Behind the Scene: Mokah and Knowa Johnson

Welcome to Behind the Scene, a monthly series where Flagpole and DTproductions  profile the people who work offstage to make Athens music matter.

WHO: Mokah and Knowa Johnson

WHAT THEY DO: Athens Hip Hop Awards co-founders; hosts, Athens Hip Hop Industry Night and Open Mic at Max, first Saturdays starting Nov. 1



Knowa: We ended up in Athens after living in Gwinnett County for two years. We had a relative that got a job in Athens, so we came here to check out the scene and researched it. We fell in love with the history of the place and the potential that it had. So, we stayed. 

Mokah: The arts, the family, the culture brought us here. We stayed with family and then visited downtown. We said, “Oh, this is cool.” The last place I remember being where I saw someone on the street randomly playing music was probably New York back in the day on the subway. When we visited, I could hear bands playing out the windows when I was walking down the street. We like it here, so we’re trying to make it work. 


Mokah: In my opinion, the market doesn’t cater to it. The market doesn’t support it as much—the people or the organizers or whoever it may be—they don’t cater to it, or they’re not as open to it. As a promoter, going downtown, knocking on doors saying, “Hey! I’ve got a hip hop night. I want to do this!” They’re not as welcoming, because it has a stereotype and they think it might draw some kind of negativity. We’re not teeny-boppers. It’s a culture. It’s a lifestyle. We go through different phases of it, but downtown and the city [aren’t] as welcoming to [let us] collaborate and let us try different things. 

Knowa: Hip hop in Athens has a similar feel to when EDM was first trying to surface. The resources may not be there. The artists may not be very well-educated on how to make a career. 

We’re not teeny-boppers. It’s a culture. It’s a lifestyle.


Mokah: We wanted to have a home, a forum where there was somewhere you could go every week and showcase. After doing the hip hop awards, we waited about a year. Our first year here, we didn’t do much outside of the hip hop awards. Then, the second year, we decided to go ahead with the hip hop open mic to try to stimulate the market a little more. 

Knowa: We wanted to do it downtown. We wanted to [close the gap] between college students and the local artists and bring them all together. We wanted to give hip hop in Athens a universal look. We want to reflect an international look. 


Knowa: Since it happens weekly, we wanted to have an event that would keep people entertained. We have some people that come every week. We like that and we want to keep them coming back. We’re out there making phone calls and doing research to see what artists are around that have a fanbase. We try to find a group or project out there that we can help give exposure to. Outside of that, there’s the open mic element where you can sign up if there is space available.

Mokah: If you come on any given night, you don’t know who you’re going to see. It’s at the point where it’s not just hip hop. We’ve had bands. We’ve had R&B artists. We’ve had poets. We’ve had people come through, and it’s been a blessing.