Injury Reserve in midseason form on new EP
Owen Lane | Tuesday, October 3, 2017
Years from now, hip-hop historians will look back on 2017 as a great year for underdogs. Drake and Travis Scott’s sound has infected the entire genre, leaving hip-hop in the creative doldrums. Injury Reserve has definitively emerged as one of the outsiders rescuing the genre. The trio come from an unlikely background, and is willing to both eschew current trends and experiment with sounds uncommon in the current hip-hop soundscape.
A lot of the surface-level information about Injury Reserve raises eyebrows. To start, the group is from Phoenix, a town that Injury Reserve themselves describe as almost entirely devoid of any hip-hop scene. In fact, during their rise to local fame in Tempe, Arizona the group would mostly perform at house parties with punk and indie rock acts vying for a spot in the sprawling metropolis’ music scene. Ritchie With a T believes that performing without any pre-existing local hip-hop sounds gave way to the refreshing creativity that Injury Reserve possesses. Group producer Parker Corey — who is considered a full member of the trio, even though he has never rapped a bar in their catalogue — is a lanky, pasty red-head who met Ritchie in high school. Stepa J. Groggs, who is five years Ritchie’s senior, speaks softly, yet doubles as a raspy, fire-spitting M.C.
In the summer of 2015, Injury Reserve released their debut album “Live From The Dentist Office,” and less than a year ago, in December 2016, they released their second album, “Floss.” Both projects were aptly named due to their being partially recorded in Corey’s grandfather’s dentist office. “Floss” finally brought Injury Reserve to the attention of hip-hop heads across the country, with its unique mixture of humor, charming candor, deft rapping and accessible yet experimental production.
“Drive It Like It’s Stolen,” their latest release, is an exceptionally short project — clocking in at only 23 minutes. Fellow burgeoning rap group and self proclaimed ‘boy band’ Brockhampton have released two full-length albums in the past year alone, with plans to release another. Perhaps, after hearing the justifiable comparisons between the two groups, Injury Reserve have made a conscious effort to avoid creating a glut of subpar content. Perhaps they are simply limited by their size. It is easy to forget that album-a-year is an extremely demanding pace. If “DILIS” was borne out of a commitment to quality over quantity, it certainly paid off for the group.
“TenTenths” is a tantalizing opener that throws out menacing rhymes like a series of jabs — quite different from the barrage of haymakers that was “Floss” opener “Oh S—!” Recent single “See You Sweat” follows as a fun party track that makes hilariously catchy use of a leaky sink sound effect. The verses are funny but smooth, almost like a more tasteful rendering of popular mid-2000s rap. With their winning combination of goofy, self-aware lyrics and legitimately proficient production, Injury Reserve strongly evokes “College Dropout”-era Kanye West.
“91 Cadillac Deville” is the strongest track on the album, featuring an excellent airy Corey beat paired with mellow lyrics about the group’s journey towards success. On the hook, the two M.C.s sound a lot like Andre 3000 on the best OutKast hidden track you have never heard. “Boom (X3)” is an angry banger that is the perfect pump-up for your chosen recreation. Ritchie goes off on a lyrical rant about both know-it-all white fans and old school rap fans that complain about ghostwriting. Ritchie’s verse on “Boom (X3)” and Stepa’s rhymes on “Colors” perfectly exemplify that Injury Reserve remain remarkably practical on the microphone. Stepa raps, “I don’t really want an easy fight, just a fair one“ on “Colors,” which is perhaps the most level-headed and thoughtful meditation on American racism that you’ll hear this year.
“Chin Up” is a powerful closer that wraps up the project perfectly. Ritchie and Groggs trade bars like old pros. Groggs brags that the rap crew is now better than their city’s “entire roster.” Groggs is right. Injury Reserve is back, healthy and strong. They’re ready to be stars of the game.
Artist: Injury Reserve
Album: “Drive It Like It’s Stolen”
Tracks: “91 Cadillac Deville”
Label: Las Fuegas
If you like: Kanye West, Mos Def, The Underachievers