Arizona’s Injury Reserve took the underground rap world by storm last year with their wacky, brilliant debut Live at the Dentist’s Office. Armed with lush, jazz-tinged atmospherics courtesy of producer Parker Corey and the screwball rhymes of MCs Steppa J. Groggs and Ritchie with a T., the album proved one of the boldest and most inventive hip-hop debuts of 2015, garnering the group comparisons to jazz-hop icons like A Tribe Called Quest and Native Tongues. For their sophomore effort, Floss, the trio seem to be favoring a more pop-oriented approach. It doesn’t always work, but in the record’s best moments, the group’s loopy, experimental energies still manage to shine through.
Ultimately, Floss proves to be IR’s “fame, ain’t it a bitch” album—they view it as a victory lap of sorts, a celebration of their newfound success. Their confidence is deeply infectious, and it makes up for most of the record’s weaker moments. One could easily mistake the album’s title for a cheeky throwback to Dentist’s Office (especially considering the cover, which zooms in on the cleaning of a set of grill-topped teeth), but one then considers the alternate meaning of the word “floss”—that is, to flaunt or show off. This is certainly a recurring theme on the album; on “All This Money,” Ritchie sounds completely dumbfounded by his wealth and seems all too excited to throw it around. “Oh, my God!” he yowls. “I ain’t done shit all my life/I’m ‘bout to drop four, ‘bout five/I’m about to spend all this money!”
Stylistically, Floss feels just as eclectic, if not more so, than its predecessor. Corey’s beats are a large part of what makes the album work; his deft production serves as a crucial third voice within the group. This time around, he seems rather fixated on bouncy, dancehall-influenced beats, most notably on “What’s Goodie,” “Bad Boys 3,” and “Girl with the Gold Wrist”—the latter of which throws a bit of flamenco guitar in the mix. “All Quiet on the West Side” is a slow party jam set against a rainy, ethereal backdrop.
Opener “Oh Shit!!!” marks an attempt by the group to distance itself from its jazz-rap trappings in favor of displaying a greater individuality. “This ain’t jazz rap…this that spaz rap,” proclaims Steppa over a glitchy piano loop and whirring, hissing beat. “This that ‘raised by the Internet, ain’t had no dad’ rap.” Despite this strong opening statement, the similarities between IR and ATCQ are uncanny. Steppa’s silky, understated flow owes plenty to that of Q-Tip, and on the cacophonous, polyrhythmic “What’s Goodie,” he and Ritchie even go so far as to exchange rapid-fire rhymes a la Tip and Phife. Plus, the swirling brass and jazzy drums on “S on Ya Chest” and the wacky, sax-driven “All This Money” would sound quite at home as Low End Theory outtakes. Which, of course, is not to say these tracks sound derivative—IR endow them all with their unmistakable eccentricity, charisma, and wit.
Not only is the group celebrating its success—they also see themselves as the future of hip-hop. They comment frequently here on what they perceive as the declining state of the genre, as well as of the world itself. The MCs take on the role of Supermen, intent on saving rap, on “S on Ya Chest.” With “2016 Interlude,” they unleash a laundry list of grievances against social ills ranging from bathroom bills to Native American mascots to the black incarceration epidemic. IR, of course, are hardly the first to take on these problems; still, what they say needs to be said, as these unfortunate prejudices and anxieties are, after all, happening in what’s supposed to be a modern, enlightened age. “Like, bruh—it’s 2016.”
One of the strongest moments on the album is “Eeny Meeny Miney Moe,” a devastatingly blunt takedown of the music industry and its arbitrary system of determining which rappers make it and which ones don’t. The track’s chanted hook (“Eeny, meeny, miney, moe/Catch a rapper at a show/Couple dollars let him blow/Who’s up next, I don’t know”) mirrors the racially insensitive mantra of old, perfectly reflecting the industry’s blatant manipulation of black performers.
IR doesn’t shy away from examining the darker side of the limelight. The Vic Mensa-starring “Keep On Slippin'” is a tragically profound meditation on depression, anxiety, and deteriorating mental health that rings as true as anything on Floss. “I’m losing it, it really feels like I’m losing it/Sad thing is I ain’t doing nothing to improve the shit,” Steppa mournfully intones. Vic’s agony-infused verse (“Sometimes I fucking hate myself, I swear to God I hate this shit…The same depression made me anxious is what gave me this verse/But every time I think of making it work, it gets worse”) drives the point home especially well. These rap “Supermen” are far from invincible; they’re just normal guys striving to do their best in life, reveling in the triumphs while simultaneously accepting their failings.
The album’s closing track, “Look Mama I Did It,” is a decent summation of what IR is going for on this record. It’s a celebration of their accomplishments set to a reasonable departure from past sounds—in this case, Corey jumps on the Yeezy/Chance bandwagon by prominently littering the track with a chopped-up gospel sample. We here find the MCs at their most sincere—Ritchie addresses his mother and late father, while Steppa issues a heartfelt thanks to IR’s fans. Does all this celebration feel a bit premature? Yes. Does that make the album any less entertaining? Hell no. Floss is another feather in Injury Reserve’s cap, serving as proof that these performers are indeed well worth all the hype. (8.3/10)