London MC PhybaOptikz, representing the prolific CDVZ (Crate Divizion) crew, teams up with reputable Canadian beatmaker Vic Grimes, who has been holding down the underground scene for years, for this new release. ‘Stickup On The 22nd Floor’ showcases the spy-themed hip-hop PhybaOptikz specialises in; if you’ve not heard his 2014 ‘Tales Of Danger’ release, that’s definitely also worth a listen. The CDVZ clique are releasing consistently dope nineties influenced hip-hop, and this LP is no different.
After an invigorated, tense intro that sets the scene for the theme and storyline of the project, comes ‘Devito’. A sparse, subtle instrumental laced with sparkling keys and dusty drums provides the backdrop for PhybaOptikz’s complex lyricism and smooth flow. The writing is sophisticated and suited to the pattern of the beat. The classic sampling work is exemplified on the title track; Grimes’ resources are perfect for this brand of hip-hop, and the classy, fifties spy themes seem a surprisingly untapped large pool of loops and samples.
‘On The Case’ is another case in point for Phyba’s vivid MCing; the references and imagery he uses paint a detailed picture of the London crime underworld, but it’s done without any of the cringe factor or over-aggressiveness of a lot of hip-hop. The subtle writing and production keep the vibe constantly stylish, and this sets ‘Stickup On The 22nd Floor’ apart. ‘Full English’ features New York’s Hus Kingpin and SmooVth (who are frequent collaborators), and it’s the standout of the project. I heard it online a few weeks previous to the LP’s release, and the sinister jazz production backs a series of hard-hitting quotables from each MC, delivered with unwavering coolness.
PhybaOptikz’s unique bar-structure means that his writing is instantly recognisable and easily identifiable; it’s a very refreshing sound for sure. The same can be said for Grimes. From slow-paced, soulful cuts like ‘Straight Shooter’, to uptempo, intricate numbers like ’44 Magnum’, the chemistry on show is always impressive and the results always successful. With gritty, punchy percussion on ‘Vice City’ backing complex, internal rhyme schemes, ‘Stickup On The 22nd Floor’ maintains the high level set at the beginning of the project throughout. ’23rd Floor’, which features underground Toronto rapper Daniel Son, is a late highlight, with its frantic, old school beat and top standard MCing.
The Crate Divizion family have released a number of quality projects, and their track record is hardly likely to start to slip going into 2016. ‘Stickup On The 22nd Floor’ is a fantastic way to finish the year, and both PhybaOptikz and Vic Grimes contribute the ingredients that make this album one of the best UK releases of the past twelve months. You shouldn’t be sleeping on this.
By Sam Bennett