Album review: Injury Reserve’s grimy second album hits hard

If you have never heard of the hip hop trio from Arizona, welcome to “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”, the gritty and dark second full-length album by Injury Reserve. Formed in 2013, Stepa J. Groggs, Richie with a T, and producer Parker Corey released EPs and tracks on assorted mixtapes. Sadly after the release of their self-titled debut record, Stepa J. Groggs passed. This was a massive blow for the underground hip hop scene and might have been the end of Injury Reserve as a group. This album is proof otherwise.

I picked up on this raw and digitally eerie band right after their first full record was released in 2019. They caught my attention with their track “Jailbreak the Tesla,” a glitchy track with a tasty Aminé feature. “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” is a taste of that raw, technical energy with some darker undertones. This might be a reflection of the loss the group felt after Groggs passed. Whether or not this is the case, the power and angst this album creates is unforgettable. 

This group can sometimes reach the threshold where the listener is unsure if this is real harmonious, melodic music, or taking the route of sound music. This is nothing I will complain about, their abstract take on what hip hop should sound like supplies a refreshing outcome and a solid base for an album of this nature; raw, dark and unrelenting.“Outside” sets this ambient and darker tone, allowing for the instrumentals to carry a powerful speech sample.

The lyrics coming across sound both angry and lonesome, longing to speak to their lost member, Groggs. This pain is supported by the twisted and sometimes chaotic instrumentals. Regardless of one’s knowledge of the group, it is very clear that there is pain involved, and that is incredibly powerful. The tone seems to change a bit as the record progresses, carrying a more poppy (not like pop music, but like someone drove a snowmobile over a patch of metal bubble-wrap), up-tempo track with “Superman That.”

Things move back and forth as the album progresses. Some tracks feel incredibly “Death Grips” inspired, while others have that same energy you might hear from a metal band from the early Seattle punk scene. This album might seem like a mess, but with my experience on sound music and incredibly abstract artists, every single instrument, every sample is meticulously placed to create an emotion.

This album might not be one you bring home to the folks or play on a first date, but if you enjoy music with more of an artistic and abstract approach, this is for you. Dark, gritty and painful is the topic, and Injury Reserve is no stranger.  

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