They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us: Essays

Hanif Abdurraqib. Two Dollar Radio, $15.99 trade paper (236p) ISBN 978-1-937512-65-1
Abdurraqib’s essay collection is mesmerizing and deeply perceptive. Most of the essays are about music, particularly live music, touching on how it acts as a balm in a time of fear and pain. One essay explores being an outsider among outsiders through Abdurraqib’s memory of being a black kid at an overwhelmingly white punk rock show, yet imbues this experience of loneliness with a sense of triumph. Not every music writer would think to connect the performative identities of the rap group Migos and Johnny Cash as Abdurraqib does, showing how both are based on an arguably inauthentic outlaw persona. All of the musicians discussed, including Carly Rae Jepsen and Chance the Rapper, are accorded respect, along with an understanding of what needs in their audience they satisfy. Abdurraqib’s essays linger on the black American experience, emphasizing the desire to be seen and the fear of being invisible. He doesn’t posit music as a cure-all for modern America’s societal ills—those he mentions include mass shootings, racial violence, and prejudice against Muslims—but also observes that it “isn’t only music” but a way of feeling a sense of belonging. Abdurraqib’s essays are filled with honesty, providing the reader with the sensation of seeing the world through fresh eyes. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 08/14/2017
Release date: 11/07/2017
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