Release date: June 9, 2009
Photography: Charles Burnett
Label: Downtown

Mos Def has been fighting for cultural justice and equality in his work for many years, which has lead to little separation between his work as an MC and as an activist. Whether that's by reworking Jay Z and Kanye West's "Niggas in Paris" into an anthem about inequity, or by undertaking the force-feeding methods of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, Yasiin Bey (as he now goes by) has kept us brutally aware of the disproportions still present in the world.

These ideas are felt in the subtle and still-moving album cover of The Ecstatic. The shot is a still from the 1979 film Killer of Sheep, directed by Charles Burnett—a richly detailed American film made on a budget of less than $10,000 about being African-American and living in Watts during the 1970s. The cover has hazy, dream-like movement, appearing as a non-narrative, loose collection of vignettes that are tangentially fascinating and incredibly powerful. It mirrors the sonic construction of the music on the album, one with a range of samples and a standout Slick Rick feature, perfectly. —Dale Eisinger