The six-year wait is over for Nas fans. On June 15, Nas (whose real name is Nasir Jones) and Mass Appeal/Def Jam Recordings released his 11th studio album, Nasir (his first new studio album since 2012's Life Is Good), and he celebrated on June 14 by throwing a star-packed listening party underneath the Queensboro Bridge in New York City. According to Vulture, celebrities who attended the event included Kanye West (who produced Nasir), Kim Kardashian West, Chris Rock, Pusha T, Swizz Beatz, 2 Chainz, Fab, AZ, Havoc and La La Anthony. The party was streamed live on YouTube.
The marketing of Nasir was so secretive that no singles or videos were made available before the album's release, and the title of the album was not officially revealed until the day before the album's release. In April, West announced that the album would be released on June 15. He then tweeted the album's tracklist the week of the album's release.
Nasir's album cover has sparked some controversy because it's a photo of five black boys (two of them with guns) standing against a wall and raising their arms in a surrender pose. The photo was taken by Mary Ellen Mark, for a 1988 Texas Monthly article written by Jim Atkinson about the crime-ridden South Dallas area. According to Complex, a representative for Nas issued this statement about the album cover: "Mary Ellen’s photographs have always resonated with people on a very personal and humanistic level. We’re pleased that Nas and his team connected with her work and found something that they’re excited about."
The album lyrics also have a lot of blistering social commentary, particularly about racism. According to A.V. Club and Vulture, the song "Cops" (which samples Slick Rick's "Children's Story") has lyrics such as "White kids are brought in alive / Black kids get hit with like five" and "Who do we call to report crime if 911 doin’ the drive-by."
The song "Everything" (which also features West and The-Dream) addresses the Starbucks racism controversy that prompted the cafe company to close down all of its U.S. locations on May 29 for racial sensitivity training: "If Starbucks is bought by Nestle, please don’t arrest me/I need to use your restroom/And I ain’t buy no Espresso.”
Early reviews for Nasir are mixed, with many reviews praising the socially conscious tone of the album, but questioning Nas' association with the controversial West. Fans and critics also have different opinions about how much Nas' personal life (including his ex-wife Kelis alleging in an April 2018 interview with Hollywood Unlocked that he abused her during their marriage) should be taken into the context of what he puts in his songs. Nas has not commented on the allegations. He and Kelis were married from 2005 to 2009.
A.V. Club's Colin McGowan notes in his review: "The fact that there’s filler on what’s basically an EP confirms that Nasir is not a definitive statement from an aging master, but rather an experiment. It’s an admirer-cum-godhead working with one of his idols and the most mercurial rapper of his generation taking a few snapshots of where he’s at in relation to both his own talent and the rest of the world."
Meanwhile, writers Kristin Correy and Lawrence Burney discussed on Vice's Noisey channel how their views of the album are affected by the abuse allegations. Burney commented: "Out of all the projects Kanye has helped roll out over the past month, this is my favorite set of production. Nas sounds really sharp as a lyricist. But, this isn’t enough." Correy added: "Yeah, I think even the title Nasir suggests that this should’ve been a bit more personal ... It sounds great and I’d love to play it to death, but that really just enables him and people like him to continue to behave the way they do."
Billboard and Forbes are among the media outlets that also bring up the issue in the context of the album's release. HipHopDX and Hot New Hip Hop reported the public's mixed reactions to the album, including complaints about the album not being available on music services in the early-morning hours of June 15.