Nas’ new Kanye West-produced album, NASIR, has received some backlash for lack of understanding where his cover art is concerned. Pictured are five young black boys: all with their hands up in the style of police surrender, two holding firearms, and the other holding a toy robot. Some discourse has surrounded the meaning of the image and why it hasn’t been given to the audience plainly, but others don’t mind; they’ve accepted the mystery of it all as an element of interpretation, Complex reports. Either way, the context of the art has been revealed and it’s closely related to Nas’ chosen subject matter.
The image belongs to photojournalist Mary Ellen Mark as a part of a 1988 feature with Jim Atkinson on The War Zone. Here, Atkinson explores the militarization of drug dealers and the simultaneous abandonment and takeover of South Dallas. “Kids play in dusty, treeless apartment courtyards; teenage boys languish in the dozens of empty, weed-infested lots in the neighborhood,” Atkinson wrote. Often, children and teens like the ones pictured acted as “good eyes” or lookouts for Cuban or Jamaican cartels, moving crack through neighborhoods with low income and lower surveillance. Atkinson mentioned that “Dallas police officers… [begged] their superiors for automatic weaponry equal to that wielded by drug dealers.”
Thursday night (June 14), Nas played the album at a listening party in New York City and streamed it on Mass Appeal. Generally, the Queens-born rapper calls on issues that have and continue to plague blacks in America, referencing incidents like one of the two black men in a Philadelphia Starbucks in April. On the song, he mentions things like “Abe Lincoln did not free the enslaved/Progress was made ’cause we forced the Proclamation” and “SWAT was created to stop the Panthers.”
The stream was interrupted at some point but the point travels. Check out the stream below.