Every once in a while, you hear something so uniquely excellent that you just have to write something about it. For me this is normally a tweet or five, but given that I haven’t played any new games lately (Planet Coaster is still eating most of my free time) I thought that this week I’d devote an entire blog post to one project.
There are a couple of albums that dropped in 2016 that, in a roundabout way, I’m glad I didn’t hear until the start of this year. If I’d known about them when I was writing up my top ten list then an already difficult process would have become even more vexing, such was the abundance of quality releases. Saba’s Bucket List Project is one particularly notable example, but perhaps most deserving of the top spot on this hypothetical list of honourable mentions is an album from a group who weren’t even close to being on my radar.
Injury Reserve are an alternative hip hop trio out of Tempe, Arizona. Emcees Ritchie With A T and Stepa J. Groggs do their thing over production from Parker Corey, and to date the group have put out three releases. 2014 EP Cooler Colors was followed by debut full-length Live From The Dentist Office, before sophomore effort Floss arrived a couple weeks before the end of last year. Although IR certainly had their fans before, it’s hard to dispute that it was this album that really got people to pay attention: and with good reason, too.
Right from the word go, you know that these guys aren’t fucking around. Intro track Oh Shit!!! announces their arrival in bombastic style, an unassuming piano melody quickly giving way to a slice of heavy, heavy production that sets the tone for what’s to come. As it turns out, what is to come is the kind of quintessential rap braggadocio that would sound insincere coming from less gifted artists, but that here just kind of makes you say ‘fair enough’.
Bad Boys 3 is the first real introduction to what Groggs and Ritchie can do, references to Will Smith and Mario Balotelli seamlessly interlaced with some truly phenomenal production. Indeed, Corey’s work on the beats on this record is truly laudable. The instrumental underpinning All This Money is catchy as hell, and even though the cowbell on What’s Goodie is a bit of a questionable inclusion he just about makes it work, due in no small part to the lyrical prowess sitting alongside it: ‘Parker flipping shit like his ass Rey Mysterio’ brought probably the biggest ‘wait, what did he say!?’ reaction on my first listen.
By the time we hit Girl With The Gold Wrist, it’s clear that we’re dealing with something great here, but in a lot of ways the true quality of Floss is still yet to reveal itself. As we hit the halfway mark, the album’s hardest track fades into an interlude that offers the first glimpse of Injury Reserve’s versatility. It’s only a little over 90 seconds long but Ritchie uses that time to offer a devastatingly concise condemnation of the world we live in, setting the scene for a much more contemplative second act.
It might stand in stark contrast to the go-hard nature of the first six tracks but the latter half is no worse off for it. Eeny Meeny Miny Moe might have some of the heaviest production on the album (it’s not the first time you could argue that Corey is channelling El-P) but still manages to deliver an insightful look at the inner workings of the rap game, before we reach an introspective peak with Keep On Slippin’. The Vic Mensa feature makes so much sense given the content of last year’s There’s A Lot Going On EP; his verse here a prime example of the emotional honesty that drives the whole track.
Back Then might have a huge autotuned hook but that doesn’t detract from the self-reflection, as Groggs and Ritchie pause to consider where they came from and where they’re at, before taking a lyrical victory lap on Look Mama I Did It. The album’s closer is truly celebratory, its production peppered with gospel samples and its verses delivered with that same impeccable flow to remarkably uplifting effect. It’s an entirely different kind of self-congratulation to that seen in the earlier tracks, but wholly deserved nonetheless. These guys have just killed it, and they know it. We know it. Everyone knows it.
All told, Floss is a thoughtfully and deliberately put together album, polished and cohesive throughout with the strength of Parker Corey’s production matched only by the lyrics and flow of his two groupmates. As I’ve hopefully conveyed here, you’re doing yourself a disservice by not listening to it, so you should probably go out and fix that.