Injury Reserve Give Stepa J. Groggs a Heartbreaking Memorial on 'By the Time I Get to Phoenix'

BY Wesley McLeanPublished Sep 13, 2021

On June 29, 2020, one of Injury Reserve's founding members, Jordan Alexander "Stepa J." Groggs, tragically passed away at 32 years old. The yin to member Nathaniel Ritchie's yang, Groggs' contributions to the trio's music were integral to their appeal and success.

Groggs' lyrics and delivery managed to be the middle ground between jovial, tongue-in-check punchlines and emotionally resonant and personally significant reflections, serving as the perfect balance to Ritchie's more traditional and technically sound approach to rapping. They had an undeniable chemistry that laid the foundation for one of the most impressive and underrated catalogues of the 2010s.

Given the immense weight of losing Groggs, it was evident that By the Time I Get to Phoenix would be unlike anything the group had released prior, and it is. This is by far the most experimental and least accessible Injury Reserve project thus far, abandoning any semblance of tradition or convention to deliver an incredibly gripping and emotionally poignant portrait of loss and the grief associated with it. It's an album that embraces noise and the chaos, with the group's producer Parker Corey's delivering a soundscape so hectic and anxiety-inducing that it could be used to score the next Safdie brothers film.

It's a truly captivating piece of art that explores grief and mourning in a fashion that feels as overwhelming and emotionally kaleidoscopic as the real-life experience: a blur of anger, sadness, confusion and bittersweet reminiscing, all colliding as you try and piece yourself back together. This isn't music that's trying to make you feel a certain way, it's music that just feels that way on its own. Whether it be Parker Corey's complex, glitchy and often psychedelic production, Ritchie's palpably pained lyrics or the eerie, almost foretelling verses from Groggs, you can't help but be overwhelmed by the music and the emotion behind it.

By the Time I Get to Phoenix uses the chaotic and raucous nature of its instrumentation to present every verse, hook and bridge with the proper urgency and emotional weight they need. From Ritchie's repeated, visceral chants of "ain't no savin' me" drowning in a sea of distorted synthesizers on "Superman That," to Groggs' slightly off-kilter delivery matching the dizzying production on "Knees," everything on this project feels deliberate, even in its disorder.

This LP's biggest highlight, "Top Picks For You," features a beautifully understated instrumental compared to most others on the album, and it's for a good reason. The track sees Ritchie delivering incredibly raw, cathartic verses showcasing the emotional effects that Groggs' passing has had on him.

Beginning with a muffled "as the dust settles, I shake it off of me," Ritchie delves into poetic prose about coping with his loss, and the immense pain that has come with it ("I've felt loss, but a hole like this, I never could imagine"). Throughout the track, he explores moments in which he still feels Groggs' presence, only to come to the sobering realization that he's not there anymore. It's an incredibly touching song that's as intimate as it is harrowing, and makes for an impeccable and impactful centrepiece to this project.

While By the Time I Get to Phoenix has many moments that can be quite jarring, especially upon first listen, the direction Injury Reserve chose to take with this record is not only commendable, but incredibly impressive. It is an abstract, melancholic and affecting body of work that is not only another incredible addition to a stellar discography, but a magnificent and moving tribute to a friend gone too soon.
(Las Fuegas)

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