Arizona hip-hop trio Injury Reserve, composed of rappers Ritchie with a T & Steppa J Groggs with production handled by Parker Corey, made their first splash onto the scene in 2015 with their mixtape Live at the Dentist Office. The jazzy, abstract and playful mixtape was literally recorded in a dentist office. The group showed a lot of potential here with a sound that was rather abstract at times.
They capitalized on the hype with the subsequent mixtape Floss, which they filled with their youthful energy while proudly wearing their influences from rappers like Kanye West on their sleeve.
Suddenly, Injury Reserve pivoted to a darker and more minimalistic sound in 2017 on a mysterious EP titled Drive it Like It’s Stolen that successfully showed their flexibility as more than just a bangers trio. In hindsight, we can see how this hinted at their most experimental project yet, their self-titled debut album.
While there’s not much of a tight lyrical theme throughout this album, the first half roughly concerns the pressure to stand out from the crowd in the oversaturated hip-hop scene we see today.
Injury Reserve hones their influences into a sound of their own that sticks out from their contemporaries in the experimental hip-hop scene. They create an innovative sound that isn’t predominately abrasive, and they do so while making their music rather accessible, never sounding too abstract for their own good.
We get minimalistic beats here, some that are flat out strange like in the opener “Koruna & Lime”, which seems to sample this surreal pastiche of the moans of different people. Other beats like those on “Jawbreaker” are more hypnotic. This track, featuring Rico Nasty and Pro Teens, has a rather unique lyrical message about streetwear, identity, and self-expression. Rico Nasty adds a great verse that voices her frustrations with the black stereotypes about fashion that are projected onto her.
“GTFU” feels like a weird, frantic nightmare, with up-and-coming rapper JPEGMAFIA giving these aggressive commands of “GET THE FUCK UP!!!” while Cakes da Killa delivers an excellent, confrontational verse. While it may sound like an industrial banger at first, there is a beautifully transitioned beat switch on the second half into an orchestral-sounding beat that gives the song more of a somber edge.
“Jailbreak the Tesla” is easily one of 2019’s weirdest bangers, taking influence from the under-utilized, futuristic soundpool of PC Music’s catalog, with creative lyrics about hacking into a Tesla and driving it away. A highlight is the Aminé verse, which is hilarious and charismatic — easily one of the best of his career.
“Gravy and Biscuits” feels like more of a call back to their older sound with a jazzy, smooth piano-led beat and braggadocious, confident verses from Ritchie and Groggs.
“Rap Song Tutorial” is an amusing and creative critique on the homogeneity in the current sound of the rap world. “Wax On” continues with the theme of rising up and sticking out with a sparse, percussive beat, a very catchy hook, and an excellent verse from Freddie Gibbs.
On the second half of the album, our trio doesn’t let up, with Ritchie and Groggs bringing some of their best verses yet. “What a Year It’s Been” has Groggs getting vulnerable with us by sharing problems regarding alcohol abuse and fame while Ritchie ends the song with a passionate verse that builds off the increasing climax of these loud drums that intensify as the song goes on. Production wise, it features an incredible sample flip from an unorthodox source — post-rock band A Silver Mt. Zion.
“Best Spot in the House” is an absolutely heartbreaking song, with the sparsest beat on the whole album while Ritchie gives us an incredibly crushing verse about guilt and grief that is worth listening to for yourself.
The album eases up on the heavy content in the last two songs of the album and gives us a more lighthearted ending. “New Hawaii” is the weakest song on the album by a small margin, with lyrics concerning a romantic interest and a soulful performance by DRAM, but pacing that is just a tad too slow.
The album gives us a great ending in “Three Man Weave” that feels celebratory and complete, encapsulating a tight 39 minutes where barely a second is wasted.
Injury Reserve gives us a creative hip hop album that certainly shines among its contemporaries. If you haven’t been following the group yet, now is the time to do it, with a fun back catalog to sink your teeth into. It’s incredibly rewarding to see this group release one of the most unique, yet catchy hip-hop albums of the decade.