Injury Reserve enthusiast and fellow Tempe hip-hop artist Will Neibergall (the artist once known as Glass) boldly proclaimed that "these guys are up next" in the press release preceding Injury Reserve's second video, "Washed Up," off the group's new album, Live From the Dentist Office. (Listen to the full album here.) The bespectacled blonde is looking prophetic right about about now.
Since releasing the video, Injury Reserve has found itself talked about on The Source magazine's website, as well reviewed in an Anthony Fantano YouTube video, which has received more than 45,000 views.
In its own YouTube exploits, the three-piece hip-hop outfit has seen the views on all its videos eclipse 15,000 in the three weeks since releasing the album. The group failed to sell out Crescent Ballroom for its release show, but for Injury Reserve, this hip-hop thing is about so much more than selling out venues in Phoenix.
"We don't care that much because we know we are going to be so much bigger than this. This is so temporary for us. This is temporary for our lives. I know people who love this scene, but I want to be bigger than this. I don't want to be some legends who sat here and tore it down for a little bit and now have a job again," says Ritchie With a T, one half of Injury Reserve's two-pronged MC attack.
But Ritchie certainly isn't the only member of the band who exudes absolute confidence when it comes to music. The other MC in the group, Steppa J. Groggs, definitively states, "We are the best out right now," while the group's producer, Parker Corey, cosigns it by saying, "And we can back it up."
Injury Reserve has been backing up its bravado with two stellar musical releases (Dentist Office and the 2014 debut EP Cooler Colors), a slew of professional-quality music videos, and opening slots for major alt-hip-hop acts like Kyle and Action Bronson. As the trio's following has grown and the quality of its shows has gone up, Injury Reserve's level of braggadocio has increased as well, but the crew says that the chip residing on its collective shoulder comes more from a belief in the brand than all the outside "cosigners," as Ritchie With a T put it so many times in our interview.
"There is no doubt," says Ritchie, whose real name is Nathaniel Ritchie. "We've known what we are doing is good. We were sitting on something, this album, and now that we dropped it, people was like 'Woah,' and we knew we had this for a year and we sat on it. So all we had was our confidence . . . We know the bar is so high that we can't put anything out that's garbage because we are confident and we talk shit."
The "shit" to which Ritchie is referring is his bold claim made to New Times in early May that Injury Reserve is the only good rap act in Arizona. The boast ignited discussion among Phoenix hip-hoppers, some praising the brash newcomers for their swagger and boisterousness and others denouncing the trio as nothing but a few sleek videos and mediocre boom-bap rap.
Regardless of other people's feelings, Injury Reserve remains unapologetic about the statement and steadfastly defends its validity in both interview and performance.
"I'm not going to apologize for anything because what I said we meant," Ritchie says. "It's not like we did it to cause controversy. Me and [a New Times reporter] just talked. It wasn't like we planned it out. It was just genuinely me saying what I wanted to say, and I didn't think it would get so much exposure, but cool, it did."
The less outspoken but equally undaunted Corey adds, "We pissed off a lot of old people. That's what it was."
Many of the responses pointed to Futuristic as at least one Phoenix-based rap act who easily is bigger than Injury Reserve, and there is no denying Futuristic's credentials. However, he currently is based in Los Angeles and Injury Reserve isn't looking to go about its business like Futuristic anyway.
In particular, the group has no love for Futuristic's allowing white fans at his shows to say the N-word.
"That's not progressive. That's cultural blindness. It's cultural ignorance, and we don't fuck with that," Ritchie says. "That's not cool . . . You can't say that word doesn't have meaning."
When the May blog interview with Injury Reserve was published, it seemed the entire Phoenix hip-hop scene came out of the woodwork to weigh in on the young group's audacious assertion. Many Phoenix hip-hop fans respected the boldness, while naysayers ran the gamut of "they're okay, but that's not cool" to calling Injury Reserve reckless, no-talent windbags. But the undeniably cool trio remains unfazed.
"There is no one doing what we're doing, and people are always going to be mad. They are going to be mad about everything," says Ritchie. "We just got an eight out of 10 from Anthony Fantano and you're going to tell me that we're not talented? That's hilarious."
However, the group in no way thinks that having a well-known blogger glowingly review its record guarantees success, and Injury Reserve has great appreciation for the reach Fantano gave its product. Groggs says the Fantano review really "broadened our horizons" and helped to activate and Injury Reserve fanbase outside their ever-growing local following.
Despite their cocky demeanor, Groggs, Ritchie, and Corey show modesty and humility where it truly matters, with their fans. Besides being consistently friendly with every new fan they accumulate at shows, they keep merch prices low and their hottest commodity, their music, free. Both 2014's Cooler Colors, and 2015's Live From the Dentist Office are available for free download on the group's Bandcamp page.
"We don't want people to pay for our projects yet," Corey says.
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Ritchie adds: "People are going to get that shit for free regardless, and right now I don't feel like we're big enough to tell someone they have to pay for what we make, and I like that attitude."
Corey sees it as giving something to fans now to as an investment in the future.
"We can push 100 people to buy an album for $10 and make like $1,000 and maybe feed ourselves for a couple of months with that, or we can get 6,000 downloads in the first week. We wouldn't have sold 6,000 in one week, so now more people are able to experience our music because it's more accessible."
Correction, 11:34 a.m. , 8-12-15: Injury Reserve did in fact open for Action Bronson; the show was not canceled. Live at the Dentist Office is a full-length album, not an EP.