Injury Reserve Wants to Make You Squirm

A light-skinned charismatic law student, a fat, black, alcoholic father of four, and a scrawny redhead paler than stardust (which I imagine is pale):

They intend to stick out like the sorest of thumbs.

Injury Reserve is hardly a conventional trio, much less a conventional rap group, but the strangeness of their grouping serves their music for the better. It feels patched together from different cloths, from minds separate in space and time, and the end product fits together awkwardly, but fits.

Floss is their sophomore project, a follow-up to their debut, Live From the Dentist’s Office, which was recorded live in a dentists’ office. There’s also real floss on the cover of Floss. It’s an extension of the theme from the first album. The point: Injury Reserve doesn’t play much with metaphors and abstract symbols — if they want to say something, they say it; if they want to rap about something, they rap about it; and if they want to puff their chests and have fun, they’ll do that, too.

Realness for them doesn’t mean being hard, but rather being genuine, so the album oscillates emotionally the way each of the artists does. There’s thunderous, party tracks like “Oh S**t!!!,” smoother, collected reveries like “S on Ya Chest,” and tortured, darker ramblings like “Keep on Slippin.”

Their honesty often snowballs into something more profound — analogies that grow organically from their self-presentation. The DMX-laden “All This Money,” a song written about emptying their budget on the “Oh S**t” video, ends up a bitingly funny commentary on the gaudy, just-for-show approach that accompanies fame, an approach they don’t pretend to be above. And from that, the “All This Money” video is born, where female correlates to Richie T, Steppa J Groggs, and Parker Corey rap surrounded by dancing, half-nude males in a shower of one-dollar bills. The lyrics suddenly burn with sharper clarity: “Oh my god!/ I ain’t done shit all my life.” In lampooning themselves they lampoon the cultural space they occupy and the entertainers that molded it. The gender reversal, the one-dollar bills — they just prove the silliness (and fun) of the show.

Floss sees Injury Reserve threading that line carefully between the “lyrical miracle schmiracle” (as Richie T affectionately refers to it) and more carefree party jams. “2016 Interlude,” a straightforward song cemented in hot button political issues (“Why we got native mascots for some teams ni**a/ Why you still act like global warming ain’t a thing ni**a/ Why you worrying about them ni**as praying to the east ni**a/ …like bruh, it’s 2016”), comes on the heels of “What’s Goodie,” a song concerned with little other than swagger (“Parker flipping shit like his ass Rey Mysterio”). It makes the delivery of the heavier messages more digestible because they feel unintentional.

So when an alcoholic recounts his struggle with alcoholism, we learn something about desire. When a foundering artist recounts his difficulty gaining traction, we learn something about persistence. When a father recounts working a 9-5 to provide for his kids, we learn something about responsibility. The key is that none of these lessons are preached; they’re not given to us, they’re gleaned from them, and in that way, the album has depth.

All of the above, however, concerns only vocalists Richie T and Groggs. There’s a third member of Injury Reserve, Parker Corey, and I don’t know a thing about him. But he produces some of the weirdest, most uncomfortable, most mesmerizing beats in hip hop today.

Corey is Injury Reserve’s glue as a result and, I suspect, their primary appeal. If Richie’s and Groggs’ vocals exist outside the sphere of mainstream rap (and they do), Corey’s production conjures whatever sphere it is they’ve migrated to. He plays with sounds no one else thinks to touch, building soundscapes that twist and writhe and sneak up on you. In “S On Ya Chest,” sax runs slither through little flamenco claps over a looping electric baseline. He somehow manages to spin the intro of the Kanye produced Dilated Peoples’ track “This Way” into some fresh, clattering, roll of clicks and fragmented snippets on “Bad Boys 3.” The horns that begin “All This Money” are abrasive and loud, but they soon rattle your ears into submission. His thoroughly different music cuts with crooked lines a space that has room for both Richie and Groggs in sound and personality.

The three make an uneven whole, a trio — two rappers and ambitious producer — whittling away their own space in rap similar to…well, I won’t draw the comparison. I don’t know that they’ve earned it yet. Nonetheless: with Floss, Injury Reserve is well on its way to reviving the rap group.

-Champe Barton

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