ALBUM REVIEW: Injury Reserve's 'S/T'
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE 405 (NOW DEFUNCT)
Injury Reserve has been around for a while, but for some odd reason, only now are people taking notice. In 2016, the Arizona trio comprised of Stepa J. Groggs, Ritchie With a T, and producer Parker Corey released their second, boisterous mixtape Floss, a project that began planting seeds, hinting at how great this trio could be. With their 2017 EP Drive It Like It’s Stolen, their potential was all but realized, setting the stage for their explosive debut album to come.
After following in the footsteps of Denzel Curry by signing with Loma Vista, the time is now nigh for Injury Reserve to take center-stage. Whether you are a long-time listener or not, jump on the hype train before it gets too full—Injury Reserve’s self-titled debut is going to make them a household name for years to come.
Revealing of the trio’s beginnings, their upbringing, and being genuine through the inevitable (but justifiable) noise that will now surround Injury Reserve in the immediate future, this rap outfit is not about hype. They could easily resort to current hip-hop trends, but that would be against their identity.
Having always navigated between experimental and classic styles of hip-hop, this new record sees the trio’s creative pulse palpitate at full throttle. Though their two emcees Ritchie and Stepa remain true to traditional flows and verse-hook structures, the collective—thanks to Corey—mix things up with some of the most wonky-sounding production you will hear outside of Death Grips. Seemingly interspersed with influences of deconstructed club and even PC Music (a la SOPHIE), Injury Reserve’s debut is easily their best sounding and most cohesive project, but it is also one that swiftly shifts from cutting and corrosive to pensive and beautiful at the drop of a dime.
With many grating, extraterrestrial ad-libs and shouts manipulated, stretched and warped through a deluge of heavy-bass and frenetic drum beats, one wouldn’t dare to exhale - around each corner and track, listeners will be subjected to something breathtaking and unheard of. Album opener ‘Koruna & Lime’ sees Corey, the trio’s mad scientist, and producer, spin listeners’ heads into another dimension where sickly distorted synth bass and wailing vocal samples fiendishly dance and banter with one another. Meanwhile, Stepa serves a fiery eviction notice to those who doubted the rumbles of hype surrounding this burgeoning collective, to begin with: “If you didn't help me get it, don't be speakin' on mine/ No, for real, don't say shit, like you speakin' in mime...Love the fans that say we don't get enough shine/ I mean, shit, well, they isn't lyin'.”
A raw testament to their renegade-like attitude, tracks like ‘Jawbreaker’ attempt to dismantle the fashion industry and the validation one seeks through social media. By the aid of a brazen and snarky verse from emcee Rico Nasty, this message is communicated with vitriol and clarity: “I do what I want, not whatever gets the likes up/ They don't like my outfit, but they like the outcome/ You never seen these shoes, well, that's the reason I bought them/ They copy my swag, you can see that I taught them.”
Their clamorous level of attitude is usually accompanied by some witty humor and self-awareness. For example, the track ‘Rap Song Tutorial’ is exactly what its title suggests, a song that teaches you—with tongue-in-cheek—how to make a rap song. “Step 1: Choose your drums/ Step 2: Assemble your drums/ Step 3: Add your melody/ Step 4: Write a hook/ Step 5: Record your hook,” utters a robotic voice.” Nevertheless, ‘Rap Song Tutorial’ proves to be much more than a “how-to” or a poke at those who diminish rap to a formula. In fact, Richie—with the valid perspective of an artist on the outside looking in—raps about a near-future where he’s well off and more than ends meet: “New chores, got some bread in mind/ I want the two-doors, ain't no givin' rides...Yeah, new chores, got some bread in mind/ I want the new Rollie, but the simple kind.”
Though much of the album scowls, screeches and spits in your face with innovative abrasiveness and lyrical humor that may or may not go over the heads of listeners, the trio’s debut record has its moments of vulnerability both in production and through the stories told. They can surprise with a staggering personal touch; ‘What a Year It’s been’ sees Stepa open up about alcoholism and depression all while trying to make those who love and support him unconditionally, proud: “Writin' verses with a smile while my daughter's by my side, like/ Look, mom, I made that! Look, mom, I made that!/ ‘The boy is a star’, soon enough you can say that while Richie.”
To mention ‘Jawbreaker’ once more, Rico’s verse, though bold and fiery at first, spirals away into fragility, essentially admitting that without the validation and love she receives from fans, she would be dead. “Fresh to death, I belong in a coffin/ But I'm way too liked to die, so often express myself/ Put it in a song so I don't kill myself/ Listen to it back and then I heal myself.”
With many other moments that dive into depression, death, addiction among other heavier topics, Injury Reserve’s debut record surpasses any and all expectations as a seamless concoction of serious topics flawlessly juxtaposed by extraterrestrial sounds, humor, and righteous anger. A perfect summation of the trio’s existence thus far, please sit back and experience (not listen to) Injury Reserve, the best rap album of the year—so far (Sorry Tyler), made by the best “new” rap group ready to take the world of hip-hop by storm.
THE 405 RATING: 8/10