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How Hip-Hop Talks About Abortion in Ways Other Art Forms Can’t

Pela, founder of The movement of black gold, says the goal was to use a “big megaphone and say, ‘Yo, there’s something going on here! You all need to stop what you are doing and get people’s attention!’ If the band could engage people while doing something melodic and empowering, they would consider it a success.

Even with all their research, they didn’t find many songs as a template for what they were looking for. Sexism plays a major role in why this real-life experience remains invisible to so many people, Peila theorizes. “And when we try to address it in hip-hop,” she adds, “it gets thrown off – ‘It’s cheesy,’ or ‘It’s weak,’ or whatever.”

Dawn Elissa Fischer, a San Francisco State University professor, author, researcher and hip-hop scholar, echoes the sentiment that women and non-binary artists are often overlooked, not just in hip-hop, but in everything. the artistic landscape. Fischer, who helped found the Harvard Hip Hop Archivessays that while there are hip-hop songs about reproductive health and abortion, the topic isn’t always immediately apparent.

“If one were to examine the lyrics, as I did,” Fischer told me on a call, “we can find references in the work of artists of all genres, alluding to threats against the reproductive rights, as well as criticism of the police, economic injustice, assaults, you know?” Fischer says it’s not always obvious — there’s no popular “Where’s Planned Parenthood?” song – and instead the subject matter is usually woven into stories about everyday life.

“In the 50 years since the inception of hip-hop,” says Fischer, “we can find samples from every decade.”

I started digging.

Tupac Shakur, seen here in Oakland in 1992, took a pro-choice stance in his lyrics. (Gary Reyes/Oakland Tribune Staff Archive (MediaNews Group/Bay Area News via Getty Images))

“AAnd since a man can’t make one / He has no right to tell a woman when and where to make one. It’s Tupac Shakur on the 1993 track”Keep your head up», a song about the elevation of women in the face of all the ills of society.

Pac has written other tracks alluding to different aspects of reproductive health, such as “The good ones go first” as good as “Baby don’t cry (Keep Your Head Up II). ” In 1991, he also recorded “Brenda had a babywhich depicts the fictional but all-too-real story of a young woman, pregnant at a young age, who gives birth to the baby alone and then abandons it.

From there, I dug deeper into the archives, beyond the songs I’ve known since I was a kid. I simultaneously turned to social media ask for recommendations – after all, hip-hop is a community art form. I got so many responses I made a whole playlist.

I won’t go into all the songs on the playlist, but some stand out as an example of the nuance of hip-hop. The lyrics and visuals of Jean Grae’s 2008 song “My storyare a raw journal entry and a public statement all rolled into one. It does what hip-hop is supposed to do: bring audiences into the world of the MC, then leave them with new critical thoughts about the world we all live in.

The title 2016 of Noname “good bye Baby” takes a poetic approach to the conversation around abortion and its consequences. Poetic license and choice of words cause the listener to lean into the speaker for better understanding; it’s an example of how hip-hop isn’t always explicit.

A close up of a black woman's face with colored eyeliner, as she sings into a microphone
Lauryn Hill wrote about feeling forced to choose between her career and motherhood. (Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images)

In Lauryn Hill’s 1998 track “To Zionwrites the star lyricist about choosing motherhood over the music industry, as she’s been told those are conflicting identities. Ms. Hill is also featured on Common’s classic 1997 track, “Retrospective for life.” That same year, Organized Konfusion dropped”Invertwhich deals with the subject of abortion in the context of a dysfunctional relationship while highlighting the real impact of the crack epidemic.

“…still can’t believe I used to fuck with you / Popping Plan B ’cause I didn’t plan on being stuck with you,” Houston’s Megan Thee Stallion raps on the track 2022″Plan B.”

Here in the Bay, the 1994 song by the Conscious Daughters of Oakland “Shitty situation” puts the abortion conversation into context. CMG narrator chooses not to have an abortion – “I got a baby on the way, and I can’t afford it / But I ain’t giving up, no, shit / ‘Cause it’s a part of me , and that’s nobody destroys that” – but soon realizes the amount of work and money it takes to raise a baby, and resents the child’s father for missing.

(Bay Area artists have continued the tradition of writing about abortion, including rocky river, Mystical, Kumar Butler, MAD lines and J. DaVinci.)

Happy birthdayfrom 2005, is a reflection by Flipsyde on the personal impact of abortion on the man concerned. And there’s the highly produced Locksmith 2021 track video.”Planned parenthoodwhich explores the concerns that arise when family members are involved in the decision-making process.

Two black women in casual clothes pose in front of the bay.
The Conscious Girls, CMG (Carla Green) and Special One (Karryl Smith). (Anthony Pidgeon/Redferns)

Hip-hop, like our community, is not a monolith; there are plenty of anti-abortion headlines. Some are more explicit than others.

“That belly exploding, that’s gonna be a problem / I’ll have to play like a pin and come and pop that bubble / Find Chucky if you want a breeze / I’ll give you a hanger and drop you in an alley, ” raps Akinyele on the 1993 track »I Luh Huh.”

Nas, who wrote “Fetus“, a 2002 song that takes the perspective of the unborn child in a mother’s womb, also writes “Hoodrats, don’t abort your womb, we need more warriors soon”, on the track of 2002″A mic.”

Oakland legend Too Short has plenty of examples, but the line “Like a mack I surprised her/I knocked her ass off Kaiser,” from the 1993 song “Way Too Real,” stands out. . Not just because of its brutal insensitivity, but because it reflects the real-life experience of so many people and, in a way, illustrates how access to abortion benefits men as well.

A hip-hop trio, a woman and two men, are laughing while sitting in the grass.
Digable Planets backstage at the Shoreline Amphitheater in 1993. (Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)

Digging through the archives, the most prophetic lead regarding Roe v. Wade was the song of 1993″Fetal Womanby Digable Planets. In it, host Butterfly raps:

If Roe v. Wade was cancelled, wouldn’t the desire remain intact
Let young girls risk their health
And the doctors sloppy and watch as they kill themselves

So no, this dive into the hip-hop archives at a time of this magnitude in American history is not one of those “Where’s Ja Rule?” examples. It’s about looking at one of this country’s most influential art forms and asking: what does it lend to one of the most controversial conversations of our lifetime?

The answer is: a lot.

Fischer tells me I’m not the first to broach the subject of hip-hop songs about reproductive rights: “Some collections exist online,” she says, noting student projects in the form of blogs, Tumblr and Prezis. But “this kind of stuff is hard to find, you have to know where to look”.

Maybe they would be easier to find if we had more voices speaking openly and honestly about the subject.

After all, says Coco Peila, hip-hop loves authenticity. “There’s some fake bullshit going on in hip-hop, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where you’re from, if you come as yourself, in hip-hop, people can’t really deny,” she said. said.

“We get the clearest, richest picture when everyone comes to the table.”