They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib

They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us

In an age of confusion, fear, and loss, Hanif Abdurraqib's is a voice that matters. Whether he's attending a Bruce Springsteen concert the day after visiting Michael Brown's grave, or discussing public displays of affection at a Carly Rae Jepsen show, he writes with a poignancy and magnetism that resonates profoundly.In the wake of the nightclub attacks in Paris, he recall...

Title:They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us
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Edition Language:English

They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us Reviews

  • Samantha

    So, once upon a time, I wanted to write for Rolling Stone when I grew up, and reading this book sort of immersed me back in that dream. One can write about music, politics, or culture, but to write about them all together is to acknowledge that for many of us, there exists a soundtrack to our experiences. And music has that ability to either brush up against our lives, conflict with our feelings, or fully hit us with the exact message or support that we need in that moment. You know, the "OMG, I

    So, once upon a time, I wanted to write for Rolling Stone when I grew up, and reading this book sort of immersed me back in that dream. One can write about music, politics, or culture, but to write about them all together is to acknowledge that for many of us, there exists a soundtrack to our experiences. And music has that ability to either brush up against our lives, conflict with our feelings, or fully hit us with the exact message or support that we need in that moment. You know, the "OMG, IT'S LIKE THIS SONG WAS WRITTEN FOR ME" when you have rain on your wedding day or your loneliness is killing you or some such thing. It gives you that feeling of being seen when you're otherwise invisible.

    I don't feel that Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib wrote these essays with a universal appeal in mind, the way some pop culture writing is structured. There is some of that, sure, but much of his experience involves trying to fit into a punk or rap or otherwise mainstream music scene as a black, Muslim man. Which is cool, because I don't think we really need another white guy writing about Bruce Springsteen. And for the most part, these essays nail down so thoughtfully their portraits - being the only black kid at a punk show, being thrown to the ground by police for making too many sudden movements to retrieve your ID, being mentally ill and in a band, being mentally ill and a die-hard fan of a band. He's a poet, and his more lyrical pieces (like a short commentary on an old photo of Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston) are standouts here.

    The thing about music as a backdrop to these essays is that the mash-ups don't always work as naturally as I wanted them to. There's a longer piece on Fall Out Boy that seems meant to anchor the collection, but it's far from the strongest essay in the book. Admittedly, this may be my out-of-touch self talking; despite being the same age as the author, my musical coming-of-age is, for reasons I won't go into, sort of off-kilter from my peers, such that most of what I took in and hold nostalgia for musically comes from the late nineties. Willis-Abdurraqib writes a bit about that decade, but most of his music commentary is from the aughts. I still think one can take in these essays thoughtfully without extensive pop culture knowledge, but maybe stuff like the FOB piece won't inspire/enlighten you as much.

    Also, where were all the women in this book?! Oh yeah, when you write about punk and rap, you're writing about genres still dominated by men. Kind of wish there was a little acknowledgement of that. But I do think this whole collection sits under a "male violence" umbrella, which is definitely something worth talking about in the context of toxic masculinity.

    Read. This. If you're into exploring some of the deeper roles pop culture of the past few decades plays in lives of (marginalized) folks. I mean hell, just read it because of the cool cover. The whole book was a thoughtful object to hold and read.

  • Erica

    I connected with pretty much every essay in this collection, especially all the ones about pop punk/emo.

    I laughed, I cried, I felt the frustration of life all throughout this book. It was excellent; I enjoyed every minute reading it.

  • Carl Lavigne

    Heavy, and worth it's weight.

  • Book Riot Community

    Poet, writer, and critic Willis-Abdurraqib has written a series of smart essays about music and his thoughts and feelings about it in relation to current events and culture, including the Springsteen concert he attended the day after visiting Michael Brown’s grave and seeing PDA at a Carly Rae Jepsen show. AND THAT COVER. W-o-w!

