They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us

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...

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Title:They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us
Author:Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib
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Edition Language:English

They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us Reviews

  • Ari

    IQ "I'm not sold on pessimism as the new optimism. I need something that allows us to hope for something greater while confronting the mess of whatever all this blind hopefulness has driven us to. America is not what people thought it was before, even for those of us who were already familiar with some of its many flaws. What good is endless hope for a country that never runs out of ways to drain you of it? What does it mean to claim that president is not your own as he pushes the lives of those

    IQ "I'm not sold on pessimism as the new optimism. I need something that allows us to hope for something greater while confronting the mess of whatever all this blind hopefulness has driven us to. America is not what people thought it was before, even for those of us who were already familiar with some of its many flaws. What good is endless hope for a country that never runs out of ways to drain you of it? What does it mean to claim that president is not your own as he pushes the lives of those you love closer to the brink? What is it to avoid acknowledging the target but still come, ready, to the resistance?" (82)

    Whew drag me with that quote. It perfectly illustrates how easy it was for me to connect to every single essay Abdurraquib wrote. He taps into universal human moments (falling in love, grief, being an outsider, racism) but makes them deeply personal and yet these essays doesn't feel myopic or distant at all. Instead it feels like someone is in your head eloquently explaining all the jumbled thoughts you've had about various emotions and tough moments. This collection goes above and beyond to prove that it's more than "just music" or "an obsession with celebrities." These essays reminded me of why I love cultural criticism so much, for the sharp and astonishing conclusions they can draw that tell us so much about the society we live in.

    Finally (and I may get in trouble for saying so but) it was so refreshing to read a straight Black man being so vulnerable with himself and readers. Also as a Chicagoan I never expected to say this but I was somehow interested in Columbus while reading this book. At the very least I would say Abdurraqub's love of his hometown truly shines through and it's fascinating. I think people from smaller cities/suburbs tend to either by anxious to get out or (and usually in this case they're white) are completely satisfied to stay there forever. This author brings a bit of both to the table, sans white privilege and it's an interesting dynamic to observe. So not only was I completely captivated by an author in love with Columbus, but I also managed to read essays on a variety of bands I do not care about or had never heard of. And for 99% of my reading experience I was completely enthralled regardless of who the initial artist or band featured in the essay was. I also wasn't aware of how much I had retained from my white middle school classmates about emo music, it would make sense that it was a Midwestern thing.

    I have often struggled with wanting to judge people for being 'loud' or 'flashy' about their money. This particular passage really me stop and think and I don't say that lightly. "To grow up poor, especially with any proximity to wealth, real or imagined, is to think sometimes that money can save you. To think that money can pull you and the people you love out of the feeling of any grief, or sadness. To then get money, especially rapidly, is to find out that isn't true. [...] As someone who grew up with no money, I know what it is to want to show someone, anyone who will look, what little you have earned. [....] The act of stunting, when it gets you free, is also charity. [....] It occurred to me that this, perhaps, was truly the way to show off: keep most of what you have at a whisper, but keep just enough of it so loud that it won't be forgotten" ('Burning That Which Will Not Save You: Wipe Me Down and the Ballad of Baton Rouge', 158). Similarly I often have a hard time with obvious displays of excitement during certain sporting events. I'm semi-ashamed to admit that I prefer the quiet and 'humble' victor. But here Abdurraqub pushes me on that "It is almost unfathomable to tell someone to act like they've been somewhere before when they are intensely aware of the fact that they were never supposed to be there in the first place, isn't it?", and that's just one line in a really stunning paragraph that reflects on Serena Williams. "The mark of greatness in those times is how you sustain, even if you have to celebrate the smallest victories in an attempt to will yourself to the larger one. When we insist that Serena Williams be more reserved, or less 'scary', or when we insist that she fit into the mold of decorum that we believe tennis should be, we're really telling her to silence the very things that drive her. We're asking her to not be great so that we can be comfortable. We're telling one of the most dominant athletes many of us will ever see to maybe keep it down a bit, as if any kind of dominance is stumbled upon silently ('Serena Williams And the Policing of Imagined Arrogance', 236-237).

