It’s been a few months and I’m still sitting with By The Time I Get To Phoenix, the latest record from Injury Reserve.
It’s an album grapples with grief, uncertainty and rage, but is also shines with strength and resolve. It’s represents a major transformation for group, but given the past two years for Injury Reserve and for…well, all of us, it’s not surprising.
So to back up a bit: Injury Reserve is an Arizona hip-hop group made of up emcees Ritchie With A T, the late Stepa J. Groggs, and producer Parker Corey. I started following them after their early buzz with 2015’s Live From the Dentist Office and 2016’s Floss, and really became a fan with their 2019 self-titled debut. The group is chaotically fun, with slick lines and lot of charisma and energy. Seeing them live in 2019 was amazing, a wild ass show with college kids moshing everywhere, everyone sweaty, and the small venue so amped up that the fire alarm went off repeatedly and they just played over it. Their self-titled and that tour brought a new level of recognition for the group, with a lot of listeners clamoring for their next work.
Then 2020 hit.
By The Time I Get to Phoenix, the album’s title suggested by Groggs and a slight nod to Public Enemy, was well underway by mid-2020, shaped by the passing of Ritchie’s stepfather, the pandemic, and the protests for George Floyd, but the sudden, tragic passing of Groggs in June 2020 blindsided everyone. In the middle of a shit year it was a hell of a gut-punch. After a hiatus Ritchie and Parker reconvened to complete the record in Grogg’s memory, finally releasing it in September 2021.
Phoenix is as if Injury Reserve took the grief of Groggs’ death, the horrors of living in a global pandemic, and pessimism over the future, and channeled it into a disorienting and woozy experience. The album is chaotic and extremely experimental, a much different experience than their previous works. But in the mix there’s many poignant and personal moments from the emcees, like Groggs shaking off the disappointments of the last few years by saying at least his dreds grew on “Knees,” or Ritchie asserting that Groggs lives on in his data and algorithms in “Top Picks For You.” It’s a dense, complex, and rewarding album.
Driven by an ominous guitar lick, itself a sample from English post-punk band The Fall, “SS San Francisco” is a looming, seething burn. Ritchie and Detroit emcee ZeelooperZ repeat how they both don’t want to be here, as ZeelooperZ feels unease about how shit is fucked everywhere and Ritchie pondering the best way to move forward in the music game, made more unsteady by Groggs’ absence. The tension here is something else.
Rest easy, Groggs.