My love for Live From The Dentist’s Office is well documentedon this site, although I have to admit I was hesitant for a number of reasons to get my hopes up for Injury Reserve’s sophomore record (despite having arguably the greatest album artwork of 2016). Firstly let’s acknowledge that hip-hop in Arizona, or at least good hip-hop, is a rare thing. The Copper State doesn’t have an established aesthetic right now. Hell, the two most prominent releases going into Floss were the groups previous tape and then whatever DaDadoh is doing over there on Mill Ave. with his bonkers 2016 release Radical. Between those two releases, the potential to release anything unconventional and perhaps a bit weird and have it be good was both promising and intimidating.
The first, and more personal, reason for my hesitation was to simply consider the possibility that if I wouldn’t like it. What if it was fundamentally bad? It made me nervous. Live From The Dentist’s Office felt like such a remarkable and rare record; a fully realized group of MC’s who, right out of the gate, had somehow made one of the easiest to listen to hip-hop projects of the last several years AND they were from Arizona. What if their new album was stagnant or stale? A one album wonder where the group didn’t attempt to challenge or progress at all going forward. God knows Arizona has a history of those kinds of records.
The second, and perhaps more musically relevant reason I was hesitant to embrace the idea of a new Injury Reserve project was that I wasn’t sure where the group could possibly go. Floss would’ve needed to be weird but retain the accessibility that made their first project so endearing. It would have to be mainstream in sensibilities but unique and offbeat in ways that would make not only fans like myself take notice, but could also expose their work to a new audience. In many ways, the most relevant next step comparison I could see in theorizing what it could sound like was analyzing Danny Brown’s dilemma from XXX to Old minus the stakes and, well, Danny Brown perspective.
Fortunately, Floss somehow answers all of my questions. For every song that seems perfectly crafted to break through to new audiences, there are two more songs that really take some interesting risks and push Injury Reserve to be more than just a local rap act from Arizona.
Let’s start with the bangers, of which there are a few. As they say on “Oh Shit!!!”, the group wants more hits and they don’t want it to sound like 2006. Yet I can’t help but get a feeling that many of these songs certainly have their eye on mid-2000s club jams. “All This Money” in particular captures the essence and imagery of hip-hop culture during that time, as do the funky, caustic Luda-esque beats on “Girl With The Gold Wrist” (which would fit perfectly in a Fast and the Furious movie, seriously someone ought to get on that). Even “Oh Shit!!!” is a fascinating lead off for the record, focusing on a DMX-style chorus bark of “Oh shit!” over a brooding piano; both elements combine to give Injury Reserve a head turning sound with a truly ravenous beat.
But, as I said, for every hit there are two more songs to give them an artful, defined edge. When Injury Reserve go more experimental with their beats, they expose themselves as risk takers capable of creating (and accepting) some of their highest highs and also their lowest lows.
On Floss, the lows are minimal. The Vic Mensa feature on “Keep On Slippin’” in particular feels like a big league gamble. Mensa, a huge name in hip-hop and clearly a guy who can get projects mainstream exposure, appears on a track that’s hardly more interesting than the sum of its cloud-rap parts. While many of the downtrodden beats featured on Floss are handled with perfection (see: “All Quiet On the West Side” and “2016 Interlude”), “Keep On Slippin’” has yet to reveal itself as anything other than “that track with Vic Mensa on it” and isn’t helped by Stepa Groggs destroying Mensa’s verse. Less high stakes but problematic nonetheless is the good-but-out-of-place “S On Ya Chest”, which sounds like a Live From The Dentist’s Office jazz rap outtake rather than something sonically in line with this project.
It’s worth noting that this album is much darker and focused than the group’s debut, dropping the jazz beats for grinding synths and cranking 808’s. For a group that has praised Kanye as a major influence, the shift in tone and sound makes reasonable sense and is commendable. Yeezus (and acts like clipping. and even Ratking) looms large on this album. Many of the fears I had going into this record were put to rest by the reinvention of the group – clearly they didn’t have an interest in making Live From The Dentist’s Office 2.0 and Floss appropriately feels like an ambitious risk that works.
And the highs here are high. With so many industrial flavors influencing this album, when the act begin to implement tribal drum patterns (“Bad Boys 3”, “Girl With The Gold Wrist”) or pulsating subwoofer background beats (“Back Then”, “Eeny Meeny Miny Moe”) or clouds of thick, hazy static, you appreciate just how well thought out and polished these songs feel. Even two records in, Injury Reserve sound like an act that know exactly what it is they want to be and their ambition has somehow presented itself sans-growing pains on their albums. Floss bumps hard and is a crowning sophomore effort for a group who are primed to outgrow the Valley of the Sun – and soon. Grade: B+