“Experimental rap” has become a strange term these days; there’s been a plethora of niche artists who have imbued their craft with avant-garde stylings while also attaining some semblance of mainstream recognition; Chief Keef, Lil B, Young Thug, Sheck Wes — to name just a few. But then there are acts like Death Grips, JPEGMAFIA, and Injury Reserve, who really do experiment with their craft — but who are sometimes disregarded as novelties. “Jawbreaker” and “Jailbreak the Tesla” lampoon the rampant materialism of today’s rap, where “Gravy n’ Biscuits” is a more absurdist genre exercise (albeit more fun than most cuts). “Koruna & Lime” contains a ‘wacky’ instrumental (the meter is standard, but the sounds are glitchy) and “Rap Song Tutorial” is in fact hilarious, a satire of the form. And yet, that track is also more comedy sketch than song: they haven’t mined the joke deep enough, focusing solely on ribbing pop rap’s simple structures instead of, say, the personalities behind those who lazily construct them. This contributes to the general lack of focus throughout Injury Reserve.
Still, the final three tracks here find power in straightforward beats and confessional lyrics, with “Best Spot in the House” in particular standing out: Ritchie With a T and Stepa J. Groggs dive into the nuts and bolts of storytelling and let their distinct and raw emotional deliveries embolden each other. Album highlight “Wax On” demonstrates the full potential behind this trio’s synergy; its progressively intensifying instrumental adds contrasting effects as it plods along, the irregular bass providing a platform which the duo (paired with underground rapper Freddie Gibbs) are uniquely suited for. On this track, each constantly shifting flow and abstracted image contribute to a breathtaking dynamism, all before lulling back into the hypnotic, understated hook. That “Wax On” is also one of the longer cuts is instructive; Injury Reserve are at their best when they’re working on building something of their own, rather than deconstructing others’ work.
Published as part of What Would Meek Do? | Issue 9