Review | Injury Reserve - Injury Reserve
Phoenix trio Injury Reserve have spent six years dropping mixtapes and EPs in the lead up to their self-titled debut album, but has the album proved to be the crescendo in their discography that they wished for?
Injury Reserve are a trio comprised of producer Parker Corey and rappers Ritchie With a T and Stepa J. Groggs. An unusual trio with an even more unusual discography, Injury Reserve are aiming for a coveted and barely-attainable position within musical qualification - the position where an artist or group can create experimental music with a pop appeal. Since forming, the group has proved they’ve got the versatility to potentially achieve this status. Starting with the jazzy alt-rap that defined their breakout mixtape Live From The Dentist Office (2015), to aggressive and defiant cuts like Oh Shit!!! and Girl With the Gold Wrist off Floss (2016) and finally to the emotionally charged Drive It Like It’s Stolen (2017) that features the heartbreaking North Pole, Injury Reserve have covered most bases in their pursuit of rap notoriety. The question is however, is what does Injury Reserve the album do for both progressing the group's sound simultaneously into the experimental and pop fields.
"Koruna" and "Lime" open the album with an infectious yet unpredictable beat that entices the listener to instantly broaden their expectations for the rest of the album. There are some heavy features on the album, starting right at the beginning. Rico Nasty absolutely cuts through the twinkling beat of Jawbreaker, whilst JPEGMAFIA’s dominating hook on "GTFU" makes the song as aggressive as the title suggests. Sadly, these features appear to have been detrimental to Ritchie and Stepa’s status in the tracks, as they are overshadowed by their contributing peers. It’s not just the JPEG and Rico features this applies to, with the two Injury Reserve boys struggling to compare to Amine and Freddie Gibbs, who appear later on the album. However, it’s impossible to totally discredit Ritchie and Stepa, as they really appear to come out of their shell and shine on some tracks. On "What a Year It’s Been", Stepa offers an introspective and unique take on his own battle with depression and self-doubt. Later, Ritchie brings one of the most moving verses on the album on "Best Spot in the House", lamenting about the death of a friend and his own selfishness for rapping about the tragedy when he didn’t even attend the funeral (“How was I too cowardly to go to your fuckin' funeral / yet somehow think rapping about your death was fuckin' suitable.”)
Lyrical content aside, Parker’s production carries the conversation of progression within this album. Hailing from white suburbia, the first hip-hop album Parker listened through in full was Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. But Parker’s ingenuity and imagination shines through on this record. Obscure sampling, such as the beautiful Silver Mt. Zion sample on "What a Year It’s Been" and even tweaking Teriyaki Boyz’ infamous Tokyo Drift for "Jailbreak the Tesla" merge with innovative drum beats and synths to create a feeling of progression and something completely new to hip hop. Parker even experiments with song structure in an unseen way, creating a step-by-step guide in "Rap Song Tutorial" that is actually surprisingly satisfying when watching the song build itself up from individual drum beats step by step. Nevertheless, the aforementioned feeling of progression carries the album in the absence of more traditional hooks and melodies.
Best Song: Best Spot in the House
Worst Song: New Hawaii