WICKER PARK — Wicker Park artist Lajuana Lampkins is releasing a collection of poems and writings by her son, Prince Akbar, a Chicago poet and writer who Calumet City police shot and killed in 2010.
“The Collected Works Of Prince Akbar AKA Jus Rhymz” is a collection of Akbar’s work, ranging from poems to letters, blog posts and essays, with some of the writing dating back to his childhood. Lampkins edited and compiled the book.
The book is Lampkins’ latest project to honor the life and work of Akbar, who she called “so kind and so humble and so good.” It will be released Friday at a book party in Wicker Park.
A Columbia College graduate, Akbar performed slam poetry across Chicago — including at the Green Mill in Uptown — under the name Jus Rhymz. After winning a contest at Columbia in 2004, he was picked to appear at a Def Jam poetry slam at the Metro, hosted by Russell Simmons. He also wrote firsthand accounts of gang violence near his South Side home on his blog.
But Akbar’s life was cut short at 32 when Calumet City police officers shot him in 2010.
Police said Akbar “was shot by an officer after seriously beating two officers,” after police tried to Taser him near a suburban school district office, the Tribune reported at the time. Lampkins disputes that narrative, saying Akbar was having a bipolar episode and did not harm the officers.
For Lampkins, the publication comes after a life of hardship, including 30 years spent behind bars.
Lampkins was convicted of murder in the early 1980s and sentenced to 60 years in prison. She said she was wrongfully accused and coerced by police into confessing. She was released in 2012, two years after Akbar was killed.
Since then, Lampkins has been selling provocative and colorful paintings in Wicker Park to passersby and a growing number of dedicated fans. Her art often includes social commentary and depicts her myriad observations of current events — and doesn’t shy away from risqué subjects.
Lampkins’ paintings received new attention last fall, when fans and friends organized Lampkins’ first ever gallery show at a space in Bucktown.
Now, she is releasing the collection of her son’s work to “allow Prince to still be heard.”
The book begins with an essay Akbar wrote while he was in seventh grade in 1993, calling for reparations for Black people in the United States.
The collection also includes the series from Akbar’s blog about gang-related shootings near his home. Most of the writings in the book come from copies Akbar mailed to Lampkins while she was in prison, she said.
“He was the main one that was always showing up. He was always writing. He walked with me through the whole 30 years. He was my best friend for 30 years, and he believed in me,” she said.
The book jacket features a painting Lampkins made of Akbar wearing a crown and a sash that reads, “Master of Spoken Word.” Its back cover includes portraits of Akbar with Emmett Till, as well as Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and other Black people killed by police.
“His dream was to let America know how he felt and his opinions as a Black man, and the challenges he faced, and the challenges the world faced, and the community faced,” she said. “I’m just so blessed that I’m able to to be a vessel for him to speak from the grave.”
“The Collected Works Of Prince Akbar AKA Jus Rhymz” is available to buy online and at a release party 6-9 p.m. Friday at 1542 N. Milwaukee Ave. Lampkins’ artwork will also be for sale at the event.
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast”: