They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us By Hanif Abdurraqib, 285 pgs.

Jan 31, 2018

There’s no kind of writer I enjoy more than the kind Dorothy Parker described when she reviewed Harlan Ellison’s story collection Gentleman Junkie: “a good, honest, clean writer, putting down what he has seen and known, and no sensationalism about it.” That’s Hanif Abdurraqib. (Though since he’s black and I’m white, I should point out that “clean” refers to the prose.)

They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us is a collection of thirty-nine essays. Here’s a sampling of their titles: “Carly Rae Jepsen Loves You Back,” “I Wasn’t Brought Here, I Was Born: Surviving Punk Rock Long Enough to Find Afropunk,” “It Rained in Ohio on the Night Allen Iverson Hit Michael Jordan with a Crossover,” and “My First Police Stop.”

If the titles remind you of Lester Bangs, that’s not coincidental. Abdurraqib is open about Bangs’ influence. He shares with Bangs long paragraphs and a hunger to understand as much of the world as he can before he dies. (Abdurraqib doesn’t make jokes, though.)

He’s writing for everyone, and usually about music, but the question that runs through the book is, “As a black millennial, how do I live my life?” And a black millennial who’s fortunate enough to discover this book may be introduced to the music of Bruce Springsteen and Fleetwood Mac, both of whose music Abdurraqib writes insightfully about. He lacks ideological deafness, and for example, points out how amazing Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” is; a song I’d taken for granted (and probably will again—it is Fleetwood Mac, after all). –Jim Woster (Two Dollar Radio,