Injury Reserve is an Arizona-based hip-hop trio consisting of emcees Ritchie With a T and Stepa J. Groggs and producer Parker Corey. Drive It Like It’s Stolen is their latest EP, though they have been making waves in the underground for the past couple of years with Live from the Dentist Office (2015) and Floss (2016). The dentist theme stemmed humorously from the fact that their studio was near a dentist’s office. But the trio moved away from the dentist-themed title this time around and their sound has progressed along with it. Their modern take on jazz-rap has always been comprehensive, but they seemed to have increased its breadth with each track’s style. While the project clocks in at only 23 minutes, the experimentation keeps you interested and warrants multiple listens.
On previous releases, Ritchie has been the more eye-catching emcee with his aggressive, mad-dog delivery. This is not to say that Stepa is a lesser emcee, he just lacks the sheer charisma that makes Ritchie such a standout. Stepa really steps his game up this time around though, delivering some of the most memorable verses on the whole project.
On “Boom (X3)” Stepa has a witty set of bars that play on the meaning of scene and seen, while making a strong statement about his group being independent and far more progressive than the competition. On the tail end of the verse he slows down his flow, sharply pausing before the final two syllables of each line, which adds a punchy emphasis.
Ritchie closes the track out with a hard-nosed criticism of fans who appreciate them for not rapping about drugs and money. This is possibly a subliminal diss to YouTuber P F’s father who offered a similar viewpoint in the video “Dad Reacts to Injury Reserve!” Ritchie goes on to criticize old-heads who complain about the prevalence of ghostwriting in contemporary hip-hop. He points out that ghostwriting has been around since N.W.A., where Ice Cube and MC Ren would pen verses for both Dr. Dre and Eazy-E.
In the past, Ritchie has been a very flamboyant emcee, but on this project, his style is noticeably more reserved. This reflects in the serious tone of his verse on “North Pole” where he is rapping to a friend he lost to a drug overdose. He notes that his friend overdosed around the time Kendrick Lamar released his breakout mixtape Overly Dedicated (OD), though he leaves the line unfinished because it is difficult for him to talk about.
In some groups, the production can often feel like an afterthought, but in Injury Reserve it is just as important and compelling as the emcees. As Stepa puts it on “Boom (X3),” “you know all of Parker’s beats are cashews,” but that line really doesn’t do the man justice, as Parker Corey’s production is all kinds of nuts and shouldn’t be limited to just the kidney-shaped ones.
“See You Sweat” is Stepa’s take on a club banger that is full of little nuances like the scattered alarms and cartoonish sweat droplets. The track is backed by these hearty, tribal drums, and to avoid monotony, Parker adjusts the subtleties of the beat as it progresses.
On the totally opposite spectrum is the ethereal “North Pole” which shows Parker’s impressive range as a producer. The track is assisted by Austin Feinstein, who contributed guitar to three songs on Tyler the Creator’s Flower Boy earlier this year, and shares the uncertainty and insecurity presented on that album. The guitar and drums have this dreamy, drugged-out aesthetic which is only furthered by the heavily modulated vocals looped throughout the track.
The title Drive It Like It’s Stolen is from Stepa’s verse on “Boom (X3)” and speaks volumes of the trio’s mindset during recording. Their sudden success in the rap game has left them bewildered; so much like a stolen car, they are moving at a fast pace with no clear direction. This explains the experimentation across the EP, as the trio have as little clue where they are going as the listener. But they pull it off in style, with the only real complaint being how short it is. Hopefully they take the feedback they receive on these different styles and translate it into another fantastic full length project.
(Featured Image: Las Fuegas)