Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Injury Reserve - Floss Review

Last year, Injury Reserve, an upstart Hip-Hop trio from Tempe, Arizona, released their debut mixtape Live From The Dentist Office. While a slew of hungry Hip-Hop fans quickly declared them the newest trailblazers, I was left unfazed. The music felt flat, conventional, and, a byproduct of their inexperienced stature, rather amateurish. Now sure, Injury Reserve, comprised of rappers Steppa J. Groggs and Ritchie With a T, and producer Parker Corey, are quite evidently a step above your prototypical Soundcloud artists, but already hailing them as members of the new generation's top tier was a bit preposterous. It wasn't that Live From The Dentist Office was bad, painfully average is more apt, but rather well regarded beyond its means. At the end of the day, these were three musicians diving headfirst into a scene with only a seven-track EP that virtually no one heard to their name. And now, a little more than two years have passed, and the group has returned with Floss, another teeth-themed project whose cover adores the grill like Injury Reserve adores the era in which it was prominent. This time around they've improved in nearly ever facet, becoming more comfortable in their own skin, moving ever so slightly past the origins of imitation.

To me, the tides of talent have shifted between their two main projects. While The Dentist Office's best moments were those guided by the rapping, apart from the tremendous left hand turn the album takes on its final two tracks 'ttktv' and 'Falling,' Floss finds Parker Corey establishes himself as both a capable producer and a creative force. No longer is he hidden behind that invisible mime wall, keeping him contained so a mid-2000's aesthetic can be reached. It was understandable given the group's need to attain a following, but the sameness felt throughout most of the project ran its course rather quickly. And besides, 2010's acts like Das Racist, Mr. Muthafuckin' Exquire, and Oddisee did a better job at continuing the styles of Clipse, N.E.R.D., and the like from a decade ago. Injury Reserve needed to revamp whilst adhering to their debut's established sound, and that's exactly what happens on Floss. Structurally speaking, the album's a doozy, traveling through Hardcore, Jazz, Trap, and Experimental on a moment's notice, giving no indication as to the direction headed next. Interestingly enough, they don't intermingle, as Corey segregates them to the limits of their duration, causing semi-awkward shifts in tone between a handful of tracks.

Surely a double-edged sword, Corey's expansion in sound comes at the cost of further mimicry. Only one song fully impersonates another artist, and that's 'What's Goodie,' which features Cakes Da Killa and could've easily been seen on his 2016 debut Hedonism. There's spotlights elsewhere though, like the severe pitch-shifting on 'All Quiet On The West Side' that sounds like the early A$AP Mob, 'Back Then' and its Kanye-esque autotune, 'Girl With The Gold Wrist' which borrows some direction from Danny Brown's latest album Atrocity Exhibition, especially 'Golddust,' and even 'Eeny Meeny Miney Moe' sounds like an extreme version of the Punk scene Doomtree currently cosigns. Quite the varied outfit, and even though Corey wears these influences a little too tight, it's certainly a better outcome than wearing just one influence top to bottom. So while Corey undoubtedly expanded his palate, it's the rapping, at least lyrically, that's seen the least improvement. Steppa and Ritchie continue to follow Hip-Hop redundancies similar groups like The Pack and The Cool Kids have already amused. They even follow the same patten they took on The Dentist Office by saving the introspective tracks for last, announced by 'Keep On Slippin's' presence following the wacky, experimental challenge of 'Eeny Meeny Miney Moe.'

As theatrical rappers, these two are more than adequate, and Floss proves that. Rarely do tracks overlap in forethought, taking their styles, flows, and rhyme schemes to different landscapes with almost every track. This doesn't reveal itself until 'S On Ya Chest' comes around, as the first three tracks, all aggressive and braggadocios by nature, fall under the same umbrella. 'Oh Shit!!!,' 'Bad Boys 3,' and 'All This Money' aren't bad, and actually work as an interesting trio to set the mood, but they fail to showcase the diversity all three artists have in store. Oddly enough, while the verses are injected with the ideas, it's their use of hooks that really capture the tonality shifts. 'What's Goodie,' 'Girl With The Gold Wrist,' 'Eeny Meeny Miney Moe,' and 'Keep On Slippin' are just some examples of how varied the group actually becomes when the production is constantly revolving behind them. They can entertain limitless ideas with this process, but unfortunately, Steppa and Ritchie are still, as of now, stuck in two; empty boasts and introspection. Neither are remotely new to the genre, so having the two dance around each other doesn't make for an interesting LP conceptually.

The point still remains though, this is an improvement from The Dentist Office handedly. Now sure, nothing eclipses the beautiful 'Falling,' with 'Keep On Slippin' coming the closest, but that doesn't mean the overall project Floss presents isn't superior in its own right. Unlike their debut, which had a handful of subpar tracks, the only piece here that feels lacking is 'Back Then,' which reverts back to the assertiveness the first three tracks achieved despite being sandwiched between the two most emotionally-taxing. It's a jarring, late album cut that would've made for a more seamless finale had it been removed. That's largely because 'Look Mama I Did It,' a track that owes a lot to Kanye West's 'Hey Mama,' ends Floss in a celebratory state with a strong whiff of sentimental sanctimony. Again, it's redundant topically, but the pleasant finale is all but guaranteed when it comes to rappers finally gaining traction in the Hip-Hop world. Plus, it boasts arguably Corey's best Jazz Rap work yet, with a sliced and diced vocal sample of a church choir exuberant over Jesus' existence. 'Look Mama' ends Floss on steady ground, despite the fact that the ground Injury Reserve has paved thus far doesn't seem entirely their own. No denying though, this is their most reassuring work yet.

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