AKAI SOLO kicks things off for the night, immediately shining on stage with his beaming personality. Engaging with the crowd through cartoonish voices and friendly topics, such as food, his nearsightedness caused by watching Adult Swim too close to the television as a child, and loving your mother, AKAI clearly takes great pleasure in showing the crowd a good time. The rapper performs over hard-hitting beats, often with delightful jazz components that provide an interesting mix of smooth and rugged. The song selections are a great introduction to the artist, and intriguing enough to consider his fanbase at least two members larger.
AKAI is aware of the fact that much of the crowd is here to see the headliners, Injury Reserve and Armand Hammer, and that many in attendance have never heard his music. Stating this to the crowd, he’s able to use their unfamiliarity to his advantage in the tune of humor. “Y’all wanna hear some new stuff?” AKAI asks, the reception to which is warm from the audience. “You know what? Most of y’all haven’t heard my stuff anyways, so I guess everything is new. Never mind that question. Here’s some new stuff.” All in all, AKAI SOLO does an excellent job at hyping up the crowd and getting them ready for the main events.
Injury Reserve took stage next, with members Ritchie with a T and Parker Corey performing amidst the absence of the late Stepa J. Groggs. Groggs’s passing was announced by the group in June of 2020. Setting a red backdrop with a beaming light behind it, Corey walks onto the stage and invests himself in his gadgetry to begin their set. As Ritchie’s verse kicks in for their opening song “Outside,” his appearance casts a shadow against the backdrop, an image akin to the album artwork for their latest release By the Time I Get to Phoenix. Though the record came out late last year, it was completed entirely before Groggs’s death.
Moving to the main stage, Ritchie sets off on a highly animated rap performance that often borders on unhinged, specifically for energetic tracks like “Superman That” and “Wild Wild West.” During these cuts, strobelights spasmodically rid the stage of the darkness cast during much of the down-tempo songs, matching Ritchie in tone. Fog overflows on the platform for “Smoke Don’t Clear,” setting the mood for Ritchie’s deranged performance to create an atmosphere of craze in suffocation. Steady light rarely graces the stage, but does so beautifully as Ritchie gives his all into his delivery over tracks like “Postpostpartum.”
The best performance of the night arrives with “Knees,” a dense, heart-wrenching track that brings the best out of each member of the group. As Ritchie brings yet another incredibly devoted rendition to the table, Corey tweaks away at his controllers, feeling every ounce of the music coarse through him. Nearing the end of the track, Ritchie and Corey depart from the stage, allowing Groggs’s verse to take the full attention of the audience. It’s a heavy moment, and one that appears important for the group as a whole. Prior to this, Ritchie expresses to the audience how Groggs’s favorite NBA team was the Dallas Mavericks, who happened to be playing the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Semifinals at the time. Being based in Phoenix themselves, Ritchie playfully talks trash towards Mavericks fans, saying “I mean, the series is over for you guys.” It’s a good-natured tangent showing the kind spirit of the group.
Rap duo Armand Hammer took the stage next. Composed of enigmatic artist Billy Woods and rapper Elucid, the band sets a dark atmosphere with grimy, Alchemist and Madlib style beats and deep-reaching, eloquently written lyrics. In line with Billy Woods’ stance of not wanting his face published online, the group began the concert by getting the venue to dim the stage lights as much as possible. Throughout the show, the duo pulled tracks from both their combined discographies, as well as showcasing some unreleased songs that the audience thoroughly enjoyed.
Tracks like “Root Farm”, which featured a prominent sample of “Skyline To” by Frank Ocean, showed the wide range of influences the group pulls from. Throughout many of the songs, member Billy Woods would crouch down and rap from the shadowy corners of the stage, leaving Elucid to have the spotlight and maintaining his “faceless” image. Towards the end of the set, the group played their song “Stonefruit” where each member rapped back and forth at each other over a beautifully hopeful beat.
The three acts for the night couldn’t have been more welcoming in demeanor, with a desire to share an energy with the attendees palpably evident from their time both on and off stage. Coming out to make conversation with fans after the show, Injury Reserve and Armand Hammer take to the crowds as AKAI SOLO heads to the merch booth to sign tour shirts. Although Injury Reserve declined our request for an interview, there is hope for the future that they will return as a musical act, possibly with the two remaining members assuming a new moniker. As long as Ritchie and Corey continue to do what feels right, not only to the Injury Reserve name but also to the two of them as artists, they have our support.
– Written by Enrique Cardenas III and Henry Jones