Injury Reserve is a group that for whatever reason we aren’t talking about. Perhaps their hometown of Tempe, Arizona isn’t exactly a known hotbed of musical prowess. The crew is comprised of the two emcees Ritchie with a T and Steppa J. Groggs, and producer Parker Corey. The trio was conceived in 2014 and specializes in a style of hip-hop that is self-aware, calling attention to common tropes and frustrations of the music industry such as the wasting of wealth and the selling of souls, all through a hot West Coast sound. Their latest album Floss provides a more aggressive and less sunny approach to their subject matter, and in my opinion they’ve really came into their own with this drier style to beats and rhymes.
The opening track “Oh Shit!!!” jumps right into an icy beat worthy of the Pleistocene. The hook explains the futility of trying to categorize niche music into specific genres. Ritchie with a T says “This ain’t sound like some shit from ’06 / Fuck what it sound like man that some cold shit.” It doesn’t matter what it is, it sounds good and that’s all that should matter. Although you don’t need to listen to the group’s 2015 album “Live From the Dentist’s Office” to appreciate “Floss,” the tone of this song is so very different to what we’ve previously heard by them. Whatever you want to call this sound, it’s still Injury Reserve and they’ve trademarked and perfected their vibe. “Bad Boys 3” serves as an icebreaker from the two emcees to let fans know they’re still the same people despite the unfamiliar tone of this album. The production in these first two songs is stupendous and high energy.
The momentum continues with “All This Money,” a hilariously real song on how some artists appear to squander their wealth on unnecessary luxury materials like clothes, alcohol, everything we need to measure our own success. The hook is a parody of what happens when we’re overwhelmed with money and make unwise decisions: “Oh my God! / I ain’t done shit, all my life / I’m about to spend four, ’bout five / I’m about to spend all this money.” Ritchie’s yelling of this hook adds a feeling of real anger in the midst of hilarity. Ritchie and Steppa are probably sick of watching artists who aren’t as skilled as them waste their money and act foolish with their fame. The beat itself has a lazy vibe to it, but it still works well. In fact, the production on this album perfectly complements the frustrated attitudes of Ritchie and Steppa, especially when Ritchie does that yelling thing throughout the album.
“S on Ya Chest” takes a more serious approach to the acquisition of fame. Instead of the jokey and inane tone from the previous song, this time Ritchie and Steppa discuss their current status as a group who manage working lives outside of their music. They desire to leave the grind to make music full-time knowing that they deserve the acclaim, but would mainstream success compromise or reject the characteristics that have attracted their listeners thus far? The melancholic jazzy beat again perfectly suits the lyrics and creates an earworm. Good luck removing it, it took me weeks.
Applying yet another attitude to the idea of becoming famous, “What’s Goodie” parodies the archetypal cocky rapper who receives a few YouTube hits and automatically becomes the greatest musician in the vicinity. It’s funny listening to Ritchie try to flex his ego in the last verse but still acknowledging how not many people know who he is. Cakes Da Killa, who is featured on the track, has an equally impressive verse that sets the theme of the song. “Girl With The Gold Wrist” is high-energy, thrilling, and utilizes the guitar very well. Typically a guitar is used as a tweak to the beat, but this track is driven by strings. The hook is perfectly simple, repeating “Girl with the gold wrist,” perhaps to comment on simplicity and bare content of most party song lyrics. Okay that’s a stretch, I admit it.
“2016 Interlude” highlights hot topics from the worst year in recent memory. Every rational person will appreciate this song for pointing out that we, as a species, aren’t where we should be in terms of morality and common sense, using the reasoning “Bruh, it’s 2016.” Some choice lines are delivered in a mocking manner, such as “Why to get a job does she got to get a weave” and “Why you still lying to yourself? / You know the meaning of that damn flag on your belt.” One of the more relaxed songs on the album is “All Quiet On The West Side,” which expresses a desire to enjoy music regardless of what side or region you represent. Like, it’s 2017, let’s all just get along please.
Perhaps the most brutal song on the entire album is “Eeny Meeny Miny Mo,” which equates the constant performing of aspiring no-name rappers to slave auctioning. Ritchie states that the only route to success in most circumstances is to give up your originality and sign with a record label to become a marketable brand. Steppa reinforces this despairing belief by explaining that having actual skills won’t get you anywhere unless you’re ready to be exhausted and miserable, performing daily just to keep yourself in the public sphere, even though most folks won’t care because you’re not well-known. The hook is cleverly modeled after the nursery rhyme Eeny Meeny Miny Mo, which is thought to be originally rooted in racism. It could be argued that this is an exaggerated and pessimistic look on the music industry, but these opinions are from artists who have been through it, so I don’t doubt their words.
Another emotional song is “Keep On Slippin’,” which perfectly conveys the feeling of helplessness associated with addiction and mental disorders and includes one of Steppa’s best verses. Featured on this song is Vic Mensa who summarizes his unfair predicament: “The same depression made me anxious is what gave me this verse / But every time I think of making it work it gets worse.” The depressed brain is cruel; always casting doubt upon whatever one might succeed in so we’re always wondering if we’re doing a good job. And if we’re doing well, we’re still unhappy. The song is personal and doesn’t provide hope, but instead advises to keep going and confide in your friends no matter how hopeless your situation might seem because that’s all you can do.
The hollowness of “Back Then” is captivating. It’s a song about how people want to associate with the artists now that they’re famous (even though they’re not), although previously these fans wanted nothing to do with them. There are many songs about this concept, but Injury Reserve is just so cynical in that some of their songs sound like parodies of mainstream content. Their lyrics have a way of exposing cliché sentiments that are prevalent in hip-hop, and the beats are hauntingly dope. I’m not even sure if this is their goal but it’s so potent I’m giving them credit for it. Geniuses, all three of them. “Look Mama I Did It” is a triumphant finisher for the album, and it’s a promise from the group that they’re going to keep being the best for themselves, for their families, and for their fans. It’s a surprising inclusion on the album considering their negative attitudes toward fame and success expressed earlier.
Floss is an example of one of those wonderful and rare occasions when three artists are in sync with each other and understand each other’s purpose. The result is an almost uncomfortably realistic portrayal of pursuing a rap career, always knowing that success and integrity are often mutually exclusive, with some moderate humor inserted to soften the blow. The transparency from Ritchie and Steppa on some songs in this album is very personal. It feels like they’re my Facebook friends now. Parker Corey was literally instrumental in creating the atmosphere of this album and I have faith Injury Reserve will eventually be recognized as one of greatest groups making music right now. I consider this album to be nearly flawless. Each track is ripe, even the interlude. These guys aren’t receiving the exposure they deserve despite flossing every day like they’re supposed to. I would very much like to see these guys blow up (in a good way, not like in an explosion), and I highly recommend you check them out if you haven’t already. If you’ve already heard, spread the word.
Floss can be enjoyed via the group’s SoundCloud.