By James Lanik
On June 30, the rap community endured a collective shock upon learning that Jordan Groggs of the Arizona based rap trio, Injury Reserve, had passed away.
That day, the world lost a truly amazing, artistic soul, and one that brought a new wave of music and culture to an area of the US that had previously not been known for its hip-hop exports.
Hailing from the desert-surrounded, metro-area of Phoenix, Injury Reserve built themselves from the ground up, with no local rap legacy to base their identity off of and no established infrastructure or labels to help propel them into stardom.
Nathaniel Ritchie, fellow Injury Reserve emcee, met Groggs when his mother hired him as an employee at the Vans store she was opening in Phoenix. Nearly 10 years apart in age, they developed an older-younger sibling style relationship, bonding over music and creating their own. It wasn’t until they were introduced to in-house producer Parker Corey by a friend on the basketball court that Injury Reserve was officially born.
At the outlook of their career, the collective could have been the poster child for the underground indie rap scene of the post-streaming 2010’s. Three young music enthusiasts with ostensibly very little in common (age wise as well), making music off of their laptop in a desert that is completely barren of hip hop history is the kind of origin story that many bedroom-based acts dream of having.
Their future was a blank slate, which gave them the freedom to keep their sound as idiosyncratic as they pleased.
As their discography progressed throughout the years, a clear path of sonic development wasn’t as clear as their passion for curiosity and experimentation was.
2015’s Live from the Dentist Office was a homegrown jazz rap extravaganza that paired some of Parker Corey’s most laidback beats with infectious flows from both of Injury Reserve’s vocalists. It wasn’t their most cohesive project, but it was remarkably engaging for its budget (it was recorded in a dentist’s office, after all).
The group followed up their debut mixtape with the razor toothed, banger heavy Floss in 2016. The group all but abandoned their jazz rap influences, humorously sounding the death knell in the first track’s hook (“This ain’t jazz rap, this that spaz rap”), and replacing it with industrial percussion and snarling synths and samples.
The band felt hungry this time, and people started to take notice of the ripples they started sending through the rap community. They took a stripped back minimalist detour on the 2017 EP Drive It Like It’s Stolen before hunkering down for the next couple of years to construct their debut studio album, the project they saw as being their make-or-break moment.
Injury Reserve, their self-titled, studio effort felt like an amalgamation of everything they had learned from their past three projects, and turned it up to eleven. The jazzy and brassy instrumentation was back in full force on cuts like “Three Man Weave,” whip-rattling beats on “GTFU” and “Jailbreak the Tesla,” downbeat intimacy on “What a Year It’s Been” and their trademark self-referential humor is interlaced throughout.
Stepa J. Groggs (Grogg’s preferred stage name) was the older mentor figure that made these projects possible. Where Ritchie would find grooves in Corey’s smoother production work to free flow in, Groggs made the harder hitting beats work like magic.
Fan favorites like “Oh S**t!!!” and “All This Money” likely would never have caught fire if it wasn’t for his guttural and booming hooks. But it’s Groggs’s more personal verses that are the most affecting in wake of his passing. He made no secret of his struggles with alcohol abuse in his lyrics, but towards the end of his time in Injury Reserve, it seemed like there was a light at the end of the tunnel. On the track, “What a Year It’s Been,” Groggs talks about how the band gave him something to fight for when addiction felt too hard to battle.
“Got out of my funk, and now I feel alive
Writin’ verses with a smile while my daughter’s by my side, like
Look mama, I made that
Look mama, I made that
‘The boy is a star,’ soon enough you can say that”
Lines like that may be the most heartbreaking, because through their lyrics, you can tell that the band really felt their biggest break was just around the corner. Given the amount of internet buzz they were able to generate in just a few short years, it’s tough to argue with that.
I saw Injury Reserve perform last September in Austin on their debut album world tour, and got to talk to them personally for a bit after. They were truly some of the most hard working musicians in their scene.
The lighting for the stage was designed and created by themselves for a relatively low cost that gave the impression of a much higher budget. For a ten dollar ticket, I got to be 4 feet away from one of my favorite artists performing an hour and a half of fan favorites and deep cuts alike, get my merch signed and have a conversation with them, which was all enough to make me recommend pretty much anyone to one of their concerts.
Being as tight-knit of a group as they were, I can only be certain the future of Injury Reserve is very doubtful. Groggs was instrumental to their success, and without him, it’s hard to imagine that it will be the same. If you haven’t listened to much of their work in the past, I highly encourage you to give any one of their projects a shot. They truly were some of the most creative artists in their lane, and it’s a shame their career as a trio had to come to an end so soon. Rest in power, Jordan Groggs. You will be missed.
Jordan Groggs’s wife has setup a GoFundMe to help with family and funeral services in the coming months. Any donations are greatly appreciated.
Featured image by James Lanik.