There came a moment during Injury Reserve’s rambunctious and sweat-dripping Academy II show when everything made existential sense.
“Don’t put on for the scene, ’cause we not in it/I’m not tryna make a scene/But is it still a scene if it’s not heard or seen?,” Stepa J. Groggs gruffs on the first verse of Boom (X3). Post-internet rap is mostly borderless and amorphous, a fact which Injury Reserve are entirely aware of. In fact, it’s something they pride themselves on.
Nestled away in Phoenix— the oasis of the barren desert state which is Arizona— the trio of Groggs, Ritchie with a T and producer Parker Corey sponged sounds and flows over time with no particular regional specificity. What results, thankfully, is less a melting pot of glaringly obvious influences and more a self-aware attitude-driven hip-hop project anchored in the spaciousness of Corey’s production.
Entangled between the rafter’s of the Academy’s basement sibling—more cave than music venue—were dangling, flickering fluorescent lights; intermittently blue, red, and green.
Both Groggs and Ritchie mean business, going for the jugular under the glow of the lights peering down from above. They require no backing track as a crutch—an indictment of a swathe of live hip-hop performances today—sounding as natural as the gentle rush of a water stream. Both MCs are equipped with rhymes that observe, reflect, but, most of all, hit hard.
Oh Shit, the insanely catchy banger from their latest full-length release, ‘Floss’, explodes the show into life. They veer just once into restrained introspection through North Pole, an unsmiling emo-rap cut built around a simple acoustic guitar loop and distorted vocal effect.
Whether it’s the sultry, pounding house-music theatrics of See You Sweat, the mechanised-kinks of Everybody Knows or the woozy electronica of Washed Out — what most, or all, of these tracks have in common are inescapably straightforward hooks that stick like days-old Drumsticks in your pockets.
The cymbals-crashing, tectonic plate sliding, eardrum-assaulting highlight comes when Corey indulges in some of his more avant-garde impulses. After the performance of Yo—the album opener of their debut project ‘Live From the Dentist’s Office’ which sees Corey flip a soulful 1971 Dramatics single—the sample is massaged into stormy atmospheric synths that swirl and encroach the room like a tornado. A minute or two of heavy-dub electronic improvisation follow, Arca-esque, with Corey flaunting his wicked production chops, before he slowly grinds the freak-out electronica into another of their massive singles, All This Money.
Injury Reserve stay forever true to their evolutionary style; pristine symbiotic flows; vibrant, kinetic productions; interesting, sharp-witted raps. The trio, whose alluring personalities brim with confidence, continue to show themselves as one of the most surging hip-hop entities today, and their live show proves itself to be as wildly entertaining as anything they’ve put on wax yet.