Injury Reserve's latest offering is an intensely experimental and emotional album with truly unique, phenomenal production.
Having gained notoriety from their mixtapes, including Live from the Dentist Office (2015) and Floss (2016), Injury Reserve released their debut record in 2019. The self titled Injury Reserve, a hardcore, experimental hip-hop album, saw their acclaim grow a great deal and it seemed as if this group had the potential to be accepted into the same class as the contemporary experimental hip-hop greats like JPEGMAFIA and Death Grips. However, 2020 saw a tragic change.
The death of one of the trio’s members, MC Stepa J. Groggs, was bound to be felt on whatever came next from the group. And that gap is definitely felt on By The Time I Get To Phoenix, but not in the way that says there is something missing from the music (as Groggs does appear on here throughout) – instead, the group have made an album that ruminates on the grieving process and sees them become more experimental than ever before. With many saying that they feel this to be the first ‘post-rap’ album ever created, it’s certainly worth investigating. It also helps that the music is remarkable.
The production from the now duo’s producer, Parker Corey, is discordant, intensely layered and brutally cut from the first chord of this record to the last. Voices are mixed in a vast number of tones and pitches, sometimes squeaking and sometimes so deep that they seem to warble, sometimes robotic and sometimes unbearably human with the pain felt being frighteningly apparent. ‘Ground Zero’, for example, features a beat with sparse drums and extremely eerie piano keys played underneath an assault of different voices, sonically replicating the feeling of being lost in intrusive thoughts and of being unable to switch off your mind and focus on any one thing as voices frantically slip in and out of the track.
‘Superman That’ sees a voice enter the song robotically repeating ‘Ain’t no saving me, ain’t no saving me or you’, slowly becoming more clearly human as the song continues and revealing the hopelessness felt. ‘Top Picks For You’ sees Ritchie with a T deliver two intensely emotional verses reflecting on the death of Groggs, with lines like ‘I felt loss but a hole like this I never could have imagined’, or the even more touching and abstract ‘I scan the room, I see bits and pieces of you scattered, it’s those same patterns that gon’ get us through this chapter.’
‘Knees’ is another deeply affecting track, with the lines ‘Knees hurt me when I grow, and that’s a tough pill to swallow because I’m not getting taller’ explaining Ritchie’s feelings of pain without growth – living in emotional purgatory as he is forced to feel loss and to grieve but without the usual benefit of learning something that will allow him to improve his life. Mixed behind the chorus, he pleads ‘Can we press rewind and just go ahead and press play?’, begging for times passed to return to no avail.
The album’s closer, ‘Bye Storm’, sees Ritchie state that ‘the show must go on’ in spite of his pain, and sees him note his feelings of being overwhelmed when he says ‘I see my ankles break down, I don’t know how to hold that, there’s only so much that two arms can truly hold, man.’. It’s a constantly discordant and frequently overwhelming album to listen to, but Injury Reserve’s latest is an intensely emotional and fantastic experimental record that feels like a genuine leap forward in hip-hop history.
By The Time I Get To Phoenix was self released on 15th September. Listen to the single ‘Superman That’ on YouTube below: