Injury Reserve Delivers Their Best Work Yet on ‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix’

Injury Reserve Delivers Their Best Work Yet on ‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix’

Eli Robinson, Journalist

The new year is behind us, and it is time to look back at the positives of the past year, although they may not seem to be plentiful. 2021 was an amazing year for the music industry, and brought us several stand out albums, my favorite of which being By the Time I Get to Phoenix by Injury Reserve. 

The Hip Hop group, Injury Reserve, had success with their hard hitting and emphatic mixtape Floss, as well as their debut self titled album released in 2019, but the group has dealt with some major hardships since their last release. In June of 2020 the group announced that member Stepa J. Groggs had sadly passed. The passing of Groggs saddened hip hop fans everywhere, and left a feeling of uncertainty in the air as to where the group would go from that point. 

The thought of new music was not something that fans expected, but in 2021 the remaining members, Ritchie with a T and Parker Corey put out a single entitled Knees which featured vocals from Ritchie as well as a verse from Groggs. The sound of this track came as a surprise to fans of their previous music as this single leaned less into their alternative hip hop roots, and ventured more into genere-less territory. The production by Corey displays bursts of percussion and guitar coming in a chopped up series that almost seems random at first. On top of this, Ritchie is passionately singing/groaning the lyrics, “My knees hurt when I grow, and that’s a tough pill to swallow, because I’m not getting taller”. The idea is presented by Ritchie that pain is the sign of growth, and when that pain is gone you end up missing it as you remain stagnant. Groggs also delivers a heartfelt verse on this track that delves into his problems with alcoholism, and how that may be stopping him from having that growth. This song was a pleasant surprise to fans, but it’s grim tone definitely stirred up some emotions especially taking into account that this was one of the last verses Groggs wrote.

Soon after this single followed the full length album By the Time I Get to Phoenix. The name of the album was inspired by the group’s hometown as they are based out of Phoenix Arizona. The album starts with the song Outside which continues the group’s experimentation displayed on their singles leading up to the release. Starting with the instrumental, there are wobbly synths layered over a super deep and murky combination of percussion and bass. This production gives the song some very eerie undertones. Over this, Ritchie is rapping/speaking in a very confrontational manner and seemingly just saying whatever pops into his head. As he continues to rant, the instrumental begins to evolve as the drums and bass start to increase in volume.Ritchie’s tone becomes more frantic and nervous, running out of breath and  stumbling over some of his words. The instrumental volume and intensity seems to mirror the level of animosity and anger in Ritchie’s delivery. The track comes to a long conclusion, but it never loses the attention of the listener as the instrumental, although on its own, continues to swell which keeps the listener engaged and wondering where it leads. It ends with Ritchie panting over a small portion of the instrumental that remains playing. This sets up a distressed and a bit of a somber theme for the rest of the project. 

The Tracklisting has only one feature listed, and it is by the Detroit rapper Zelooperz on the song SS San Francisco. Zelooperz is known for his eccentric delivery and vocal inflections, but with Ritchie’s vocal filter giving him an almost metallic sound, and his choice to sing the opening lines in an almost supervillain-like voice, Zelooperz chose to tone down his delivery just a tad. His verse compliments the bass heavy beat perfectly, as well as Ritchie’s portions. This track continues with the confrontational portions of the opening number with lines like, “I can’t take it anymore (It ain’t supposed to be this way)” and “ I ain’t going through that, you can’t just force me through it”. This tone places the group in a situation where they are forced to defend themselves against some outside source. This could be referencing the group’s adversity as a collective or their personal life experiences feeling like they are always put into positions where they need to defend themselves.

 Skipping forward to the seventh song on the album, Top Picks For You, the somber mood is continued and doubled down on by Corey with some dejected and droning synths that feel almost like they are trying to speak but can’t formulate words. This goes along with the theme of Ritchies verse where he  takes a technological approach to the idea of loss which I find very intriguing. When you lose someone you can see pieces of them everywhere, even in the media we consume. This is shown when Ritchies raps about an experience where he turns on the TV and sees a show that the person he is rapping about would have watched. This sends his mind down a rabbithole of thoughts relating to how nowadays life is able to live on through technology even after death. It is hard not to think about Groggs when Ritchie says “your patterns are still in place and your algorithms are still in action’ as even though Groggs isn’t with us, he had his hands all over this project and his “patterns” are showing through greatly throughout the entire project. 

Although I wish this album got less heavy, it doesn’t. The track Postpostpartum relates to the ideas proposed in Knees of the difficulty of being stagnant, and postpartum is the period after birth where the body goes through tons of change, but Ritchie says, “Postpostpartum” which would mean that the large amount of change had been completed and the period of stagnancy had begun. He also comedically states that he was hurting from giving birth, which would obviously be a metaphorical birth maybe referencing his influence on the musical genre and the artists trying to replicate the groups sound. This would make sense as he later states, “all these little lowercase t’s on instrumentals, oh please, this gon’ be gentle, yeah, drawn from all my stencils”. Ritchie frames himself as the stencil and all of the “lowercase T’s” are just a copy and not the original. In addition to the subject matter and vocals, this song also has some of the best production on the entire album. The muddy drum section is similar to the rest of the album, but a horn section is utilized by Corey to create a feeling of grandeur to the track, and the beat is riddled with little tidbits of ear candy that make this complex combination of instruments incredibly catchy as well. This is probably my favorite song on the album and possibly of the whole year in general. 

I could go on for days and days about every aspect of this album, but the group truly shows that they are still in fact growing and pushing musical boundaries while they do so. This serves as an amazing piece of art, as well as a beautiful tribute to the life of Groggs.