Injury Reserve have been bubbling under the surface of hip-hop for a few years now, dropping eclectic and socially aware mixtapes that just so happen to go hard as fuck. On their debut album the trio continue their rise to prominence with a fresh set of clever ideas, hilarious metaphors, abstract production and some deeply personal meaning. If you don’t know about them, here is the perfect place to start.
In 2013, Arizona based hip-hop trio Injury Reserve were born. It consisted of two rappers called Stepa J. Groggs and Ritchie With a T, as well as producer Parker Corey. After a while of very small level touring and hype, they brought out their self-released debut mixtape Live From The Dentist Office in 2015. It was unlike anything around at that moment in time, the diversity was awe-inspiring and the subject matter ranged from quirky to activist level. Tracks like Yo and TTKTV made people sit up and take notice, but they were just getting started.
A year later came Floss, the follow-up mixtape that is synonymous with the group’s most popular, commercial sounding hits to date. Just listen to Oh Shit!!! and All This Money and try telling me those songs don’t slap so damn hard. They had well and truly arrived on here and the anticipation for what was next was palpable. To keep this ticking over they dropped the Drive It Like It’s Stolen EP in 2017 before announcing their switch onto the Loma Vista record label. The debut album was on it’s way.
So what have Injury Reserve done on the debut album to stand out? Well, their production has taken an even more impressive experimental turn; particularly on the opening five tracks which are relentless and full of life. The rushing synth lines on Koruna & Lime and Jailbreak The Tesla are batshit crazy but surprisingly razor sharp and focused, honing in on the general atmosphere of the tracks content.
The aforementioned Jailbreak The Tesla was a teaser single to the album’s release and features whirring instrumentals reminiscent of a car chase, coincidentally handy on a song that is literally about stealing a Tesla. It is, in my opinion, the best song of Injury Reserve’s careers so far. Everything from the frantic first verse by Ritchie to the ‘skrt’ style noise-rap beat and, of course, Aminé’s hilariously brilliant feature where he raps about Elon Musk taking shrooms and Grimes (Elon’s girlfriend and famous recording artist) being the GPS.
The album’s lead single Jawbreaker is also a uniquely crafted concept track which has strong features, this time opting for Rico Nasty and Pro Teens as they rap about consumerist fashion culture. The song has a strong message of self-worth and not blending in, but it does so in a true Injury Reserve way where you find yourself nodding in approval while laughing out loud at the comedic wordplay.
The moments of sublime wit don’t end there, however, as the daring Rap Song Tutorial does exactly what is says on the tin and describes step by step how to make a rap song, thus in itself becoming a rap song. It is a laugh out loud moment but also somehow manages to be catchy and have huge playback value.
The standout elements of this album allowed for the variation of the group to shine through. To put it in the best words I can think of, when I first heard What A Year It’s Been I lost my shit. I sat and pondered that song for long after it was over and realised just how touching and sentimental it really was. The percussion heavy production allows for Ritchie and Groggs to spit the most personal lyrics of their lives as they describe just how much of a whirlwind the last 12 months have been; daring to discuss mental health, neglect and the troubles of fame.
Best Spot In The House is another reflective anthem that this time looks at the wrongdoings of Ritchie and the guilt he feels for rapping about topics and not putting them at the forefront of his personal life. It is an introspective view of how artists can sometimes take what they have for granted and use their platform to tell everyone lies; it is so hard-hitting and self-destructive but at the same time it feels utterly essential.
The features are welcome additions to the album, too. Whether it be Aminé’s comedy value, Freddie Gibbs’ ice cold flows on Wax On, JPEGMAFIA’s mosh inducing shouts on GTFU or DRAM’s harmonic singing on New Hawaii, it feels like everyone has a place here and they are utilised brilliantly. My only qualm would perhaps be that we don’t get a full JPEG verse and that is a big miss for any rap album in my eyes.
All in all, Injury Reserve delivered and then some on their debut studio album; it has bangers, it has sombre jams. It can make you laugh and it can make you cry. There are reflective moments of a dark past and joyous moments of a potentially bright future. It is an all-encompassing, dynamic barnstormer of an album and without doubt one of the hip-hop highlights of the year from one of rap music’s most overt groups.