One of my favorite hip-hop albums of 2016 was Injury Reserve’s (Parker Corey [producer], Steppa J. Groggs [MC], Ritchie with a T [MC]) Floss, the follow-up to their critically acclaimed debut, Live from the Dentist Office. Unfortunately, I have now presented myself - to the cynics of the internet - as the white, college-age kid who is really into backpack/alternative hip-hop. If I wrote that “Floss was one of my favorite hip-hop releases of 2016” on any sort of hip-hop forum or message board, I’m certain that I would be berated with comments of “backpacker… I bet you love Aesop Rock, too… after Immortal Technique who’s your favorite rapper backpack boy”. There’s no way for me to make the cynics hear me out, and that’s OK. If the imagined cynic is still reading this and hasn’t choked on whatever dusty chips he/she are eating while typing nasty comments towards me, they will now. Floss was not one of my favorite albums because I am a “backpacker”; it was my favorite album for the exact opposite reason. I have emerged from my middle-school days of shaking my fist at mainstream rappers who didn’t gloss on topics I deemed important or moral (i.e. promoting positivity and unity amongst men and women, the responsibilities of a being a man, etc.). Today, I don’t really care. Mainstream rap has its place in the canon of pop music, and that’s awesome. There are a number of reasons why hip-hop has become one of the most popular forms of music. But the one that I, and countless others, point to is Kanye West (who is often cited as a major influence for Injury Reserve).
Kanye blurred the distinction between hip-hop and all other forms of music. I know that’s a broad statement, yet it’s entirely true: Jesus Walks (gospel), Big Brother (stadium rock), Lost in the World (indie), and the obvious elements of soul that Kanye has interpolated all throughout his discography. Hip-hop is such a widely relatable, sonically pleasing and moody music because of the fluid nature of its elements. There are really only a few pre-requisites required of a hip-hop song for it to be hip-hop, in great part, due to the genius of the College Dropout.
Kanye’s influence is now materializing in the music of hip-hop’s biggest stars, like Drake, Chance the Rapper, and now, Injury Reserve. Injury Reserve, though, and specifically Floss, give us the most interesting example of how Kanye’s genius is playing out in the next generation of rappers. Floss is the synthesis of Kanye’s discography, as well as the product of every Kanye album. In one sense, Floss is a mosaic of Ye’s albums, where the influences are almost plopped on and held together by fat, obvious, burlap stitchings. In another sense, Floss can be seen as the product of Kanye’s albums: Floss has not only taken the sonic elements of West’s previous albums, but they have also taken his mode of craft and the way in which West was able to push boundaries and make sounds his own, or at least distinct to him. So yes, you could say that Injury Reserve are the biggest Kanye West biters of all-time. But, doing that would also be admitting that they have been able to be progressive in a similar manner to Kanye. So, in turn, they are nothing like their predecessor.
This is the College Dropout portion of the album. Parker Corey’s dancing horn sample cuts through both Groggs and Ritchie’s verses, both of which have that distinct Kanye Holy Trinity of confidence + social commentary + “remember when” vibe (“I’m just a common man out here trying to do it for the people/ Looking at these rappers I don’t see too many equals/Stay drinking liquor cause it got me feeling good/Even though this nine-to-five got me mad stressed/Got me smoking more blacks than the hood”). This Holy Trinity is also all over The College Dropout. Take the retrospective “Spaceship”, for example:
Yeezus, right? Stabbing bass and keys, screaming in the background, autotuned chorus, self-awareness and self-aggrandizement. As Yeezus was minimalist, so is this section of the article.
Perhaps the most obvious of the four examples, “Keep on Slippin’” sounds like it could have been a bonus track on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Whether it is the vocoder chorus, or the indeterminate horn/keyboard (help) that slinks throughout the song, or the intensely self-critical verses by Groggs and Mensa (“I think I need a "Hitch" the way I ruin my relationships lately/ We used to vacay in Jamaica, now ya makin' me crazy” [tell me that doesn’t sound like a Kanye line]), the song screams MBDTF. Even the placement of Mensa’s guest verse has a distinct Kanye vibe to it. Kanye was/is always trying to put on the newer guys, and even though the members of Injury Reserve are new guys themselves, the eye for talent remains.
This one is a bit of a giveaway with Ritchie’s direct referencing of Kanye’s Late Registration cut “Hey Mama” in the first verse. But, in addition to this braggadocious sentimentality, these “Hey Mama”-esque verses are aided by Parker Corey’s gospel-trap beat, perhaps a nod to Kanye’s 2016 effort, The Life of Pablo. The beat to “Look Mama” is incredible; technically speaking, Corey is able to take tiny slices of the, currently anonymous, sample and create together one of the best vocal progressions of 2016. If this seemingly impossible vocal progression wasn’t impressive enough, Corey ups the ante by putting that same vocal progression over a complex trap beat. This is the best song because it fulfills the synthesis/product thesis. Kanye pushed hip-hop’s envelope so hard, thus creating progress in hip-hop. Injury Reserve is, at the same time, referencing Ye’s genre-altering platform while pushing it forward.