Injury Reserve have spent the last few years rising to the top of underground hip-hop and becoming one of the most exciting acts in the whole genre. Across their mixtapes, 'Live From The Dentist Office' and 'Floss', Ritchie With A T and Stepa J. Groggs rap about everyday things anyone can relate to, whether it be mental health struggles or just careless spending despite lack of funds. Their secret weapon is producer Parker Corey who can seemingly pull off anything from some of the smoothest jazz sampling to thick, brick-to-the-face bass. The Arizona trio carry a strong underdog spirit, giving it their all regardless of what the outcome may be and they play London's Victoria Pub tonight on the eve of their self-titled debut album release, before they explode into the mainstream.
From the 'I can't live my, I, I can't live my... I can't live my life this way' sample from Dilated Peoples' 'This Way' ('Bad Boys 3'), there's just an air of giddiness for people to lose their minds to Injury Reserve's slamming bangers. When it comes to the firm bass kicking in and Ritchie and Groggs' scrappy verses of their determination, the crowd is an instant, constant wave of people stumbling all over each other as they lean as close to the front as they can, passionately yelling Ritchie and Grogg's lyrics back to them.
The pair of rappers lean into the crowd in return, yelling a lot more ferociously than on record. For 'Washed Up', the recorded version features Ritchie quite chill and wondering 'Why's everyone in my town, so wishy wishy wishy wishy wishy wishy wishy wishy, washed up.' But tonight, the two of them are practically barking the lines into the mic. This trick gives their more toned-down songs a feral boost and maintains the energy of the more boisterous tunes.
They're also playing before particularly blinding lights that make the group look like gods stepping down from Olympus to grace us with their excellence. Upon arrival, audience members were actually given card sunglasses to protect their eyes, but the crowd quickly sweat them off and they lay forgotten beneath stomping feet.
The only calm song of theirs that isn't beefed up is 'North Pole.' This track is a real tear-jerker; Ritchie laments lost family members and expresses his desire to be able to give them a phone call, whilst Groggs takes a real dive into alcoholism, regret and other mental health struggles. Along with these aspects and Autumn-crisp indie-rock samples, it truly pierces the heart and makes for a nice breather.
Likewise, 'TTKTV' is largely a smooth, reflective heart-wrencher, with Ritchie detailing his state of mind with regards to his feelings for someone, being stuck in between wanting to see the world with this person and wanting to give up on how much they're breaking him; all this whilst stunning, tropical textures provide the backbone for his fantasies. He's barking the 'BABY!' lyrics tonight, preceding them with 'LET'S F***ING GO!' to inject some more raw energy while Corey deafeningly distorts the hazy bridge and adds a raved-up ending full of shuffling drum loops.
The only complaint about tonight really is that the only songs they played off their new album, released only hours later, were the songs already released as singles. With the album now out and knowing that it's really rather good, it would've been nice to have more of a preview to celebrate its imminent greatness. However, when it did come to those new songs we already knew, they truly were highlights. 'Jailbreak The Tesla' is HARRRD with its SOPHIE-esque squeaks, Ritchie's darting-like-a-boxer bars and the most mind-bending, racked-stretch drop you'll hear all year. It frankly makes for a warzone in the pit tonight!
'Koruna & Lime' manages to stay cool, popping and chilled all at the same time with braggadocio lines like 'Love the fans that say we don't get enough shine, I mean, s**t, well, they isn't lyin''. 'Jawbraker' is a witty statement about how they can dress-to-impress and go against the grain in fashion, despite expectations, bringing out swagger and confidence in their performance tonight.
'Oh S**t!!!' is the true highlight of the night though, with its noir-piano riff, Corey warping it like a wraith trying to escape its dimension, and Ritchie and Groggs' bars being an absolute showdown against anything standing in the way of their dreams; 'Remember Momma told me that I need to get my act together, ten years passed, the only difference is I'm rapping better'; as well as any statements that try to pigeonhole the group: 'I say this ain't jazz-rap, this that, this that spazz-rap, this that raised-by-the-internet, ain't-had-no-dad rap.' Everything about this track just makes you want to rally behind Injury Reserve as well as chase your own dreams and it gets everyone running around silly tonight, yelling every word they connect with, especially 'this that f**k my 9-5, I'm leaving never coming back.' It's such a storm that they even play a sped-up version of it for the encore, where they end up sounding like a 70s crusty punk band with vocal control getting tossed to the side.
This was one hell of a show with the full power of Injury Reserve's bangers sending the crowd senseless. These are the kind of shows most artists would kill to be able to pull off, but with Injury Reserve, you really feel this could just be the beginning for them. Off the strength of shows like this, as well as how fantastic their output has been, it'd be a crime if they're playing venues as tiny as this for much longer. Whether they 'make it' or not though, their underdog spirit will shine and, on stages big or small, it looks like they're going to be one of the most exciting bands to see for a while.
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