Ahead of their self-titled major label debut album, we look at what makes Injury Reserve great, and why they should be admired by not just up and coming artists, but all artists.
In an era where 20+ song albums laden with filler have become an unfortunate commonality, artists who truly care about pushing the hip-hop genre forward and taking risks are hard to come by, and often end up lurking in the shadows. Armed with their original ideas and captivating creative arcs, these artists not only make for longevity, but impact, just as well.
Injury Reserve is a hip-hop outfit hailing from Arizona that has been consistently dropping boundary-pushing and inventive rap music for a few years now. The group consists of two emcees, Ritchie with a T, and Stepa J. Groggs, along with the glue of the group, producer Parker Corey.
There is a clear sense of care and attentiveness to detail when it comes to the entire package of Injury Reserve. Not only is the music polished and amusing, but so are the visuals (directed by Parker Corey) and the live shows.
On an adjacent note, the group’s live performance, in particular, had me, along with the rest of the fans in attendance, star-struck upon an Injury Reserve concert I attended just last year. The “Arena Tour” featured some impressive stage design, with an array of props and lighting sequences that dazed fans, both new and old. Ritchie and Groggs performed under a tarp for the first song of the set, “TenTenths”, concealing themselves until the explosive performance of “Oh S**t!!!”. At another point in the show, Ritchie even performed inside a transparent box lined with lights to perform the mesmeric Live From The Dentist Office cut, “ttktv”. Broken computer monitors occupied the stage, decorative snow blew around the venue during the performance of “North Pole”, and even $20 bills featuring Harriet Tubman’s face were fired into the crowd during “All This Money”.
The background visuals of the show were entrancing as well, and even featured live footage within the mosh-pit at one point, projecting the activity of the crowd on the screen as Parker (who handled the stage design) strapped a camera to his chest and went wild with fans. I have never witnessed or heard of a live show that truly captured the feeling of a stadium tour with such high production value, all while maintaining such an intense and intimate experience in a 190-cap room. This is a testament to how much work the group puts into all aspects of their product and furthermore, how dedicated they are to their vision.
Needless to say, Injury Reserve won’t be pigeonholed, as they’ve seemingly reinvented themselves with each successive release. They’re a group that will make you laugh and dance, but also contemplate and reflect, generating a broad palette of music that not only breaks the norm, but often transcends the hip-hop genre altogether. Let’s look through their impressive catalog up to this point, along with some of the teaser tracks from Friday’s debut album.
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With Live From The Dentist Office, Injury Reserve gained their first main burst of traction, making a name for themselves as an outcast group that was coming into their own. They used a wide array of neat and refreshing sounds. The rapping burst open colorful doors of personality, and they quickly showed that they were here for the long run, displaying signs of serious promise and impressive creative execution right off the bat. This album was an introduction to Injury Reserve for many current fans, and above anything else, it gave light to a couple of witty and charismatic emcees with a lot to say over some really smooth, but hard-hitting production. As with every project, it included a variety of sonic directions, from introspective tracks like the Ritchie solo cut, “ttktv,” all the way to the upbeat and eclectic, “Snowmen”. There’s also the glitchy banger “Everybody Knows” that served as a precursor to some of the sounds and energies heard on their following tape, Floss.
On 2016’s Floss, the group defied expectations and dropped a radically different project, appealing to even more fans and proving IR to be quite the versatile group. They showed they can’t be put into a box, and further so, that they would continue to evolve as artists with each release.
Floss is full of filthy bangers, like “Oh S**t!!!”, “All This Money”, and “What’s Goodie”, all of which have become some of the group’s biggest songs. However, it is an Injury Reserve album, which, by nature, means it has a bit of everything and can turn on a dime — take, for example, the album transitions from the meditative cut “All Quiet On The West Side” to the experimental and pulsing “Eeny Miny Moe”, and then back to the introspective “Keep on Slippin’” featuring Vic Mensa. With this, Floss is a must-listen for any fan of rap music, and we’ve come to see that it has withstood the test of time and aged well. This project is all over the place in the best of ways, and it exhibits all of the group’s best qualities from production to hook-writing, along with rapping abilities and lyricism.
