The internet is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to discovering new music. Every new act with a SoundCloud account can make waves, but with so many waves cresting all at once, the sea can become overwhelming.
How easy can it be when J. Cole, Ab-Soul, Childish Gambino, Kid Cudi, Charles Hamilton, Yasiin Bey and countless others all dropped albums in the same month? That’s not even counting a surprise drop from Run The Jewels.
Within that crowded release space this past December, there was one project that I actively canceled plans to listen to; an album that had me at “opening my CD copy of Kanye West’s Late Registration” levels of anticipation for the better part of a year.
And I was wondering why the rest of the internet wasn’t as excited as I was for Injury Reserve’s new project, Floss.
The Arizona-based trio—comprised of emcees Ritchie With A T and Stepa J. Groggs and producer Parker Corey—have been kicking around in pockets online since their debut EP Cooler Colors back in 2014, but they made their first crack in the rap internet ceiling with 2015’s eclectically simple Live From The Dentist Office.
I stumbled across their music for the first time when YouTube dumped the video for “Yo” in my lap; a cacophonous strobe-lit island adventure, soundtracked with blaring horns and talks of sipping water in the club and EBT transactions even when you’re flossing. Much like their begrilled manager blankly staring at me on the album’s cover, the song was a battle cry for a group tired of warming up the benches, and I was ready to see them play. Why hadn’t any blogs and sites picked up on these dudes yet?
Dentist Office balances amped out boasts (“Wow,” “Everybody Knows”) with blue-collar introspection (“Washed Up”, “ttktv”) while keeping their influences squarely on their sleeves. The group revealed in a Reddit AMA that A Tribe Called Quest, OutKast and Kanye West are some of their main influences, but flecks of The Cool Kids, Kid Cudi, Shabazz Palaces and even Three 6 Mafia also breach the surface.
Corey’s production is the most varied-yet-cohesive board work this side of a Danny Brown record, hopping from boom bap to synthy trap to glitchy chillwave at the drop of a hat. Floss finds the group even more confident and committed to blurring the stubbornly defined lines of rap music and they’re not afraid to let you know it.
“This ain’t jazz rap, this that this that spazz rap / This that raised by the internet, ain’t had no dad rap” Ritchie shouts on album opener “Oh Shit!!!” The track is a subwoofer-breaking banger brave enough to let the beat fall out and have the chorus punch you dead in the chest, only to end with Auto-Tuned croons.
There’s humor when Ritchie calls himself “the Black Ben Carson” over Corey’s flipped Dilated Peoples sample on “Bad Boys 3,” balanced by Groggs’ struggle with alcoholism and memories of taking the BART train in “some baggy ass Girbauds.”
This balancing act between the two emcees is even more polished across Floss and helped further drive a Little Brother comparison into my head. It wasn’t just Groggs’ explicit lifting of Phonte’s opening lyrics from “The Becoming” or Ritchie’s put-down of Rapper Big Pooh on “S On Ya Chest,” either.
Both Injury Reserve and Little Brother are dual-rapper/single-producer groups that cultivated a sizable online following with their first albums (Dentist Office and LB’s The Listening) that they had difficulty transcending with their second. Both Corey and 9th Wonder boast forward-thinking production rooted in a corner of hip-hop’s past. Both pairs of emcees weave social commentary into their stories of blue-collar struggle and triumphs. Groggs’ swipes at label executives making Sambos out of Black performers on “Eeny Meeny Miney Moe” could’ve easily wound up on The Minstrel Show.
But even more than their influences and their sound, IR’s push for inclusion and understanding is refreshing. They challenge white fans eager to quote the n-word by changing the “nigga” to “neighbor” in the chorus of “S On Ya Chest.” In a world where Travis Scott is encouraging his white fans to shout n-bombs, that’s a feat in itself.
The Vic Mensa-assisted “Keep On Slippin” is another meaningful drop in the bucket for mental health awareness in hip-hop that manages to find some somber humor in “Jamaican me crazy.”
Injury Reserve subscribes to the notion that good music is just good music. “Look Mama I Did It” is the poignant victory lap that their grassroots internet following has led them to; hearing Ritchie talk about wearing his high school graduation outfit to his father’s funeral because he missed it is heartbreaking, and Groggs brings it all home by thanking fans for buying shirts with his face on it.
Injury Reserve is a kaleidoscope of the hip-hop experience, a group worthy of touring the world and growing their base, so put some floss in your ears and help them out.
By CineMasai. Follow him on Twitter.
Photo Credit: Instagram