Injury Reserve’s ‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix’ merges masterful rap production with fervent emotion

Photo of Injury Reserve album cover
Injury Reserve/Courtesy

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Grade: 4.5/5.0 

Injury Reserve has been at the forefront of rap since the release of their 2015 mixtape Live from the Dentist Office. The Arizona-based trio, consisting of indelible rappers, Stepa J. Groggs and Ritchie with a T, and idiosyncratic producer, Parker Corey, have made an undeniable mark not only on hip-hop but the entire musical ecosystem. Mixing abrasive, avant-garde beats with the impressive lyricism and stylings of both Groggs and Ritchie, the group has produced some of the most intriguing music the experimental scene has had to offer and worked alongside numerous, groundbreaking artists such as Rico Nasty, Aminé and Dylan Brady.

Following the unexpected, tragic death of band member Stepa J. Groggs in June of 2020 — just over a year after the release of the trio’s critically acclaimed self-titled album — fans were left mourning and the band’s future was put on hold. Groggs, a beloved father of four, was an indisputable cornerstone of the band; with outstanding lyrical ability and an unabashedly genuine take on music, his presence was immediately missed. Flash forward over a year later, with an undying ache toward the loss of their bandmate, and Injury Reserve has released their first album since Groggs’ death. Enter By the Time I Get to Phoenix.

Almost entirely recorded before Groggs’ passing, the album plays as both a creation of and memorial to the musician, incorporating numerous moments of gleeful nostalgia and others of crushing loss. In the description of their new release, Corey and Ritchie emphasized Groggs’ single, repeated wish while recording — for the trio to “make some weird shit” — and that they did. Filled with the most unconventional production the group has ever compiled, the band near-perfectly balances eccentric musicality with the heartbreaking backdrop upon which the record was released.

Even on an album entirely full of standouts, there are some obvious highlights. On the uniquely clever song “Top Picks for You,” Ritchie writes of one’s internet algorithm living on after their death. Although unknown whether or not the track was written about the death of Groggs, the incredibly emotion-filled lyrics are fitting to the tragedy nonetheless. Backed by pitched up, distorted guitars and an encompassing soundscape Ritchie raps, “Grab the remote, pops up something you would’ve watched, I’m like ‘Classic’/ This some shit I would’a seen you watch and then just laughed at,” diving deep into the bittersweet reflection one is forced to partake in after the passing of a loved one. 

On the equally emotional single “Knees,” Ritchie and Groggs reflect on both their past and current lives while presenting lyrics of shame and regret. Corey flashes his eccentric production style by splicing guitar chords with Ritchie’s repetitive hook, “Knees hurt me when I grow/ And that’s a tough pill to swallow.” Groggs confesses his struggles with alcohol, singing “Okay, this last one is my last one, shit/ Probably said that about the last one/ Probably gon’ say it about the next two,” forcing listeners to transport into the mindsets where Groggs and Ritchie resided at the time of recording. While the topics of the song are clearly not optimistic, they are delivered with a tone of happy, nonchalant acceptance, rather than depressive remorse, highlighting the duality of emotions one feels while gaining success, yet losing old pieces of themself.

By the Time I Get to Phoenix is Injury Reserve’s most impressive work to date. It’s one of a kind, unapologetically discussing the ups and downs of life all whilst commemorating the talent and mourning the loss of band member Groggs. The out-there, oftentimes hypnotic production, mixed with the emotive, heart-wrenching lyricism and performances only furthers the spectacle of the band and record alike. The album is certainly worth multiple listens, offering new and intriguing findings each run-through, and will surely impact the future of the experimental rap scene for years to come.

Ian Fredrickson covers music. Contact him at [email protected].