Injury Reserve are a hip-hop trio making waves from the incredibly unlikely Phoenix, Arizona, putting out a fresh, and innovative take on hip-hop.
It’s been a long decade of artists telling their fans that they’re crooks for stealing their music, and music journalists telling kids they’re fostering “throwaway culture”. And now the generation of millennials who came to hate the industry that hated them, are finally growing into musical landscape defining adults, and surprise surprise, they don’t want anything to do with those classic institutions of music. Chance the Rapper is stomping on tables during daytime TV telling artists to forget the label, and the people at Top Dawg Entertainment are out there proving that a younger scene can make their own networks and do music outside the old fashioned pressures of churn-and-grind labels. The stuff that’s making an impact in the hip-hop sphere is music that rejects the old ways of doing things, and Injury Reserve are all about new.
Injury Reserve, made up of producer Parker Corey, and rappers Nathaniel Ritchie, and Stepa J. Groggs, have made quite the impact in their short two years of releasing music. From the low key release of their EP Cooler Colors in 2014, to the incredibly buzzed release of their new album Floss this week, they have enjoyed a come up completely outside the normal institutions of hip-hop and indie music. From fostering a fervent local fan base through DIY shows, to giving their debut album out for free on Mediafire, and then finding their first big cosign with notoriously left-of-industry YouTube reviewer Anthony Fantano, Injury Reserve are the embodiment of the new internet DYI. Their release strategy has more similarities with internet punk pioneer Jeff Rosenstock than any Datpiff mixtape rapper or freshly signed flavor of the week.
Despite not receiving any help from old-fashioned written internet-blogs, label uplift, or industry cosigns, they’ve managed to find their audience. They have been patient, and calculated in producing content to incredibly high self-imposed standards, down to the smallest details of their artwork and videos. Digging their claws into a scene and audience who engage with it way more deeply than they would with something less genuine, and the value of that hyper engaged small audience is starting to show its worth. The group is beginning to gain traction on notable internet music-discussion platforms like KTT and Reddit, sizable hits on Spotify and YouTube, and a genuine, hardcore fanbase, more than any fleeting blog hype could have given them.
But unlike Jeff Rosenstock, who is of course an immensely talented musician, and artist, Injury Reserve are onto something that is in touch with the cultural zeitgeist, making music in a genre that’s hungry for innovation, and fresh blood. One that also desperately needs new voices that speak to the vanishing cultural boundaries of hip-hop, as music stops being so much about “genre” and “scene”, and more about mood and tone. Music’s great separator has become the playlists that songs are eventually sorted into.
A new generation of music nerds are rejecting the notion of separating hip-hop into record label bins that limit it. They are sick of terms like “conscious rap” and whatever the implied opposite is. Injury Reserve, like their peers, don’t see a difference between the derogatorily named “mumble rap” and the rap classics that old fans keep trying to put above them. Despite what a symphony of thirty year old hip-hop heads try to tell them, they see them both as important parts of a genre that morphs to the times. Or as Nathaniel Ritchie rather harshly put it
If you use the phrase "mumble rap" go fuck yourself
— NATHANIEL RITCHIE (@ritchiewitha) October 12, 2016
Born to the Kanye West generation, Injury Reserve see that rap music is about expression, that it crosses cultural boundaries, and aesthetic markers. Despite coming from a city as far away from the classic roots of hip-hop as you can get (Phoenix), and despite existing in a local scene as far from hip-hop as it gets (punk, and indie rock), it seems like it never even phased them. When they perform at a house show, they show that in their world, hip-hop can be punk too.
Their music has become about finding the emotions, and musical themes that connect everything. From the jazz rap/noise pop fusion of their first bonafide hit ‘ttktv’, to the Zaytoven meets Sounwave trap-trap of ‘Oh Shit!!!’, Injury Reserve are culture omnivores, and couldn’t be any less interested in separating music into little, neatly labeled boxes. Their music is an effort to bring to life their genre-less tastes, which finds them shouting out queer punk band G.L.O.S.S., fellow rap outsiders Death Grips, and Tribe Called Quest in the same breath. They make music like they and their peers consume it, all at once, and from every direction.
Of course, today they are still just a small group trying to make waves, and Injury Reserve might not have the legs to become the next great rap group, or live up to the infinite potential of their genre-jumping sound, but right now, they are making the music the internet generation is sleeping on.
Find Injury Reserve on Facebook.