Poetry Unplugged returns with two additional days of headlining acts including Rapsody, aja monet and Slum Village: January 19 – 21, 2024

January 15, 2024 (Pittsburgh, PA) – The August Wilson African American Cultural Center (AWAACC) is proud to announce the debut of the Hooks & Phonics Festival, a groundbreaking weekend celebration of Hip-Hop culture and the art of Spoken Word Poetry taking place January 19-21, 2024. This inaugural festival is dedicated to amplifying the powerful stories of trial and triumph narrated by BIPOC communities, whose orators and emcees speak truth to power without compromise.

The festival offers a profound platform for these essential voices. “Curating the Hooks & Phonics Festival has been an incredible journey. We’ve aimed to capture the essence of Hip-Hop culture and Spoken Word Poetry while celebrating the diversity and power of these art forms” said Senior Director of Programming, Orlando Watson. “This festival is more than just a series of events; it’s a platform for voices that challenge, inspire, and uplift. We can’t wait to share this transformative experience with our audience.”

DAY 1: Poetry Unplugged – Date: Friday, 1.19.24
Doors: 7:00 PM
Show: 8:00 PM (ticketed)
Sounds by Selecta
Artists: Sunni Patterson, Ed Mabrey, aja monet, LoveTies, Jessica Lanay, Kayden Hern

 The festival kicks off with an evening dedicated to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Poetry Unplugged, made possibly with generous support from Citizens, explores Dr. King’s core values of non-violence, unification, self-realization, and justice. The lineup features renowned poets Sunni Patterson, a New Orleans poet, healer, ordained minister, life coach and teacher; Ed Mabrey, the Ohio-raised, L.A. based, Emmy-nominated poet/actor who is the most successful poet in the history of poetry slam with four world championships and more than 500 wins; aja monet, the Los Angeles-based “surrealist blues poet,” activist, educator and lyricist who channels Audre Lord, the Last Poets, June Jordan, Amiri Baraka and Jayne Cortez into her own moving and modern poetic conception; LoveTies, a Cleveland-based husband-and-wife spoken word poetry duo of Jamille and Dominicque Smith whose debut album, Patiently Waiting, was released in 2021; Jessica Lanay, the Florida-raised, Black feminist interdisciplinary writer, poet, and art journalist, whose debut  poetry collection, am•phib•ian, won the 2020 Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Prize; and Kayden Hern, the phenomenal, 10 year-old Harlem student and Poet Laureate of New York, who spoke at the inauguration of New York State Governor Kathy Hochul on January 2, 2023.

DAY 2: State of Emerging Emcees featuring GRAMMY nominated artist RAPSODY -Date: Saturday, 1.20.24
Doors: 6:00 PM
Cafe Showcase: 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM (free admission)
Main Stage: 9:00 PM (ticketed)
After Party: 10:00 PM – 1:00 AM
Sounds by DJ Get It
Artists: Rapsody, Chelsea Pastel, KeilyN, Jimmy Hustle, Ron Johnny, Nairobi

Burgeoning emcees on the verge of stardom take the stage in the August Wilson Center café to showcase their lyrical prowess rooted in cities such as Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Youngstown. The evening culminates with a dynamic performance on the main stage by the GRAMMY-nominated artist Rapsody, a force in Hip-Hop culture since 2007. She has worked with producer 9th Wonder, Erykah Badu and Talib Kweli. She was the lone rapper to rap on Kendrick Lamar’s critically acclaimed, 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly on the track “Complexion (A Zulu Love),” and she also collaborated with other rap artists including Rah Digga, Big K.R.I.T. and Buckshot. The evening’s other emcees include Cleveland’s Chelsea Pastelwith her blend of rap, rock and pop on her latest album, Pastelvision; the Los Angeles-based, Youngstown, Ohio-bred rapper-producer KeilyN (Key-Lin); Cleveland’s Jimmy Hustle, a member of the A’C.R.E.W. (Artists Creatively Recognizing Everyone’s Worth) collective; another Youngstown rapper, Ron Johnny, whose latest recording, “Somn Different” was released in 2023 and Pittsburgh performer; singer, songwriter, visual artist, and rapper, Nairobi, who covers in-your-face subjects like mental health.

DAY 3: Fan-Tas-Tic FOREVER: An Ode to J-Dilla featuring SLUM VILLAGE – Date: Sunday, 1.21.24
Doors: 6:00 PM
Cafe Showcase: 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM (free admission)
Main Stage: 9:00 PM (ticketed)
Sounds by DJ Big Phill
Artists: Slum Village, jessica Care moore, De’Sean Jones & Urban Art Orchestra, Yusef Shelton, Khemist, Jeremiah   Marcel, Free Black!, NNS

Detroit saxophonist and composer De’Sean Jones leads the Urban Art Orchestra and pays tribute to the late legendary Hip-Hop producer James Yancy, AKA J Dilla, with dynamic arrangements of his beloved hits and classic deep cuts. This orchestral performance will feature renowned artists including  Pittsburgh-based rappers Yusef Shelton and MC/spoken word artistJeremiah Marcel; Philadelphia poet Khemist; the Akron, Ohio Hip-Hop duo Free Black! (Producer Floco Torres and drummer/producer HR3); and NNS bringing some raw’n’real truth from Cleveland. Also participating in the Dilla tribute will be Detroit-born, spoken word poet, producer, recording Artist, publisher, jessica Care moore, whose critically acclaimed poetry books and collections including author of several poetry collections, include We Want Our Bodies Back, The Alphabet Verses The Ghetto, and The Words Don’t Fit in My Mouth.  The Detroit Hip-Hop ensemble Slum Village, featuring the last surviving founding member T3 along with Young RJ, will also show their love and respect for J Dilla. In their heyday, the group (originally featuring J Dilla, Baatin and T3) released several classic Hip-Hop albums including Yes!, Slum Village and Fan-Tas-Tic, Vol. 2. They also collaborated with Q-Tip, Common and Busta Rhymes.


AWAACC thanks Citizens and the Allegheny Regional Asset District (RAD) for supporting the Hooks & Phonics Festival. Major support for AWAACC’s operations is provided by Richard King Mellon Foundation, Henry L. Hillman Foundation, Heinz Endowments, and the Allegheny Regional Asset District (RAD).  AWAACC’s programming is also made possible by generous support from its donors.


3-Day Pass: $120

Individual Passes: $45

The Hooks & Phonics Festival is set to make history as a pioneering event that unites Hip-Hop culture and the art of Spoken Word Poetry. We invite everyone to join us in celebrating the authentic voices and stories of BIPOC communities.

For more information about the Hooks & Phonics Festival, ticket details and a complete list of AWAACC donors, please visit awaacc.org.


The August Wilson African American Cultural Center is a non-profit cultural center located in Pittsburgh’s cultural district that generates artistic, educational, and community initiatives that advance the legacy of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson. One of the largest cultural centers in the country focused exclusively on the African American experience and the celebration of Black culture and the African diaspora, the non-profit organization welcomes more than 119,000 visitors locally and nationally. Through year-round programming across multiple genres, such as the annual Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival, Black Bottom Film Festival, AWCommunity Days, TRUTHSayers speaker series, and rotating art exhibits in its galleries, the Center provides a platform for established and emerging artists of color whose work reflects the universal issues of identity that Wilson tackled, and which still resonate today.

# # #

Media Contact:
Carolyn McClair
(212) 721-3341 | CMcClair@awaacc.org