They Can’t Kill Us Un­til They Kill Us

Hanif Ab­dur­raqib

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Nonfiction - JON ARLAN

Two Dol­lar Ra­dio (NOVEM­BER) Soft­cover $15.99 (236pp) 978-1-937512-65-1

The lone­li­ness, loss, and con­fu­sion of the last few years loom large over these pages, but so, too, does the idea of hope.

Hanif Ab­dur­raqib’s They Can’t Kill Us Un­til They Kill Us is a pen­e­trat­ing and pro­foundly timely col­lec­tion of es­says. It is mu­sic writ­ing at its sharpest, most per­cep­tive, and most ur­gent.

In forty short es­says, cov­er­ing ev­ery­thing from Prince’s iconic Su­per Bowl half-time show to the “deeply sad project” that is Fleet­wood Mac’s Ru­mors, Ab­dur­raqib uses mu­sic as a win­dow through which to ex­am­ine the big­ger pic­ture.

“This, more than any­thing,” he writes in an early es­say on Chance the Rap­per, “is about ev­ery­thing and ev­ery­one that didn’t get swal­lowed by the vi­cious and yawn­ing maw of 2016.” Mu­sic alone may not be able to pull us back from the brink, Ab­dur­raqib sug­gests, but that doesn’t mean it can’t work small mir­a­cles.

Most re­mark­able, per­haps, is Ab­dur­raqib’s abil­ity to per­ceive and de­fine con­nec­tions be­tween his sub­jects, him­self, and the frac­tured, com­pli­cated cul­ture in which we live—to see things other writ­ers don’t, or can’t. An es­say on see­ing Bruce Spring­steen live, for ex­am­ple, be­comes a med­i­ta­tion on the op­ti­mism of “The River” be­fore it shifts to con­sider Mike Brown, Fer­gu­son, and “the prom­ise of liv­ing.” He writes just as pas­sion­ately on Allen Iver­son’s cross­over as he does on grow­ing up young, black, and Mus­lim in the Mid­west.

In the best of these es­says, Ab­dur­raqib—a poet as well as a critic—grasps at not only what it means to be a mu­sic fan in Amer­ica at this point in history, but, ul­ti­mately, what it is to ex­ist in Amer­ica.

If the feel­ings of sad­ness, lone­li­ness, loss, con­fu­sion, and ha­tred of the last few years loom large over these pages—and they do—so, too, does the idea of hope: both the search for it and the plea­sure of find­ing it in the most sur­pris­ing of places. “I work, in times as ur­gent as these, to un­lock the small pock­ets of joy that have kept us all sur­viv­ing for so long,” he writes. With this

book, he’s un­locked one small such pocket for the rest of us.

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