SAN DIEGO — Nick Cannon's voice seems to be everywhere in the popular media. He raps in music videos. He cracks jokes on an MTV improv comedy show. He delivers his lines in the movies Men in Black II, Shall We Dance? and Underclassman.
And now he has given a voice to the most vulnerable: unborn children.
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?
These lyrics, written by Cannon, are the chorus to “Can I Live?” the first single from his sophomore album from Jive Records that tells the true story of how he was almost aborted. Cannon's song has become an unintentional anthem of the pro-life movement, communicating in a matter of minutes what many have been trying to for decades.
But Cannon claimed in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer that when he wrote the song, “I wasn't really trying to make a political statement. I wasn't trying to be pro-life or pro-choice. I was just trying to be pro-Nick.”
Though an atypical topic for a rap song, the video — which Cannon directed — made its debut at No. 1 on Black Entertainment Television's countdown show, “106 & Park,” and spent almost a month in the top 10.
A book of testimonials about the struggles of single motherhood is set for release in September under the same title.
In 1979, Cannon's mother — 17, unmarried and two months pregnant — went to a San Diego abortion site to have an abortion, but reconsidered.
“She said she was in the clinic and heard a voice,” Cannon, 24, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “I said, ‘Yo, that was me.’”
I am a child of the King
Aint no need to go fear me
And I see the flowing tears so I know that you hear me
When I move in your womb that's me being scared
'Cause who knows what my future holds?
Cannon's song is written from his perspective as an unborn baby, begging his mother to choose life. In the video, the present-day Cannon, appearing as an ethereal presence, follows the woman portraying his young mother past pro-life and pro-abortion protesters into a clinic. He pleads his case as she writes a check, fills out paperwork and struggles with her decision.
300 dollars, that's the price of living what? Mommy I don't like this clinic Hopefully you'll make the right decision And don't go through with the knife decision
At the last minute in the operating room she sits up, climbs off the table and runs out of the abortion clinic into the light.
Your friends will look at you funny but look at you mommy
That's a life inside you
Look at your tummy, what is
Ma, I'm Oprah-bound
You can tell he's a star from
Our spirits connected,
doors open now
Nothing but love and respect
Thanks for holding me down
She let me live
A flash-forward seven months later shows his smiling young mother showing her son to family and friends. During the last chorus, Cannon is backed up by a crowd of kids wearing T-shirts that say “Can I Live,” and he embraces his present-day mother.
A Voice for Life
Human Life Alliance, based in St. Paul, Minn., focuses on revealing the truth about abortion to young people, primarily through pro-life supplements in college newspapers.
“The younger generations are rarely receptive to truth claims — they either outright reject them or just write them off,” said Jennifer Maas, former director of campus outreach for Human Life Alliance and a national pro-life speaker. “But they will listen and be open to someone's experience. The song ‘Can I Live?’ is just that — it's Nick Cannon's story.”
Maas pointed out Cannon's special niche.
“Lots of powerful pro-life speakers are out there, making their way across the nation and helping to turn the cultural tide toward life, but none of us have the stage or the audience that someone like Nick Cannon has. He is sending a cultural tidal wave with the beautiful message of life and sacrificial love to so many we could never reach.”
Rev. Clenard Childress Jr., senior pastor of New Calvary Baptist Church in Montclair, N.J., told the Register that he hopes “Can I Live?” will inspire youth to think seriously about abortion.
“I'm not asking Nick Cannon to be a national poster boy for the pro-life cause, but I think God is giving us an opportunity to reach people with the truth about abortion,” Childress said. “We want to point to ‘Can I Live?’ as much as we can while it's fresh in their minds. The dialogue we begin may have an eternal effect.”
In response to Cannon's refusal to publicly take a stand on either side of the issue, Childress said, “His reluctance doesn't surprise me, even though I don't like it. I think he was just making a tribute to his mother — he isn't ready to make divisions. Whatever he says, we just need to use what he gave us to gain the ground we can in the African-American community.”
Childress founded the website blackgenocide.com three years ago in response to the alarming statistics about blacks and abortion, and the “obvious decimation” of his community by the abortion industry.
‘Thanks for Listening’
Cannon fan Katrina Beck, 26, appreciates that “Can I Live?” doesn't get into the politics of the abortion issue. She was 15 when she found out she was pregnant with her first child. She eventually married the father; then they had a son together and have made a home in Walhalla, S.C.
Beck said in an e-mail interview with the Register that she was moved to tears when she saw the video for “Can I Live?”
“It was one of those deep cries where your chest hurts and it's just hard to breathe — you're so emotional and in shock to have seen that being aired,” Beck said.
She said she was also impressed how Cannon addressed such a sensitive subject with compassion.
“He had a lot of courage to let his opinion be known,” Beck said. “I applaud him for not being preachy, mean or pushy, but just simply saying ‘This is how I feel — I hope you listen [but] if not that's okay.’”
It's uplifting for real, y'all
I aint passing no judgment
Aint making no decisions
I'm just telling y'all my story
Beck stressed the importance of the rap's message to Cannon's young audience.
“This song needs to be heard because it may help young girls realize they're not alone — that it's okay to not take the easy way out,” Beck said. “Though it may be a hard life to follow there's a lot of good to come from it all.”
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
Mama, thanks for listening
Annamarie Adkins is based in St. Paul, Minn.
To hear the recording and watch the video for “Can I Live?” visit: