By Andrew Willoughby
After gaining nationwide attention from their “Live From the Dentist Office” mixtape, Arizona alternative hip-hop trio Injury Reserve turned even more heads with their debut album, “Floss.”
On their latest EP, “Drive It Like It’s Stolen,” the group explores a more minimalistic production style from Parker Corey and less aggressive vocal delivery from rappers Stepa J. Groggs and Ritchie With a T.
This sound change doesn’t detract from the project at all. Injury Reserve manages to make this transition as smoothly as possible.
The opening track “TenTenths” starts out with a slow pulsing bassline accompanied by some deep textured samples. With his first verse on the project, Ritchie makes a reference to “Floss,” suggesting listeners are in for a different style this time around.
Both Ritchie and Stepa almost whisper their entire verses on this track, a vocal delivery which also finds its way onto the next cut, “See You Sweat.”
Here, the group gets much more sensual than they have ever sounded as Ritchie whispers the song’s title on the hook. The siren sampled in the beat is ironically contrasted by the sound of a lone water droplet, again adding to the textures heard on “TenTenths.”
More than anything, “Drive It Like It’s Stolen” shows off Corey’s talent and versatility as a beat producer. From the eerie reversed beat on “91 Cadillac DeVille” to the juxtaposition of the piano flourishes sprinkled throughout “Boom(X3)” to the booming bass on the same track.
The lead single off this project, “North Pole,” sees the group at its peak of introspection. Stepa raps about his regrets and his family’s reaction to seeing him at his worst, “Not too many were there when I was dealing with my issues. ... Regretting all the time that I misused.” However, he urges listeners, “this ain’t a swan song,” suggesting there’s much more to come from Injury Reserve.
This self-examination doesn’t detract from Stepa’s often-fantastic wordplay as he says, “I’m not the type to go and use a GPS / Let the liquor take the kid away like CPS / I love that Jay line talking about CBS / I been doing the same since so I can see BS.”
The loudest this EP gets is on the hook of “Boom(X3)” as Ritchie’s raspy, angry voice shouts the song’s title, a nice foil to “See You Sweat.”
While some diehard fans may be turned off by the lack of the aggression that was omnipresent throughout “Floss,” the group produced an EP that will find a place in the hearts of both alternative and experimental hip-hop fans as well as traditionalists.