“The cover is like an old blues man talking about his life,” Nas told MTV News about the striking image for his upcoming 10th solo shot.
There’s Nasir Jones, sitting pensive, with his hand to his chin, wearing a crisp white, casually unbuttoned suit. On his lap is a green wedding dress, the same green wedding dress that his ex-wife Kelis wore during their 2005 wedding ceremony; the same green dress that she left hanging in his closet after their divorce.
When VH1 profiled the rapper on their “Behind the Music” special, the usually private Nas spoke in detail about his split from the R&B singer. “She took her stuff out of the house and left her green wedding dress. And that was all she left,” he said, his voice marked by heartbreak.
It was in that very moment, during the VH1 interview, that Nas knew what he had to do for his next album cover. “It clicked right there. You’re saying it even in your interview, it’s like a given that this should allude to this being on the cover, that statement,” he said. “Some things you can’t plan, they happen.”
Throughout his career, the gifted lyricist has always delivered strong images, and it’s all very deliberate. Before fans even got a complete listen of Nas’ 1994 classic debut Illmatic, the album’s cover let you know that you were in for something special. The cover image of a prepubescent Nas, with his hardened gaze juxtaposed against his native Queensbridge housing project has become just as indelible as the 10 tracks that it housed.
On his next three album covers, Nas built upon that first Illmatic image. The front panel for his 1996 sophomore disc It Was Written re-created the same look, but with an image of a more grown-up Nas. On I Am, Nasir once again posed against Queensbridge, but this time he appeared as a pharaoh. And on Nastradamus, he used the same backdrop but played the role of a prophet, with a brown hood over his head.
By the time 2001’s Stillmatic was released, Nas had abandoned the Queensbridge concept and created an image faintly reminiscent of Slick Rick’s 1988 debut, The Great Adventures of Slick Rick. With 2004’s Street’s Disciple cover, Esco re-created a Last Supper theme, and on his controversial 2008 Untitled album, a shirtless Nas appeared as a slave, with welts on his back that formed the letter ’N.’
When the already-iconic MC looks back at his career, he wants to be remembered for his cover art. He takes his cues from memorable LPs like Earth Wind & Fire’s Last Days and Time and Iron Maiden’s self-titled 1980 debut. “I wanna be the one, like Earth Wind & Fire and Iron Maiden, like album covers that just really stand out,” he said. “I want to be the guy with the best album cover story.”
Life Is Good is due out July 17.
What’s your favorite Nas album cover? Let us know in the comments!