Sometimes the best things are found in the unlikeliest places; e.g. Tempe, Arizona’s hip hop phenoms Injury Reserve. If you’ve been sleeping on them, it’s time to wake up. The group consists of producer Parker Corey, and emcees Stepa J Groggs and Ritchie With A T, and they’ve spent the last 3-4 years putting their own unique spin on old school, aggressive, boom bap, blue collar rap music. And it’s been fucking great.
Though any labels you place on Injury Reserve are likely to be thrown off, the group has proven to be very versatile, with a sound that is intensely unique. This has a lot to do with Parker Corey‘s production, which is crowded, glitchy, strange, and even at times dissonant—but it always bangs. As well, Groggs and Ritchie both have their own flow and delivery to add diversity, it all sounds distinctly old school in the best way possible. Both glide across Corey’s production, and it’s truly a match made in heaven. Though to best understand Injury Reserve and their new very short project Drive It Like It’s Stolen, you have to go back.
Floss was arguably Injury Reserve’s breakout moment; the album was fiery, thumping, and even at times very introspective. From funky, Bay Area house-party vibes like “All This Money,” to a very thoughtful and moving outro “Look Mama I Did It,” Floss had it all. And it was fresh as fuck in a scene saturated with light, money-hungry hook-heavy trap rap. It was definitely a change of pace from their previous release Live from the Dentist Office. Live from the Dentist Office felt like the reincarnation of old school hip hop in the age of the internet. It was less aggressive, more introspective, and very laid-back vibes, and it was amazing. It was also weird. Songs like “ttktv”, the end of “Snowmen”, some parts of “Friday”, and more all have a sort of eery, edgy, avant garde tinge to them, pushing the boundaries of hip hop.
Drive It Like It’s Stolen is like the realization of that weirdness in Live from the… , with some of Floss’‘s straight heat mixed in for good measure. It’s also very short, 7 tracks and 27 minutes compared to the respective 42 and 46 minutes from their previous releases. But with a name like Drive It Like It’s Stolen, I suppose I should’ve expected it. The whole album is a dark, slinking, relatively quiet sprint through the best of what Injury Reserve has to offer.
The intro “TenTenths” is a quiet, bumping, sonar-sounding track, and transitions perfectly into “See You Sweat,” a dark, whispery night-club sounding track, which is definitely more on the party side of the album, and it’s gold. The next track, “91 Cadillac DeVille,” is by comparison a very bright,story heavy, short track that sounds like it could’ve definitely fit on Live from the… pretty well; though it’s not as moving as some of the other tracks they’ve made. Next comes “Boom (X3),” which is an eery, angry banger, with a gravelly Ritchie chorus reminiscent of Floss. Ritchie really shines on this track as he spits on celebrity gossip, sneak dissing, ghostwriting, old heads and more, letting you know Injury Reserve isn’t here to play those games. The next track, “North Pole,” is Grogg‘s turn. His lyrical wordplay, references, reflection on coming up, killer delivery, and bass-y voice play perfectly over the slow, acoustic sounding beat from Parker. Ritchie also has a very deep, moving verse on this track, reminiscing on lost loved ones and pushing forward under their watchful eye. “Colors” is a standout. Everyone flexes on this one. The production is ice cold, the racial/political subject matter is necessary, and the quiet flow that Ritchie and Groggs had been using really works the best on this track. Finally, “Chin Up (Outro)” is a good vibes goodbye, telling fans and aspiring artists to keep your head up, and keep moving forward. And just like that it’s over.
Drive It Like It’s Stolen isn’t my favorite Injury Reserve project. But it is a really great experimental, stylized, dark and deep dive into hip hop, persevering through struggles, and politics. Very much it’s own thing, and a must hear if you want to see a truly fresh and artistic take on hip hop music.