Injury Reserve’s first two albums—Live From the Dentist Office (2015) and Floss (2016)—aren’t just goofy tributes to oral hygiene. The Phoenix, Arizona hip-hop trio literally recorded both projects in their producer’s grandfather’s dental office after all the patients had left at night. “Shout out to Michael Catlitt, D.D.S.,” Parker Corey, 21, Injury Reserve’s producer and Dr. Catlitt’s grandson, told me over pancakes at a Manhattan diner.
It’s a reflection of the sincere, DIY weirdness that is at the heart of Injury Reserve’s sound. They make vibrant, jazzy hip-hop that seems to incorporate every genre of music you could dig up on the internet, from punk to grimes rap to EDM. Their most recent album included samples of Korean K-pop and New Zealand war chants. When done wrong, this breadth of wildly different styles might risk sounding like experimentation for its own sake. But Injury Reserve has made it work, developing cohesive sound that’s entirely their own. And, most importantly, you can play Injury Reserve at a party, setting them apart from their underground-internet-rap contemporaries.
“Our biggest influencers are artists who make easily digestible music while pushing the boundaries of what that even is,” Corey told me. “Weird sounds that can also sound like pop songs. It’s not like you have to ‘understand’ it.” These weird-pop sounds are complemented by fast-paced verses from the group’s other two members, rappers Ritchie With A T, 22, and Steppa J Groggs, 29.
Or as Ritchie puts it on their single “Oh Shit!!:" “This that raised by the internet, ain’t got no dad rap.”
Their debut project, Live From the Dentist Office, didn’t make much (okay, any) of a splash in the mainstream music world. But it did generate a loyal following of online fans. Last December, Injury Reserve dropped Floss, a 12-track journey of fiercely manic, in-your-face beats interwoven with complex writing and well-timed auto-tuned interludes. Groggs’ deeper, slightly raspy voice is a throwback to ’90s gangsta rap which, when trading off with Ritchies’ more energetic singing rap, makes up a more than functional odd couple. While Floss is still recognizable as Injury Reserve, it’s a more developed sound in just about every way. Critics noticed. On their second project, they made a splash.
Injury Reserve isn’t interested in sounding, or looking, like anyone else. So far they’re succeeding. I met with them on their first trip to New York, in the middle of a torrential downpour. “Are the subways in New York always this fucked?” Ritchie asked as he sat down, wearing a soaked sweatshirt over baggy jeans and impeccable cornrows. Corey, who’s gangly and has bright red hair and freckles, looked similarly taken aback by the city. Their low-key appearance is striking; in their music videos and performances posted online they’re best described as outlandish. The video for “Oh Shit!!,” for example, features Ritchie and Corey speeding down an empty LA street in a Polaris slingshot, while Groggs raps inside a Uhaul truck and then bursts through a wall.
After everyone dried off and ordered pancakes (it was 5 p.m.), Injury Reserve explained their origins. “Phoenix doesn’t have much of any hip-hop scene,” Ritchie told me, which led them to relying on the internet for shaping and spreading their music. They came out of the city’s alternative music scene, where they performed at house parties alongside punk bands and house DJs. It makes sense, then, when I asked them what album was their biggest influence, all three members said My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. It’s album that similarly refuses to be categorized.
And like MBDTF, no two Injury Reserves songs sound alike. The infectious “Eeny Meeny Miny Moe,” on Floss, starts off with a hardcore instrumental and steadily builds into a screamer-punk crescendo. “Back Then” is woven with an auto-tuned hook that seamlessly transitions into a raspy rap verse from Groggs, all the while coasting along over a trap beat. If Killer Mike, Future, and a high school garage band were all locked in a studio for a week, this is what the finished product would likely sound like. Their biggest hit, “Oh Shit!!”—the one with the U-Haul video—starts out with an light-hearted piano instrumental before dropping into an insane grime-inspired beat that, so far, proves impossible to listen to and stand still simultaneously.
“This ain’t sound like some shit from ’06/Fuck what it sound like man that some cold shit,” Ritchie snarls on the hook for “Oh Shit!!,” ever-irreverent. On tracks like “Look (Mama) I Did It”, and “Whatever Dude,” they rap about working at a Foot Locker and the fact that no one really knows who these guys are. Their two biggest music videos are for “Oh Shit!!” and “All This Money;” the latter is about how they spent all their money on making the former. The music is nothing if not sincere. They address topics like drug addiction, insecurity and whether anyone will take them seriously. It makes you feel like you know them.
This sentiment seems common among Injury Reserve’s loyal following. Most of their fan base discovered them through the Reddit page r/hiphopheads or through deep dives into the bowels of SoundCloud. One review of Floss said these personal songs makes it “[feel] like they’re my Facebook friends now.”Last year, they did a Reddit AMA that garnered hundreds of adoring questions.
“Our fans go to bat for us,” Ritchie said. “They feel like it’s their job to spread the word.”
They're starting to gain the attention of some bigger names in hip-hop world as well. After Vic Mensa heard their music, he brought Injury Reserve out to perform “Oh Shit!!” during his Phoenix show. Mensa then collaborated on their song “Keep on Slipping,” a desolate track about high expectations and mental health.
Injury Reserve recently moved from Arizona to Los Angeles, where they’re working on an EP and preparing to embark on their first national tour this summer. They plan to continue experimenting with bigger and bolder sounds. They’re going to keep rapping about whatever populates their heads. Despite combining seemingly a million different styles of music, Ritchie said, “no one’s ever said our music doesn’t make sense.” Injury Reserve has only made one recent concession to normalcy—they’ve finally traded the dentist office for a real recording studio.