Art Williams

The Soundtrack:
Art Williams III

How to Detect Counterfeit Money


Barnes & Noble

A book with a soundtrack? Not exactly, but the story of Art Williams has inspired more than just writing. In 2006-2007, while I was beginning work on The Art of Making Money, Williams was busy developing the talents of his teenage son, Arthur J. Williams III, a promising young rap artist who went by the stage name AJ Wilz. Art was so into his son’s music, in fact, that it was all he could talk about.
    “My son won’t have to be a criminal like his father and his grandfather,” he’d say. “His talent is legal.”
    I honestly didn’t know what to think. I had met “Little Art” only one time in his mother’s driveway. He was a quiet boy of 15 then, slight in build compared to his father. It was hard for me to imagine this little kid raising his voice, much less snapping out blistering raps like Eminem. It seemed like one more of Art’s wild dreams, but his enthusiasm was infectious. He was spending quality time with his son, attempting to steer him a direction far more positive than the one he had taken.  “Just wait until you hear these songs,” Art would say. “You’ll see.”
    Although I didn’t know it, Art was still counterfeiting at the time. He was even using some of the proceeds to buy his kid session time at grammy-nominated producer Johnny K’s Groovemaster Studios. Before they were finished, in a story I relate in the epilogue of the book, Art was once again arrested for counterfeiting. And in a scene that now seems to me straight out of Hustle & Flow, he mailed me a CD containing five of his son’s tracks just before he entered prison. I slipped the disc into my player, wondering if it was worth it.
    I was blown away.
    With these songs, which I have presented at the top of this page, this fifteen year old kid has captured so many of the same themes I deal with in the book, but with an emotional intensity and proximity I can’t possibly match. Like so many of my experiences with Art Williams, the experience of his son’s music began with skepticism and culminated with wonder.
     I shouldn’t have been surprised. Little Art was a chip off his dad’s block, a gifted, troubled kid who also grew up on the South Side as the son of a criminal—with a cop for a mother to boot. He’d been through the pain of his parent’s separation, his father’s abandonment in the form of prison stints, and had fought to survive on the same streets. His genes, combined with that inimitable perspective, was bound to produce something at least as extraordinary as his father’s counterfeit $100 bills.
    “If there’s one thing I want people to know, it’s that I was 13 when I wrote some of these songs, and 15 when I recorded them,” he says. “I was just starting. They were rushing me into it. If they would have let me mature a bit it would have worked out better.  I’ve come so far since then.”
    Little Art’s father and family were invested in his success in ways that a dynastic blue-blood scion could perhaps appreciate. His dad was in the studio with him every day, often along with his aunt and her boyfriend. They were dreaming of seeing him bring the family into a successful path, while he was just doing what he enjoyed and trying to deal with the pressure. “It was a crazy time,” he remembers. “I was bouncing around between my parents’ houses. At one point I was even living with my crazy grandma, who was seeing leprechauns and claiming she was selling them Kit Kat bars for $20 a pop.” As book readers know, that would be Malinda he’s referring to.
    Big Art’s plan was to take his son’s tracks and self-produce a CD. They were gaining momentum. In the summer of 2007, Little Art performed in front of an audience of hundreds at the annual Taste of Chicago festival. But of course everything ground to a halt when his dad headed back to prison. In addition to the five tracks here, there are eleven others from those first sessions, along with dozens more that Little Art has written.
    What will become of this young talent? It saddens me to report that in June of 2009 Little Art was himself arrested for counterfeiting. Falling on hard times after his father’s imprisonment, he had made the mistake of attempting to emulate his dad—another theme of the book that now feels so diabolically intransigent to me.  He's 18 now, so young yet old enough to be tried as an adult. Watever his fate, it is my greatest hope that he one day returns to his true talent. At some point, the cycle must stop.

—Jason Kersten
Fans wishing to contact Little Art may email him at