Frenetic, intense and sobering, the “Cops Shot the Kid” video depicts the realities of police brutality and the way it exerts itself on the black community. The visual begins with Nas walking on a beach at sunset, as clips of police dogs barking, dead men lying in the street and piercing sirens fill the screen. The visual is bathed in sapphire and crimson hues that amplify the disturbing imagery. Narratively, the music video follows a loose structure that tracks various black men: one running from a mysterious figure down an alley and another getting slammed on the hood of a car at a gas station. Unsurprisingly, neither of them seem to make it, and both are killed by law enforcement.
It’s fitting that Slick Rick makes a cameo toward the end of the video. “Cops Shot the Kid” is propelled by a sample of Slick Rick’s 1988’s “Children’s Story” and was one of the few standouts on the critically maligned Nasir. In a November interview with Rolling Stone, Rick revealed that he wasn’t making an intentional statement on police brutality when he created his groundbreaking song.
“I wasn’t concentrating on police brutality. That wasn’t the direction I was going in,” he said. “The basis of the story was just to be entertaining, gritty… It’s like we trying to intrigue your peers with a story that should draw them in. It’s almost like how Kevin Hart draws you in with his stories. Kevin Hart stories could be written in rap to you know? It’s not a one-two joke. It’s a longer procedure. It walks you to the joke for like about two to three minutes. Kevin Hart could take a joke and make it stretch into five minutes.”