‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix’ is Injury Reserve’s most emotional, experimental project yet

Xavier Cullen, Opinion Editor

Connor Lawless

Last year, when Arizona-based rap group Injury Reserve was nearly finished with its upcoming album, the group was struggling to find a title.

That’s when rapper Jordan “Stepa J.” Groggs, who was infatuated with Isaac Hayes’ 1969 song “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” called the other members, Nathaniel “Ritchie with a T” Ritchie and Parker Corey. He wanted to use the song’s title for the album to connect the group to its hometown roots.

With an album name selected and the tracklist completed, the group was almost ready to release its project — a glitchy, post- rap album that pushes the boundaries of what is considered rap.

Shortly after, Groggs tragically passed away at the young age of 32 on June 29, 2020. Survived by his partner, Anna Ford, and their four kids, Joey, Jayden, Toph and Ari, Groggs was such a loving person whose death left a hole in so many people’s hearts, including mine.

Over a year later, the group finished the album in his memory and released it on Sept. 16. It feels like nothing else Injury Reserve made before. Compared to their 2019 self-titled album that has upbeat songs like “Gravy n’ Biscuits” and “Three Man Weave,” this is such a left turn.

That’s for the better, though. While the album may have been written before Groggs’ passing, every song feels raw and emotional, like they were made with his death in mind.

Take “Top Picks for You,” the seventh track on the album, for example. Ritchie raps: “I scan the room, I see bits and pieces of you scattered / It’s those same patterns that gon’ get us through the next chapter.”

It feels like Ritchie is talking directly to Groggs, especially later in the song: “Just workin’ so that you can just / jump right back in / But you ain’t jumpin’ back here.”

With proper context, these lines might’ve been intended for Ritchie’s step-father, who passed away during the making of the album. Still, it’s hard not to see the parallels, which makes it that much more heartbreaking.

These heavy lyrics with amazing production by Corey create this chaotic feeling that shook my bones. Songs like “Superman That” and “Footwork in a Forest Fire” give me goosebumps even after several listens.

“Footwork in a Forest Fire” is especially chilling given the context of anti-police protests and riots that happened during the time the song was made.

Groggs raps, “Yeah, we down to ride / said, we down to riot / Sorry mama, I try my best / To no longer be polite / They tryna take my life / And they take my rights / Yeah, this the sign / Sign of the times.”

The most chilling part of it all is that, even a year removed from the context these songs were written in, they are just as contemporary and relevant.

However, even though I love this album as an Injury Reserve fan (I was lucky enough to see them live at the Middle East in Boston in 2018), I honestly don’t know how I would feel about this album if I didn’t know the context and meaning behind what I was hearing.

Calling this a rap album isn’t telling the full truth. Many songs take inspiration and samples from rock and punk works. It’s something I rarely hear from a rap album.

This is far from their most approachable work as a group. They have plenty of other great songs that many rap fans would love, like “S on Ya Chest” and “Jailbreak the Tesla,” that it’s hard to recommend this album to people who have never heard of Injury Reserve before.

If you’re at all interested in hearing more from these incredible artists, I recommend their 2016 album “Floss.” Although I’m not going to sing any of these songs in the shower, they are an emotional roller coaster of a project that will stay in my head for a long time.

3.5/5 Suns

Connor Lawless