An Interview with RiTchie of By Storm/Injury Reserve

Nearing a decade since Live from the Dentist Office, RiTchie strikes out on his own with his latest solo offering, Triple Digits [112].
By    May 13, 2024

Image via Patrick Driscoll

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Five years ago, Miguel Otárola cried watching A STAR IS BORN in theaters for the first time.

With just a few hours before his flight to Chicago, Nathaniel Ritchie looks preoccupied.

The Windy City is the fourth stop in a tour supporting Triple Digits [112], his solo debut following the natural conclusion of Arizona rap trio Injury Reserve. Not only would he be alone on stage – unobscured by the fog and haze of the Injury Reserve experience – he’d have to compete with NYC rapper MIKE, also in town and sharing a bill with upstarts 454 and Niontay.

At the same time he’s explaining this to me over Zoom from the room where he recorded Triple Digits, he’s on his phone, posting photos of merch he designed and was releasing online in a few days.

“I had just never thought about doing something like this,” he says. “Whenever you’re in a group, people always will ask you if you’re going to do solo stuff, and it just was never in my mind.”

Injury Reserve, which he formed with rapper Stepa J. Groggs and producer Parker Corey, had built their following with a string of rowdy and energetic releases starting with 2015’s Live from the Dentist Office. After Groggs’ death in 2020 and the release of the fiery By the Time I Get to Phoenix the following year, its surviving members rebanded under the name By Storm.

In the lead-up to the first By Storm album, RiTchie found a window to work on a solo project. The title of Triple Digits [112] refers to the summer temperatures in Phoenix, a “suffocating, dry heat” that crept into his home each time he turned the AC off to record.

RiTchie can stand the heat. He sounds invigorated by the album’s assortment of instrumentals and features. Lead track “WYTD?!?!” captures the sweaty energy of those early IR mixtapes, with RiTchie contorting his voice over melik’s rumbling beat. He gasps over moody drill production in “The Keepers” and “How?!”, the latter finding an exasperated Niontay asking, “Why you trynna tell me war stories around white bitches?” On “Dizzy,” he and Aminé roast unserious rappers over a stomping reggae beat that would sound right at home on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.

In our interview, which took place in late April, RiTchie shares the meaning behind Triple Digits, his approach to performing solo, and what it’s like to live life at 112 degrees – Fahrenheit. (Sorry, everyone else who uses Celsius.)

​​(This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.)

In the album’s end credits, you call it a “new chapter” in your life. How come it feels that way?

RiTchie: I mean, it’s just different. I’ve been doing this for a decade with a group of friends, so it’s just a little bit of a different experience doing something by myself–although everyone’s been extremely involved with everything. But I feel like I’m starting [this] out as something fun to run parallel with all the group stuff. I feel like this is kind of the first step into that direction so that I can have something to bounce in between. Which, it’s been fun and exciting to do.

It seems, to me, like a big deal that you’re finally putting something out under your own name. A debut solo project. What does that mean to you personally?

RiTchie: Personally, it doesn’t mean a whole bunch. It’s just been kind of fun and liberating and giving me a new outlet. I mean, it’s not like a huge milestone or anything like that. I had just never thought about doing something like this. Whenever you’re in a group, people always will ask you if you’re going to do solo stuff, and it just was never in my mind. I never looked at [Injury Reserve] as a stepping stone to then have a solo career. The group has always been so important to me, and it’s definitely my main focus. This was just something with timing and the transition between the band names. It just kind of happened and it felt natural, and then everyone else was like, ‘Yeah, I think this is a good idea.’

When were most of these songs written? What was the environment like when you were recording?

RiTchie: The vast majority of them were written during the summer last year over here [in Phoenix]. I mean, it was me. It was this room right here. It was really hot. So I’d have the AC going and then I’d turn it off whenever I was actually recording.

Any people drop by?

RiTchie: No. I work pretty isolated, even with the group stuff. Within the past couple of years, I’ve gotten pretty isolated with my work style. I think it’s maybe just because of insecurities and stuff like that, but it really allows me to fuck around. So it’s just me and my dog Sully, and he’ll just sleep under me. When it gets really, really hot, he sleeps in his kennel because it has a metal bottom. He’s in there right now because it’s already in the 90s. But yeah, no one really dropped by. And not ’cause they didn’t want to or I didn’t want them to. It’s just not really the way that the process goes for me.

You’ve been doing this for a decade now. Have your musical influences changed over time?

