One would assume that hip-hop music and pro-life politics mix like chalk and cheese. Developed by African Americans and Latino Americans in New York’s Bronx in the 1970s, hip-hop remains a wildly popular genre among inner-city youth and a staple of America’s vast entertainment industry.
So it comes as a surprise to learn, thanks to a recent piece in The Conversation, that hip-hop artists have long contended with the issue of abortion, many ultimately expressing deeply pro-life sentiments.
It is a pleasant surprise, moreover, that The Conversation — a research-based but generally left-leaning news site — would give such even-handed treatment to a polarising issue like abortion.
In ‘Roe v. rap: Hip-hop artists have long wrestled with reproductive rights’, A.D. Carson, the Assistant Professor of Hip-Hop at the University of Virginia, profiles 13 songs spanning from the mid 1980s to today that address life before birth and the moral struggle that accompanies it.
Carson notes that the passing of Roe v. Wade and the genesis of hip-hop are only separated in history by a span of some seven months. This and hip-hop’s penchant for busting through societal taboos is why abortion has featured in so many popular songs over the decades.
The most surprising revelation in Carson’s article is that only four of the songs he considers are stridently ‘pro-choice’.
Those tracks feature staple arguments of the pro-abortion camp: the alleged health risks to mothers if Roe were overturned; the notion that men have no right to speak on the issue (ironically rapped by a man, the late 2Pac); and the disruption that a baby would bring to the lives of an unmarried and immature couple.
Among those voicing more pro-life sentiments are Jean Grae in ‘My Story (Please Forgive Me)’ (2008), who explores the guilt and remorse of a young woman who has had an abortion, even describing some of the grim realities of the procedure.
In ‘80’s Baby’ (2017) by CyHi The Prynce, an unborn child asks its mother, “Ma, you think you ready to have this baby for real? / ‘Cause I’m on the way”.
An expectant mother decides that she can keep both her baby and her career in Jhene Aiko’s ‘You Vs. Them’ (2011).
Lauryn Hill, perhaps the most popular female hip-hop artist of all time, expresses gratitude that she resisted pressure to abort her newborn son in ‘To Zion’ (1998).
In ‘Abortion’ (1986) by Doug E. Fresh & The Get Fresh Crew, the practice of abortion is dubbed “mind distortion,” and Fresh asks, “The prettiest thing besides your wife / Is having the privilege to make new life / How can you kill your only daughter or son?”
Remy Ma tells the story of a young mother who wrestles with the choice to abort in ‘What’s Going On’ (2006). Even in her doubts and uncertainty, the mother recognises that “It’s a life living in my body”.
An unborn child expresses her fears in ‘If These Walls Could Talk’ by Gat Turner and Viva Fidel (2014): “Shook like an unborn, man, my life in danger / Cause first sign of trouble mama looking for the hanger / Shook like an unborn, mama trying to murder me / First degree abortion, devil call it surgery”.
In ‘S—, Man!’ by Skylar Grey featuring Angel Haze (2018), a mother decides that even though her child was conceived in a rocky relationship, she doesn’t believe in abortions and resolves that she will keep her baby.
And in the heart moving track ‘Autobiography’ (2009) by Nicki Minaj, a remorseful mother hopes that she will be reunited with her aborted baby in the afterlife.
If A.D. Carson’s list presents a fair cross-section of hip-hop’s treatment of abortion over 50 years, there are three sobering thoughts for us to consider.
Inner-city communities in general, and urban African Americans in particular, are nowhere near as pro-abortion as we are so often led to believe.
Men — who enjoy all the benefits of abortion and pay little of its cost — tend to be far more in favour of the practice than women are. (Not a single female artist in Carson’s list expressed a clear ‘pro-choice’ viewpoint).
And most people instinctively recognise that life begins before birth. In a time when African-American women are five times more likely to choose abortion over white women, this comes as very welcome news.