Released on the same day as Tyler the Creator’s “IGOR,” it’s easy to overlook Injury Reserve’s debut album. However, the alternative hip-hop trio’s release, filled with forward-thinking tracks that bang with bass and plastic synths, is perhaps the better record.
As evidenced by the screeching intro of opener “Koruna and Lime,” which jerkily shuffles pitch-shifted shouts and screams into a lurching beat, the most notable aspect of Injury Reserve’s debut is the production. Similarly, metallic drum beats and needling synths emerge in “Jailbreak the Tesla,” “What a Year It’s Been,” and even on more widely palatable tracks like “Wax On.” The trio manages to strike a balance between experimental and intelligible with most tracks, with “Gravy n’ Biscuits,” “Jailbreak the Tesla,” and “Koruna and Lime” all easily danceable.
The album doesn’t disappoint in the way of lyrical performances, either. On their self-titled debut, the MCs add a level of seriousness which their previous mixtapes lacked. “Best Spot in the House” stands out in this regard, with lines like “I’ve had n***as that come up to me, say that they looked up to me, yeah / And that they been fuckin’ with me since shit was ugly, yeah / And that these songs, man, they saved they life / Now, how you put that kind of power in these hands of mine? / And how a n***a ‘posed respond to some shit like that? / Am I supposed to ‘Oh, thanks,’ pat they back?” The trio is as versatile as ever, and even on hook-centric tracks like “Gravy ‘n’ Biscuits,” socially conscious lines still appear, like “Glad to see a new day, ’cause not everyone does / Tell my daughter I love her, shoot a text to my bruhs / I’m just glad nobody shootin’ TECs to my bruhs.”
The points where “Injury Reserve” comes up short are where the album veers too heavily to one side of the spectrum of experimental and popular. “GTFU,” featuring radical Baltimore rapper JPEGMAFIA, becomes too much of a wall of sound towards the latter half of the track. “New Hawaii,” featuring DRAM, is almost an R&B track.
Being able to push the boundaries of hip hop while still remaining widely accessible is no easy feat; Injury Reserve fall flat in some spots but manage to keep a well-crafted middle ground for the majority of their album. Any good album should remain relevant and modern beyond its initial media cycle, and Injury Reserve certainly seem to have created a debut record that will.
Best Tracks: Koruna and Lime, Jailbreak the Tesla, Gravy ‘n’ Biscuits, Rap Song Tutorial, Wax On, Best Spot in the House
Worst Tracks: Hello?, New Hawaii, GTFU