New Face, Fresh Style: Indie Hip Hop Group Injury Reserve on Bringing 'Blue Collar' Sensibilities Back to Rap
"Hip hop is style and style is hip hop."
Amidst an industry teeming with flash, glamour and glory, Arizona rap trio Injury Reserve defines their sound as “blue collar” rap — no over-the-top declarations of wealth nor recounts of violence and bloodshed. From their 2015 debut project, Live From the Dentist Office (which was actually recorded in the dental office of the band producer’s grandfather), to their most recent project, Floss (2016), an “I’m just like you” narrative consistently emerges from their music. “We bring this average guy narrative,” Ritchie With a T, one of the band’s frontmen, says. “But we’re also not trying to preach that gangster rap is bad. It’s just not our reality, so we can’t talk about something we don’t do. We’re always into honesty.”
That honesty has helped Injury Reserve, consisting of Ritchie, 22, rapper Stepa J Groggs, 29, and producer Parker Corey, 21, coast the unfamiliar seas of their first performances with unapologetic bravado. With the help of their manager, Nick Herbert (whose face serves as Live From the Dentist Office’s cover shot), Injury Reserve began playing at punk house shows at Arizona State University, successfully building an unexpected fan base. The trio stood out like a sore thumb at those shows, even with their quirky, indie edge. “There were no rappers,” Ritchie explains. “It was all punk and indie bands, so we had to prove ourselves as the only rap act.”
That fearlessness has carried Injury Reserve out of Arizona State University crowds and the dentist-office-turned-studio and into the Los Angeles music scene, with their own in-house studio and a feature from Vic Mensa on Floss.
With each project, the band continues to artfully toe the line between experimental and relatable, with Corey creating beats that range from jazzy to ominous to hype, and Ritchie and Groggs striking a balance between braggadocios and chill — a musical sound Corey describes as comfortably in-between. “We’re not trying to be Soundcloud trendy, but we’re also not trying to be purists,” the self-taught producer says.
That relaxed experimentation spills into the band’s fashion sense, which derives from the humble-yet-hype blue collar style they’ve cultivated in their music. “So many people will do something that’s so distinct just to have their own thing,” Ritchie says. “I think that while style is really important, because hip hop is style and style is hip-hop we’re super straight forward. We like wearing our friends’ clothes.”
And lucky for them, Injury Reserve has been blessed with fashion-forward friends--founders and designers of punky indie brands like Foul Play, FTP (Fuck The Population) and Burma--who don’t offer them things they don’t like. “It helps that they make cool shit,” Groggs says.
After the release of Floss and three subsequent music videos, Injury Reserve intends to keep their blue-collar rap aesthetic, from clothes to their upcoming EP. “We’re hyperconscious of keeping the groundwork and life of the project,” Cory says. “Not everything has to be the most clinically precise beats, like every noise sounds like it costs a lot of money to make.”
Ritchie concurs, citing balance at the heart of the band’s goals. “There’s people that can make really accessible music, and there’s people who can make experimental music, but there’s only a handful of people who can do both.”