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It doesn’t take much of a writer to get you to focus and enjoy a work about something you already like, half the battle has already been won. But it takes skill to entice you into reading something about which you have no interest at all. Hanif Abdurraqib is one such writer. A poet, essayist and musical commentator for Pitchfork, The Fader and more, Abdurraqib writes brilliantly on topics such as Chance the Rapper and emo, so much so that I read every word, despite having no interest at all in ever hearing a note they sing. Hanif is a black, American Muslim from Columbus, Ohio, and his essays, such as “A Night In Bruce Springsteen’s America” or looks at basketball legends such as Michael Jordan give you a picture seldom told, from a perspective that only a few have.
The essays collected here share a common heart, and Abdurraqib doesn’t mind looking vulnerable and out of place, and as one of few black punk rock fans in the Midwest, his growing up gave him ample opportunities to illustrate such. He relates scanning basement punk shows for another black face (and rarely finding any) or the alienation and hostility he faced post-Ferguson.
As good as his looks at everything from Baton Rouge after Katrina, to the significance of Ice Cube and black film, his masterful art shines most brightly – and poignantly – on “Fall Out Boy Forever”. I think I’ve heard maybe 30 seconds of a Fall Out Boy song once, decades ago, but in describing his love for the band, and fellow fan and friend Tyler’s life (and death) shows how universal is the bond that ties passionate followers together. The piece was as powerful and touching as anything I’ve read this year, and Hanif Abdurraqib has emerged as the Ta-Nehisi Coates of popular culture. Pick any piece from They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us. I promise you – it will sting. Like all great art.