Following the passing of band member Stepa J. Groggs in June 2020, the way forward for experimental hip-hop group Injury Reserve was unclear. But just a month ago, the remaining members – producer Parker Corey and rapper Ritchie with a T – came forward on social media to announce ‘By The Time I Get To Phoenix’, a new record named after the song by Isaac Hayes.
Though Injury Reserve’s previous output was certainly experimental, featuring abrasive industrial instrumentals, its backbone was recognisably hip-hop, with their 2019 self-titled album featuring the likes of Amine and Freddie Gibbs. On the other hand, ‘By The Time I Get To Phoenix’ has a singular feature from Bruiser Brigade member Zelooperz.
From the first track, ‘Outside’, Injury Reserve’s second album is incredibly jarring. Field recordings, distorted synths, and agony-stricken vocals from Ritchie, create a dense, misshapen soundscape. The production Injury Reserve typically went with is chopped and shaped into a collage, more closely resembling Aphex Twin than anything hip-hop.
The nervous, anxiety-inducing atmosphere defines the album, with lyrical content surrounding Groggs’ passing – Groggs himself appears posthumously throughout, ripping tragically about his vices – making for a merciless listen. Though fans of Death Grips will find familiar territory on ‘Smoke Don’t Clear’, Injury Reserve do not stray into the group’s occasional comedy, preferring to weave anguish similar to tracks such as ‘On GP’. The abrasion of Death Grips’ music can seem to be its only purpose, however, whilst the challenging nature of ‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix’ reflects the circumstances surrounding its creation and its themes.
‘Top Picks For You’ has Ritchie seemingly link the behavior and purpose of algorithms with Groggs’ passing, delivering a heart-wrenching closing verse. The looping synth sample echoes throughout, disintegrating, eventually breaking down, melting into various field recordings and samples. Groggs’ appearance on ‘Knees’ is poignant, rapping about the depth of his alcoholism and the nature of addiction: "I need to put down the bottle..." Brian Eno’s ‘Here Come The Warm Jets’ is sampled on album closer ‘Bye Storm,’ distorted to better fit.
What genre does ‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix’ even fit into? There’s rapping on the album, no doubt about that, but the production is closer to IDM, dark ambient, or even shoegaze. Injury Reserve’s new album is a truly dystopian impression of despair, smashing together polar opposite genres to create something wholly new.
Is it post-rap? Who knows.
Words: Jack Oxford
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