Read This Book: They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us
Read. This. Book. Now.
Hanif Abdurraqib “They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us” is a fantastic collection of essays that almost all revolve around bands, performers, concert experiences, and real world cultural events. But these aren’t you’re typical “I went to this show… it was so f’n cool,” stories.
Abdurraqib connects the concerts and music to real world events, feelings many of us have struggled with, or situations that we can all relate to. Stories of the musicians’ journeys from nobodies to stars are framed in such a way, that they tap into the nerve of our collective experience. He walks us through what it’s like being the only black guy at a punk show, and touches on the death of both friends and relationships. They are stories full of both internal and external emotion. They are descriptions of cultural events that you didn’t know were such a big deal. And it’s like you’re with him every step of the way, because at every turn of the page you are left saying, “I know what you mean!”
The musicians Abdurraqib talks about run the gamut, from hip hop to screamo, and from afropunk to pop. He weaves the inspirational feelings that emanated from Chance The Rapper’s Magnificent Coloring World event to those of church. He explains why Schoolboy Q is ok with white folks saying the N word when they yell his lyrics at his shows. A story of a Carly Rae Jepsen concert turns into a discussion of “weaponized sadness” and love. He even discusses Baton Rouge rap rising from the floods of Katrina, My Chemical Romance’s “true end” with The Black Parade, and why Ric Flair (yes, the wrestler) is the best rapper alive.
Hanif Abdurraqib is in his 30s, and grew up in Columbus, OH. As you can tell, his musical taste spreads pretty wide, and that helps keep the book from being a genre study. It’s a human study. People at concerts have a lot of similarities in their behavior and their reasons for being at a particular show. He is masterful at explaining them and helping the reader sympathize or empathize with those reasons.
And it’s not just about being at concerts. He shapes and connects an artist’s delivery, craft, or overall journey to feelings the reader can identify with. Famous performers are humanized, which helps the reader understand why an album or performance was even more important than they thought.
The insight really blew me away. He dives into what kind of love The Weeknd is really singing about, and why Allen Iverson crossing up MJ was so impactful. He doesn’t just say how a great concert turned into a sad night, he explains it so well.
There is great relatability in the way Abdurraqib writes. Much of it has to do with how he describes emotions, and the situations that bring them around. You’re at the show, watching basketball, reading tweets, and crying with your friends along with him. You remember what it’s like to go to a show with a ticket you had bought with someone who is no longer your partner. You remember watching something on TV and getting goosebumps because you suddenly realize that what you’re seeing is special and may never happen again.
You don’t have to like any of the bands he talks about. There were a few I hadn’t heard of, and it didn’t take away from their stories at all. He writes as if you haven’t really heard of the group or event before: with exposition that speaks to anyone from any culture. I’m not a fan of Fall Out Boy, but man was I pulled into his experiences across many years of going to their shows.
It reminds me of someone who can bend everyone’s ear at a party, and it doesn’t matter what the story is about. Everyone is listening because that person is such a good storyteller. Let Hanif Abdurraqib tell you his stories.
Buy this book at Two Dollar Radio instead of other retailers. Hanif is donating all proceeds from sales at this site, through November 2019, to Border Network for Human Rights and Trans Women of Color Collective. You can learn more about Hanif and his other works at his website here.
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