    – Liberty Hardy

    ------------

    Tune in to our weekly podcast dedicated to all things new books, All The Books:

  • Jason Diamond

    I've read five stellar essay collections that came out in 2017 and this one might sit at the top of the pile. Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib has this way of laying out whatever it is he wants to discuss, then beautifully diving into it and taking the reader in directions they weren't expecting, but that all end up feeling totally right. Seeing Bruce Springsteen in 2016 turns into a meditation on something much bigger than simply seeing a rockstar; Ric Flair, growing up Black in the 1990s, Chance the Ra

    I've read five stellar essay collections that came out in 2017 and this one might sit at the top of the pile. Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib has this way of laying out whatever it is he wants to discuss, then beautifully diving into it and taking the reader in directions they weren't expecting, but that all end up feeling totally right. Seeing Bruce Springsteen in 2016 turns into a meditation on something much bigger than simply seeing a rockstar; Ric Flair, growing up Black in the 1990s, Chance the Rapper, Fall Out Boy and so much more. I'd say this is a book of mostly essays on music, but that puts They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us into a box it totally doesn't deserve to be in. These are essays about living and trying to survive in America and they're brilliantly filtered through music and pop culture in a way that makes me think Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib is one of our great voices that everybody should pay attention to.

  • Tobias

    Do you like excellent essays on subjects ranging from punk rock to familial complexities? Well then.

  • Jacob Hoefer

    I haven't been so shaken by a book in a while. I don't exactly know how to put into words all the things Hanif Abdurraqib covers in what is, on the surface, a series of essays on music. so here is a short list of the topics covered in this collection in no particular order:

    Chance the Rapper & Defiance, Ohio! & escape & class & Kendrick Lamar & heartbreak & The Weekend & funerals & fireworks & Fallout Boy & fashion & Nina Simone & feeling like your

    I haven't been so shaken by a book in a while. I don't exactly know how to put into words all the things Hanif Abdurraqib covers in what is, on the surface, a series of essays on music. so here is a short list of the topics covered in this collection in no particular order:

    Chance the Rapper & Defiance, Ohio! & escape & class & Kendrick Lamar & heartbreak & The Weekend & funerals & fireworks & Fallout Boy & fashion & Nina Simone & feeling like your on the edge of the edgy kids & fear of flying & white rappers & you're in the Midwest, east, gulf or west coast & you don't know what they want & you need something new & your past is screaming & the present is never enough & the future is a bleak day & you seize it because if you don't they kill you.

  • Pat

    I'd never cried while reading an essay about fall out boy before, so that was new

  • Samantha Irby

    CRACKED MY HEART WIDE OPEN

  • Melissa

    "Joy, in these moments, is the sweetest meal that we keep chasing the perfect recipe for, among a world trying to gather all of the ingredients for itself. I need it to rest on my tongue especially when I am angry, especially when I am afraid, especially when nothing makes sense other than the fact that joy has been, and will always be, the thing that first pulls me from underneath the covers when nothing else will. It is the only part of me that I have to keep accessible at all times, because I

    "Joy, in these moments, is the sweetest meal that we keep chasing the perfect recipe for, among a world trying to gather all of the ingredients for itself. I need it to rest on my tongue especially when I am angry, especially when I am afraid, especially when nothing makes sense other than the fact that joy has been, and will always be, the thing that first pulls me from underneath the covers when nothing else will. It is the only part of me that I have to keep accessible at all times, because I never know what will come. The only thing promised in this world is that it will, oftentimes, be something that makes living seem impossible. And I hope, then, that a child who blessedly knows less of the world's evils decides to laugh with his friends in a place that reaches your ears. I hope it carries you back to the fight, as it has done for me. Joy, in this way, can be a weapon - that which carries us forward when we have been beaten back for weeks, or months, or years.

    And what a year 2016 was. Oh, friends, those of you who are still with us, what a year we survived together. We are not done burying our heroes before we are asked to bury our friends. Our mourning is eclipsed by a greater mourning. I know nothing that will get us through this beyond whatever small pockets of happiness we make for each other in between the rage and the eulogies and the marching and the protesting and the demanding to be seen and accounted for. I know nothing except that this grief is a river carrying us to another new grief, and along the way, let us hold a space for a bad joke or a good memory. Something that will allow us to hold our breath under the water for a little bit longer. Let the children have their world. Their miraculous, impossible world where nothing hurts long enough to stop time. Let them have it for as long as it will hold them. When that world falls to pieces, maybe we can use whatever is left to build a better one for ourselves."

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