A long time ago, in a funky-ass dorm room far far away, I was a contributing writer for a short-lived E-zine called 181.4 Degrees From the Norm! The editor was a friend of mine and fellow college radio DJ named Dave. I’m a little vague on how he came up with the name 181.4, but I believe it involved adding up the frequencies of his two favorite alternative radio stations back home. Yes – alternative – but somehow a lot of what they got sent free for review was hip-hop. That’s where I came in – not only did Dave know me as a DJ but he knew I had experience writing reviews from two E-zines of my own dating all the way back to 1992. We worked out a promotional exchange where I’d cover whatever rap albums he was sent provided we linked to each other’s sites and I had the right to reprint them in my own E-zine. He readily agreed and we got to work, and for a while it was fun for everyone involved, but in time I think Dave got dismayed by the lack of headway he made creating an online presence and decided to fold his magazine and move on (good thing I retained the rights to my stuff). The site he owned is now parked by someone milking what little hits it gets with shopping links.
It’s probably been a decade or more since I heard from Dave, and these days 181.4 is a minor footnote in my writing career, but at least one person out there didn’t forget those days – Matt Reyes from Type 4. It seems the review I wrote of their debut album for Dave’s internet rag was one of the most thoughtful, considerate and well written Type 4 received. After all these years, Matt tracked me down and asked me if I was the same man who reviewed rap for 181.4. It took me a minute to realize I actually was, because it had been that long since any thought of 181.4 crossed my mind, but Matt felt that after all this time I was the only one qualified to reintroduce Type 4 to the world. Tragically a lot of things have changed for Type 4 in the last decade or more – they lost vocalist Brian Cantwell in 2001 and drummer Eric Goodridge in 2002. As odd as it is to walk down memory lane back to my college days, it’s even more odd to write a review of an album released in 2001 when a third of the band is now deceased – there needs to be a whole new definition of “late pass” for this one. Nevertheless if I’m as qualified to review Type 4 in 2009 as Matt thinks, there’s no way I can write about their new shit if I don’t go back and cover the material that I missed in the interim.
“For Sale” is 21 tracks long. Besides the R.I.P. band members already mentioned, the musicians contributing to this project include Ray Bly on bass, Mike Haas on guitar, Charlie Murphy on turntables, Tom Williams on vocals, Mike O’Leary on additional drums and Matt Reyes provides keyboards and samples. If you’re getting the idea that Type 4 is on a Flobots/The Roots/Stetsasonic type vibe, you’d be absolutely right. So why hasn’t Type 4 blown up to the same degree? One could say it’s the fact Type 4 lost focus when two of their members passed away, but one could also say it’s much like what happened to 181.4 DFtN – sometimes you can put your heart into your work and get so little back in return from the public that you question the value of doing it at all. It’s not hard to understand that Type 4 may have felt that way in 2001 when this album was released. After all it takes a lot of time and effort to record 21 songs as a live band, especially if you’re creating shit you want people to jam to, as opposed to just talentless noodling. There’s no question that Type 4 was an undiscovered diamond in the rough when you listen to “For Sale.” The “Whiskey Sour Wiggle” embraces an unapologetically 1980’s Beastie Boys influence, and Bly’s bass compares favorably to any other hip-hop band you’ve ever heard. “Dopesickest” goes back six decades further, sounding like the whimsical backdrop to a Charlie Chaplin film, until the heavy drums and hard lyrics come in – lyrics which show just how eager Type 4 were to succeed:
“So don’t compromise or change your beliefs
You got shit to say, get up and be brief
You can release your grief, just speak your piece and jet
Do whatever you have to, while catchin threats
And you can bet your bottom dollar that I’ll make you scream and holla
Cause I fought and clawed my way up from a life of pain and squalor
I’m that, hip roller livin out of control-a
And know I sold my soul for hip-hop and rock’n’roll-a
I’ll be a household name, like Crayola or Coca-Cola
I’m that funky rap flower who killed that ass like ebola”
One of the other things that may have prohibited Type 4 from getting larger is that these songs are not cut down to typical radio airplay lengths. Most songs on “For Sale” are longer than four minutes, and two crack the five minute mark. “Beanbag” is among the shortest but the drug references and samples would have made it a hard sell – then again D12 did manage to get a heavily edited version of “Purple Pills” into rotation. “Heroin Bunny” though would have no chance just on the title alone. Wait a minute – do I discern a heavy drug influence to Type 4 on this CD? I don’t remember if that was the case on the first album I reviewed, but when Matt says they lost two band members in 2001 and 2002 I start to wonder… HOW did they lose these members? Was it car accidents, natural causes, or something far more Layne Staley-esque? I have no idea and the press sheet offers no explanation, so there’s no reason to speculate further.
Suffice it to say whatever I liked about Type 4 the first time around is still in effect on “For Sale” before whatever unfortunate events in their world prevailed. From the funky keys, hard drums and appropriate samples of “Formula 4” to the experimental and admittedly odd album closer “XISANC” there’s a lot to take in the first time around and possibly the harshest criticism I can offer is that there’s just too much here for anybody exposed to them for the first time. Some shorter songs perhaps, or half as many tracks, and a little more focus on what message they wanted to deliver wouldn’t have hurt this CD. It’s hard to tell if Type 4’s goal is to be lyrical, political, self-abusive or constructive as the rhymes show an underlying intelligence but don’t convey any real message other than “we love being a live rap band.” That’s great, but give people more to sink their teeth into. Sadly that may not even be possible as Matt’s letter indicates the years to come after they lost two members were a “dark time” so the next album I review probably won’t be as fun as this one. It’s good to know some part of Type 4 is still out there kicking it though – and it makes me wonder whatever happened to my old friend Dave.