Injury Reserve is back in town March 31. Get to know their music.EXPAND
Injury Reserve is back in town March 31. Get to know their music.
Photo by Matt Kaplan

The Rise of Injury Reserve

First impressions are important, which is why Amp ASU had a lot riding on its debut show. On January 13, the Arizona State University-based collective held their inaugural event: Secretfest. The full-fledged, day-long festival took place at the Tempe campus’ Secret Garden. The top-billed act? Injury Reserve.

Formerly a staple of the Tempe house show scene, the hip-hop trio moved to Pasadena, California, in early 2017 to push their career further. Which made that homecoming set at Secretfest all the more exciting.

There was an atmosphere of love, appreciation, and, most importantly, homecoming that took over the crowd of a couple hundred. After all, Valley fans have been jamming with the group since 2013, when they debuted with the mixtape Depth Chart.

Things have changed a lot since then.

Now, Injury Reserve are on a headlining tour that has featured dates in Austin for South by Southwest and a show at the Roxy in West Hollywood. After the U.S. leg of the Arena Tour, an ironic name that hints at the group’s aspirations, they’ll play seven shows in Europe.

That undertaking is a testament to the group's hard work.

At live shows, producer Parker Corey sets up at the back of the stage, controlling the group’s inventive, often experimental, beats. Rappers Ritchie with a T and Stepa J. Groggs bring their own flare. Groggs, almost a decade Ritchie and Corey’s senior, raps with a relaxed maturity. Ritchie isn’t afraid to jump around and play characters, bringing an element of slackened, even-tempered chill. The music is loud and heavy, with something unidentifiably fresh.

They’ve been on a prolific streak since the 2015 release of Live from the Dentist Office. Floss and Drive It Like It’s Stolen followed.

On March 31, Injury Reserve will return to Phoenix and play Crescent Ballroom. It’ll be the group’s first show at Crescent since they played Floss there from front-to-back in January 2017.

If you haven’t caught up with them since their days playing living rooms, the group’s newer sound is quite a departure from their more subdued roots. Here’s a look back at Injury Reserve’s discography released on the group’s Las Fuegas label, founded by the group’s manager (and Live from the Dentist Office cover model) Nick Herbert.

Live from the Dentist Office
The oldest project that Injury Reserve still plays tracks from, Live from the Dentist Office dropped in July 2015. With “Oh Shit!!!,” the group references their early reception, and Ritchie with a T raps, “I say this ain't jazz rap / This that, this that spazz rap.”

Despite vernacular reservations, this album mostly adheres to that genre. The track that most epitomizes the jazziness is “Friday,” where Ritchie sings on top of a subdued piano and electronic horns. In the middle, the instrumental switches to a more downtrodden melody with a noodling saxophone.

The rest of the album has a similarly relaxed feeling that never hints at the grunge-punkiness that developed when the group was playing house shows. The divisive music critic Anthony Fantano positively reviewed Dentist Office and helped catapult the trio to blogosphere fame.

Tempe musician Jeff Habgood played house shows with Injury Reserve for years. Back then, he started a chant to coincide with Ritchie’s repeated “baby” lyric in the song "ttktv." The song can run up to seven minutes long live, and Habgood thought that audience interaction would keep the group on their toes.

“I don't know exactly when it started but I think one time I just started yelling along with the ‘baby’ line and [Ritchie] really liked it, so I just started to do it every time I would see them,” Habgood says. “It’s a cool reminder of both their roots in the house show scene and their ties to playing with punk bands and raw energy."

Floss
By the time they dropped Floss in December 2016, the trio's sound had evolved into a more brash and abrasive project. The album’s lead single and perhaps the group’s most popular track, “Oh Shit!!!,” was released the summer before with a music video. The track was inspired by Travis Scott’s DJ, Chase B, who yells the title as his staple ad-lib.

“There's something about "Oh Shit!!!" that just makes me feel like you can do anything and not give a fuck about it,” Amp ASU co-founder and president Tyler Clark says. “It's a song about growing up and telling people that, yes, you can do it, and shoving it in their face ... It so eloquently says, ‘We're here and we're not going anywhere.’”

The track opens Floss with a jazz piano introduction with shades of Live from the Dentist Office. But then it distorts and Ritchie shouts the "Oh shit!' hook with a rough voice. And things don't really calm down from there.

In fact, it gets more aggressive. “Eeny Meeny Miney Moe” sees Injury Reserve at their most industrial, Death Grips-sounding. The braggy song tackles short-lived, manufactured hip-hop careers. Over an electronic beat and intermittent, toneless yells, Ritchie raps about blank enfranchisement in the industry: “They created your ass with a plan, bro / From clothes to the pics to the fans, yo / See they love what you make, not what you stand for / Got they black Pinocchio with the round nose.”

Drive It Like It’s Stolen
With this 2017 EP, Injury Reserve once again subverted expectations. The six-track, 24-minute project reveals the group at their most experimental and sensitive — especially on “North Pole.”

That track served as the EP’s first single and is markedly more honest than the bravado heard on the previous two albums. Groggs' verse deals with alcohol abuse, while Ritchie's speaks of the loss of his father and a close friend.

And people took notice. The track earned Injury Reserve a "staff pick" spot on the front page of Jay-Z's rap-heavy music streaming service Tidal. 

“It's such a soulful beat and they build such an atmosphere with it,” Amp vice president Nicholas Rennemann says.

The rest of the album serves up party-ready, raucous Injury Reserve fare. In “Boom (X3),” the group raps about their influence on the genre, fronting as braggadocious superstars. The song opens with a virtuosic piano solo and then two different piano tracks atop a minimalist, bizarre percussion beat.

Groggs raps, “Created a sound, they started jockin' it / don’t put on for the scene, 'cause we not in it,” referring to Injury Reserve’s departure from Phoenix to the Los Angeles suburbs. For the hook, Ritchie roughs up his voice a bit, and yells the titular “boom, boom, boom.”

Injury Reserve are scheduled to perform at Crescent Ballroom on Saturday, March 31. Doors open for the 16-and-up event at 7 p.m. They will be joined by Lil QWERTY and Tony Velour round out the bill. Tickets are $16 and available through Crescent Ballroom's website.

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