The cover art for the new Nas album Nasir, released today, is a throwback to the image he used for his classic 1994 debut album Illmatic, featuring his own boyhood portrait transposed against a backdrop of the infamous Queensbridge housing projects he grew up in.
Throughout his long career, Nas has invested himself in training a justice-minded lens on the various ills of society: For the Nasir cover, he uses a photo that shows five black youth standing small in front of a brick wall, some facing it while some face the camera, all with their hands raised high. Two of the kids are holding guns—maybe toy, maybe not—while one is holding up a robot. Not one of them looks older than ten years, but they all seem to have learned the position that police officers regularly and historically have commanded black people to assume: up against the wall. In the top right corner hangs a “NO TRESPASSING” sign that also reads “no drinking, loitering, or standing on these premises.”