The long overdue self-titled debut from Injury Reserve delivers on many angles, mixing and production being the most obvious ear-catching, the next being lyrical caliber, but to call this a debut feels a bit silly. Yes, it’s a studio album (off of Seneca Village which is an offshoot of the ever-current Loma Vista label) but their mixtapes are relatively equal in quality and often a bit longer. That being said, the Arizona trio has managed to pick up some impressive and appropriate features on this album, most notably Rico Nasty, Freddie Gibbs, JPEGMAFIA (with whom they toured last year), and Amine.
The album is a standard grab-you-by-the-throat, force-you-to-listen hardcore hip-hop album, but not run-of-the-mill enough to make writing this review while listening to it an easy task. Injury Reserve goes to the school of clean-as-fuck edible beats, serving as the middle ground between Kenny Beats and clipping. Instrumentals that are just on the cusp of being noisy and that would be grimy if not for the impeccable production by Parker Corey and mixing by Jeff Ellis. Lyrics are spit with a more down-to-earth Brockhampton delivery with the vocals reporting to you a slurry of modern terms and phrases tucked in between personal stories of rising fame and sneering at it while also having to deal with the bullshit. The fourth wall is broken and laughed at. Limewire is mentioned at least twice.
Smack in the middle of the album is “Rap Song Tutorial,” perhaps their most “punk” moment as the group breaks down their own formula in an attempt to thumb their nose at the genre while also showing kids “you can do it too!” Purposely diminishing the quality of your own work in that way is, on paper, career suicide, if not for the fact that hey, as long as we throw in some jawbreakers the white kids can pit to, who cares? Maybe it would have been better placed somewhere else in the album to not make the wonderful Freddie Gibbs feature seem so trite, but their attitude is forever snarky.
All the Injury Reserve tropes are present: lots of mentions of cars, a heightened sense of self-awareness, post-industrial jungle beats that beg for that “tell ’em off” delivery that Rico so gracefully demolishes, and rapid-fire hooks that stick around as long as the song length. The group takes a bunch of welcomed liberties on this album, really upping the off-kilter beats and beat grid play, as well as continuing the theme of having some really tender numbers such as “What a Year It’s Been” and “New Hawaii,” which is essentially a fucked up R&B track with some Zappy vocoder tastefully flying in and out.
Aside from the few dud hooks on tracks like “Jailbreak the Tesla” and “Wax On” and the somewhat formulaic lyrics and beats being thrown around, the group wraps up the album really nicely, with some of the most insightful and personal lyrics popping through on these final two numbers. Poignant as always, Groggs and T go in on some very intimate verses with the choice lyric that made me smirk like a motherfucker being saved till the last minute: “I was too pretentious for some Migos / Then Phonte made a song with Lil B tho,” summing up the whole attitude of Injury Reserve. Once the subdued aggression has settled, they return to being hip-hop heads from Arizona. Listen below.