taco Bell, please take the earliest opportunity to get away.