RiTchie: My influences have changed just because I’m always extremely influenced by what’s going on in the current climate. Whether that actually shows on the records or not, that’s a different conversation. We’ve always tried to stay hyper-aware and on top of what’s going on in the hip-hop climate. I think that’s the best way to try to stay original, is to figure out what people are doing and what people aren’t doing. I listen to super-current rap music predominantly, and I’ve always kind of been that way. It’s also just so fun. There’s always something new and fun happening.

I wanted to ask you about the melody for “Get a Fade.” What did you like about that melody?

RiTchie: Honestly, it’s more the writing. I really liked the writing, and I thought it’d be really, really cool to do my own interpretation of it through my point of view. It’s just killer. It’s kind of undeniable. I felt like, in the place that we live in hip-hop, it was a cool idea creatively, and some people would notice the cover aspect of it. At the same time, I thought it was also cool enough to just introduce as a new thing.

I didn’t even know the Girlpool version was a cover until I started doing research* (*shouts to my friend Nirantha for the plug)

RiTchie: I was always a fan of the Girlpool one. I had only heard the original one like, once. I just really liked the emotionality. That’s what’s so interesting about the Girlpool one, is how different it is from the Radiator Hospital one. His is really fun and tongue-in-cheek and theirs is really intimate. I’ve wanted to do that for five years. And I felt like since I was doing this project myself, I was like, ‘I might as well just try and do it.’

You’re headed back out on tour. How have you approached it compared to what you were doing with Injury Reserve?

RiTchie: It’s been night and day. That is a totally different experience. We really, really, really put a lot of passion into creating a singular environment for our live show. Going into this, I basically had decided that I’m by no means going to try to compete with that. This is going to be something a bit more straightforward, a bit more personal and a bit more transparent. My personality. I made similar decisions on videos, on press photos, on everything.

With the IR show, we have all the haze and the fog. It has turned out to be a lot less of a transactional live show. It’s like, me and Parker up there just ripping it and the show’s over. But this is a totally different experience and relationship [with] the crowd. Even though I told myself I was prepared for that, it definitely was a lot different.

For people that don’t know how hot it gets in Phoenix – maybe they’re from Maine or Minnesota – what does 112 degrees feel like?

RiTchie: I’m not going to lie, it’s not as crazy as people think it is just because of the dryness. When you get inside, you’re done. Even when you get in shade, it’s a little bit better. It’s not like living in New York and it’s 90 degrees. That’s like hell. So the dryness is crazy, but it’s definitely suffocating.

Remember that cinnamon challenge where people were trying to swallow cinnamon? How silly that was? Sometimes it really be feeling like that, where it’s like a suffocating dry heat, just a wall of it. But the good thing is that it’s escapable for sure. It’s not humidity.

The funny thing about you asking me that is: I never thought about how we’re the only ones that use Fahrenheit. So the whole entire concept of the album just goes completely over the heads of like, 60% of the fan base.

Oh my God.

RiTchie: Yeah. I mean, even Canada. I didn’t even think, even Canada, them using Celsius.

Anywhere in Europe…

RiTchie: Yeah, exactly. ‘Cause then it’s 42 degrees [ed. note: 44.4, to be exact], so it’s not even triple digits. I was just like, oh, shit! I should have made an alternate version of the album. At least the vinyl or something. That would’ve been cool.

It’s going to be five years since your self-titled Injury Reserve record. Do you look back on that record at all?

RiTchie: The self-titled record is such a blur to us. From the outside in, I know a lot of people look at it as this big landmark, but for us, it was a really, really strange process. It was the only process that we did with a label. We definitely look back at [By the Time I Get to] Phoenix because I know that we’re really proud of what we did. But also, all the shit that we went through with that record, with Groggs passing away right before, and then the label not trying to release the record. By the time the record was coming out, the record was just for us. Then we release it, and everyone loves the record. That was such a crazy roller coaster.

You’re working on that By Storm album. How’s that shaping together?

RiTchie: Slowly but surely. We’re both a bit distracted. He’s doing his film and I was doing this, but it’s the top of both of our priorities. With this stuff settling down from my end, and even the film stuff being a bit more broad, I think that we’ll be able to whip it up. Luckily we haven’t been in a super rush about it, but I think it’s time to really lock in on it.

And it wasn’t a big deal for you to say, “Okay, Parker and I work together all the time, but I’m doing this under my own name?”

RiTchie: It was less of a big deal than I could have ever imagined. I built it up to be something, and then he was just like, “Okay, yeah, let me know if you need me to work on anything.” He was trying to help. “I can help with this. What do you need help with?” Even the other day he was sending me shit to post on social media, just cool graphics and stuff like that. I feel like we’ve matured a lot in our process and we’ve learned that we’re here for each other, and this is all just for the grand scheme of everything and our legacy.

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