"That's what's special about being in hip-hop, especially in 2019 – there is room for artists like us."
With a couple of days to go before the release of their self-titled album, Arizona rap trio Injury Reserve aren’t too sure how excited they should feel. “The jury’s still out,” producer Parker Corey tells me, admitting to some nerves about how the group’s debut effort on Loma Vista will be received. Their avid online fanbase has embraced the three singles shared from it so far, but the experimental group are conscious that these tracks represent only part of the wider story told by Injury Reserve. Corey likes the idea that they have kept listeners guessing, though: “It seems that the draw so far for people who have really liked the singles,” he says, “has been less, ‘Oh, I love this song,’ and more, ‘What is this album about to be?’”
It’s a sunny afternoon and we’re sitting in a room at their label’s London offices – me, Corey and rappers Stepa J. Groggs and Nathaniel Ritchie (known as Ritchie With a T). The trio are in town to complete promotional duties for the record, which will culminate on the eve of its release with a sold-out show at The Victoria in Dalston. They are in good spirits, looking back at the hard work that went into realising their debut and allowing themselves a sense of achievement.
Some of those heading to the upcoming London gig will claim to have followed Injury Reserve since their first mixtape, 2015’s Live From the Dentist Office. That project, recorded after hours in an actual dental practice, showcased Corey’s crisp production skills and introduced Groggs and Ritchie as a potent vocal duo. The Phoenix trio followed it up with the arrestingly experimental Floss LP in 2016, which boasted big name features like Vic Mensa and moved them away from their early jazz rap sound. They continued to push themselves the following year, adapting to minimalist beats on the ominously moody Drive It Like It’s Stolen EP.
True to form, the self-titled album sees the group constantly on the move, refusing to linger in any potential comfort zone. After revelling in the chaos of a ferocious opening act, Ritchie and Groggs successfully keep up with each of Corey’s instrumental left-turns. The pair are sensitive when the album turns inward, delivering bars on tracks like ‘What a Year It’s Been’ and ‘Best Spot in the House’ that engage with themes of depression, alcoholism, and self-doubt. They also display impeccable comedic timing, rapping with a self-awareness that humanises the record’s heavier moments.
Consciously rejecting a coherent sound, Injury Reserve instead draws its conceptual form from the drive that Ritchie, Groggs and Corey brought to each track. “When people were asking if the album sounded like (lead single) ‘Jawbreaker’ we told them, ‘it doesn’t sound like this, but the album’s approach is like this,’” says Ritchie. “We don’t like making the same song twice, but you can tell that whatever mindset we were in making those songs, that’s what is really gluing it all together.”
“There’s a sense of antagonism throughout the album,” Corey expands, pinning down the essence of the group’s approach. This often manifests itself lyrically – Groggs uses the album’s first track to voice Injury Reserve’s frustration that they “don’t get enough shine” from mainstream music publications – but the trio are keen to stress its musical implications too. “It’s not just what we’re speaking about, it’s also what we want to sound like,” Ritchie tells me. “A lot of the changes on this album lie in arrangement. I think that’s where we’ve improved a lot – things are less predictable.”