    THEY CAN't KILL US UNTIL THEY KILL US is breathtaking in scope, mesmerizing in its observations on life, varied music criticism and anchored by a strong voice. Oh and lots of basketball references which is always appreciated. It is a reflection on the black body and black music, particularly in this day and age. It is also clear that the author is a poet, many of his essays have sentences that could stand on their own and convey the entirety of the essay in a few beautiful lines. Although I'm very glad he expands on his thoughts in essay format. And this sentence just plain bowled me over; "No one decides when the people we love are actually gone. May we all be buried on our own terms" ('Fall Out Boy Forever', 116). If you had ever told me an essay about Fall Out Boy would bring me to tears...I would have laughed in your face. The perfect to book end 2017/start 2018, I loved this book.

    Another quote I loved; "I considered how often there is shame attached to loving anyone publicly. The shame, of course, comes on a sliding scale, depending on who you are and who you love. [....] Here, that shame falls o dust. It is something beyond the smoke that lingers above our heads that does this-turning a person's face to the face of someone they love, and kissing the way we do in our homes, with the curtains drawn" ('Carly Rae Jepsen Loves You Back,' 27).

  • 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.

  • 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

  • Brad

    I can't adequately describe how much or just why I love this book so much. Hanif Abdurraqib writes so powerfully and with such insight about all the things we as a nation are grappling with right now.

    [A note to potential readers: I loved this book out of the gate but a few essays about emo bands about 80 or so pages in gave me a bit of a stumble near the middle of the book, and I almost didn't finish. What a tremendous mistake that would have been. Perhaps I have been watching too much Olympic

    I can't adequately describe how much or just why I love this book so much. Hanif Abdurraqib writes so powerfully and with such insight about all the things we as a nation are grappling with right now.

    [A note to potential readers: I loved this book out of the gate but a few essays about emo bands about 80 or so pages in gave me a bit of a stumble near the middle of the book, and I almost didn't finish. What a tremendous mistake that would have been. Perhaps I have been watching too much Olympic downhill skiing, but this book just gains power as it moves forward.]

    The density of insight, observation, and challenges to do better beg for multiple readings. I kept wanting to read the next essay but knew I wasn't taking adequate time to synthesize all the knowledge getting dropped on me at every turn.

    Read this now!

  • Renata

    I L O V E D this. I forget where I saw it recommended but I almost didn't pick it up because it's a lot of music criticism of music I don't especially like, but it was overall so highly recommended that I checked it out. And I'm so glad I did!! The author is also a poet and you can definitely tell, his style is so beautiful and moving. Even when I'm not familiar with the artists, these essays are always about more than music. (I have to admit I did prefer it when I was familiar with an essay's s

    I L O V E D this. I forget where I saw it recommended but I almost didn't pick it up because it's a lot of music criticism of music I don't especially like, but it was overall so highly recommended that I checked it out. And I'm so glad I did!! The author is also a poet and you can definitely tell, his style is so beautiful and moving. Even when I'm not familiar with the artists, these essays are always about more than music. (I have to admit I did prefer it when I was familiar with an essay's subject, such as Ms. Carly Rae Jepsen.)

    Still: after this I'll read whatever Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib has to say about anything.

  • 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."

  • 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

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

  • Kelly

    An outstanding collection of essays about music, race, and life in contemporary America. Hanif is a black Muslim who grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and his writing on being who he is in that Midwest space is out of this world good.

    All of the essays have a connection to pop culture, and most to music, and it doesn't matter whether you know or like any of the thematic threadings of the pieces. They're about much, much more.

    (And that Carly Rae Jepson piece!)

    Those who love and laud Roxane Gay would do

    An outstanding collection of essays about music, race, and life in contemporary America. Hanif is a black Muslim who grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and his writing on being who he is in that Midwest space is out of this world good.

    All of the essays have a connection to pop culture, and most to music, and it doesn't matter whether you know or like any of the thematic threadings of the pieces. They're about much, much more.

    (And that Carly Rae Jepson piece!)

    Those who love and laud Roxane Gay would do really well to pick this up, too.

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