I am no fan of hip-hop. The odd glimpse of music videos has left me
cold. But this week, thanks to a tip, I roused my dormant media player
and watched my first ever rap-style music video from end to end. It was
terrific. “Can I Live?” is the drama of a young, pregnant woman’s
struggle with her conscience over whether to go through with an
abortion. It is directed and MC’d by Nick Cannon, a rapper who recently
landed his own show on MTV. The woman is his mother, Beth Hackett, and
he was the baby who nearly didn’t make it into the world.
The video, a series of stills with a few movie clips, opens with his
young mom, played by actress Tatyana Ali, getting out of an old car
during a downpour and making her way through a pro-life picket into an
abortion clinic. Cannon appears at her side clad in white, suggesting
the innocence of an unborn child:
Just Just pause for a second
Let me plead my case
It’s the late 70s huh
You seventeen huh
And having me that will ruin everything huh
He uses every argument he can think of. Heaven (if I read him right) is
her witness – It’s a lot of angels waiting on their wings. She already
knows her baby – You see me in your sleep so you can’t kill your
dreams. It’s a terrible betrayal – 300 dollars that’s the price of
living What? Oh sure, it’s hard to make the right move when you in high
school, but, What you want, morning sickness or the sickness of
Mommy I don’t like this clinic
Hopefully you’ll make the right decision
And don’t go through with the Knife Incision
So far he’s losing. The scared young woman yields to clinic routine, is
gowned and prepped for the “procedure”. Cannon hovers beside her lying
on the gurney. He tries an interesting line – I am a child of the King
/ Ain’t no need to go fear me. He accuses – Your pride got you saying
ain’t nothing but a migraine. He jokes – So what if Your friends will
look at you funny … Ma I am Oprah bound/ You can tell he’s a star from
Finally, the voice of her child/conscience conquers fear. Beth/Tatyana
climbs off the operating table and runs from the clinic outside into
the sunshine where she is greeted by a chorus of children singing the
I’ll always be a part of you
Trust your soul know it’s always true
If I could talk I’d say to you
CAN I LIVE
CAN I LIVE
The video ends with Cannon hugging his real mom in the present and
saying, I love life/ I love my mother for giving me life/ We all need
to appreciate life/ A strong woman that had to make a sacrifice/ Thanks
for listening…/ Thanks for listening.
And lots of people have listened. Can I Live went straight to No.1 on
BET’s countdown show, 106 and Park, and spent almost a month in the top
10. This seems to confirm what we are hearing from polls and pro-life
groups – the generation that has grown up with “abortion rights”, that
has lost so many little brothers and sisters to abortion, is turning
against it as the solution to a social problem.
The annual American Freshman Survey sponsored by UCLA, for example,
shows that only a slim majority of college freshmen believe that
abortion should be legal. Those who agreed strongly or somewhat that it
should declined from a high of 67.2 in 1992 to 53.9 last year.
That a black pop artist should take on this theme is not really
surprising. Rappers are notorious for broaching taboo subjects, and
this is especially a black medium. Besides, it is black America that
suffers most from abortion. As the Alan Guttmacher Institute puts it,
black women, along with Hispanic women, are more likely than others to
have an unintended pregnancy, and black women are more likely than
Hispanics “to resolve an unintended pregnancy through abortion”.
Cannon says he is more “pro-Nick” than pro-life in the political sense,
and he is careful to end his rap with the necessary bow to
non-judgementalism regarding persons – I ain’t passing no judgement/
Ain’t making no decisions/ I am just telling ya’ll my story. But the
video as a whole is a powerful argument against the act of taking an
unborn life, and pro-life groups are delighted with his effort. As one
post on his message board puts it, “I have spent years trying to make
the same point you made in minutes.”
Feedback from this sector includes gratitude from young mothers who
have had their children in the face of criticism. Funny how calling
people “crazy” when they want to have a child is not judgemental, but
saying they are crazy to have an abortion is.
“Sweet home song my friend!” writes one fan, waxing nicely lyrical.
“Keep on splashing this thing and the world might love too much. Lovin’
too much ain’t a worry though. So keep on making this. I am the
youngest of 10 and could easily have been where you and your mom were!
Live only full blast. No half, nothing less than all.”
In contrast, the leading abortion groups are tight-lipped – a sign that
they are not sure how to control the damage of this kind of pro-life
message. Planned Parenthood told the Philadelphia Inquirer they were
unfamiliar with Can I Live. NARAL Pro-Choice America did not return a
call requesting comment.
But a pro-feminist, pro-abortion-rights professor of African American
studies at Duke University worried that the video could easily “be
exploited as a political tool”. “The whole issue of choice is not being
debated when you’re caught up in the issue of, ‘Look how good Nick
Cannon turned out’,” said Mark Anthony Neal.
Hang on, though; where’s the element of choice if we’re caught up in
the issue of how badly all these kids are going to turn out? Cannon
appreciates that this mentality has to be countered with more than a
good rap, and he has promised to help mothers in need through his
foundation: “If any of you out there know a single mother between the
ages of 15-25 who may be having a difficult time I would love to hear
the story. Please write to me and explain the condition and how I could
possibly help. I will check the website and respond accordingly.”
Next month these stories are due to appear in Can I Live, the book.
Meanwhile you can watch the video at www.nickcannonmusic.com.
Carolyn Moynihan is the deputy editor of MercatorNet.