Drive It Like It’s Stolen is a short project full of experimentation that saw the group playing with an arrangement of sounds. “North Pole” is a standout from the project, and unlike any rap song I have ever heard. It’s a somber cut featuring Austin Feinstein — collaborator of artists including Frank Ocean and Tyler, the Creator — featuring an understated but thundering supply of 808s underneath a spacy guitar, making for a very minimal but effective beat (in fact, the group cited Frank Ocean’s Blonde as an influence of theirs during the creation of this project). It’s a melancholic and reflective track, and it features one of Ritchie’s most heart-wrenching verses to date, one that can truly bring listeners to tears. Along with this track though, there’s the addictive club banger “See You Sweat”, and the ruthless “Boom (X3),” reminding us that nothing is off limits for Injury Reserve. This EP soundtracked a transitional period for the group and brought us some of their best tracks, all while furthering their creative ambition in the process.
The singles and accompanying visuals in support of Injury Reserve’s self-titled debut album are really what pushed me to write this piece. Each song and video have continuously ramped up my anticipation for their forthcoming record. Following a trend set in their past releases, artistic originality still streams out of the group, and these eccentric, yet focused singles prove that the record will very likely be one of the best this year has to offer.
“Koruna and Lime” poses as the introduction track on Injury Reserve. It features quite possibly one of the oddest hip-hop beats I’ve ever heard, made up of a crazy vocal sample along with a jumpy 808 and a mechanical snare. The accompanying visuals for this track, directed by Parker Corey, fall right in line with this left-of-center, well-executed creative vision. First of all, the entire video is done in one take — which is extraordinary in and of itself — and features dozens of mirrors, making for a wonky viewing experience that pairs exquisitely with the audio. Additionally, the visuals were shot in some sort of industrial setting, giving it a behind-the-scenes feel of candidness that only leaves listeners more engaged. Ritchie and Groggs both spit braggadocious and tongue-in-cheek verses that make for a perfect introduction track to the project and establish what the group is at its core: an unpredictable, self-aware rap group full of original ideas.
“Love the fans that say we don’t get enough shine, I mean, shit, well, they isn’t lyin’”
“Jawbreaker”, track two on Injury Reserve, was the first single from the upcoming project, and no one seemed to know exactly what to make of it at first, much like “North Pole”, which was the first single from their previous project. With “Jawbreaker”, the group continued the trend of thinking outside the box and keeping fans on their toes. The video that goes along with it couldn’t have matched it more perfectly, as along with the sentiment of the track, the visuals take on a fashion show/runway setting. Lyrically, the song acts as a critique on the current state of consumerism and street fashion in hip-hop. It features a very strange and droning, but addicting hook from Proteens and a fitting verse from the ever-so-energetic Rico Nasty. The group takes stabs at some of the current fashion trends that disappoint them, and as we’ve seen in the past, it’s not uncommon for the group to speak their mind. In all regards, they’ve always been willing and ready to express their beliefs, whether that be clowning on something they think is wack, or speaking on significant contemporary issues. “Jawbreaker” the song, not just the video, emulates a fashion show itself, with pretty minimal production throughout most of it, along with a jaw-dropping bass drop towards the end of the track. Everything about this song and video impresses and speaks to how attentive and deliberate Injury Reserve is with everything they embark on.
“I be breaking necks and I ain’t even plannin’ these fits”
“Jailbreak The Tesla”, track five on their upcoming album, featuring Amine, is in contention for the most exciting rap song of the year thus far, not only because of the face-melting production, but also because it provides evidence that the group hasn’t sacrificed a tinge of artistic integrity since signing a record deal. Now, this one is probably the most accessible of the three singles and the “banger” of the teaser tracks, but it doesn’t shy away from taking multiple risks, all of which pay off. From the “Tokyo Drift” sample to the industrial sounds that almost reflect something that could’ve shown up on Sophie’s last album, this song is absolutely off the wall. Even the sentiment of this song is bizarre, describing the oddly satisfying braggadocio in the idea of hacking a Tesla car. What exactly this means, I’m not sure, but I absolutely love this cutting-edge and high-energy banger. Again, the flashy, in-your-face video is top notch, and further proves how much effort is being put into every single part of this debut record.
“Your engine go vroom, and my engine go ________”
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With the aforementioned projects and singles as proof, Injury Reserve, as a group, plays an essential role in music today. Their major label self-titled debut album is set to be released on May 17th, and it’s shaping up to become what should be one of the best albums of the year — erratic, ambitious, and focused as can be. Check it out on all streaming services this Friday.