TYPE 4, I don’t know if you heard of them. No scratch that, I’m convinced you haven’t, unless by some freak accident you actually have or are so intimately familiar with our publication that you remember our review from a month back. TYPE 4 existed long before the latest rap generation ever picked up a mic. Originally a hip-hop duo in the early ’90s, the outfit soon evolved into a full-fledged band that incorporated funk, rock and reggae influences. As they prepare to release a new album in 2010, they sent us their older material for review. “As Is” was released in 2008, 7 years after their second longplayer, “For Sale.”
The press sheet credits their current DJ DayLate for injecting new life into the band. In terms of exposure, TYPE 4 settle in an environment where such projects are usually a mere stopover in a musician’s career. If people decided to revive the project, they must have seen something in it, musically, commercially, or otherwise. As a newcomer to TYPE 4, I can’t say what it is that convinced vocalist Tom Williams, producer Matt Reyes and their new deejaying partner Bill Ierardi to get TYPE 4 going. What’s clear is that its core members, Tom and Matt, have a lot of emotional investment in it, with two band members passing away at the beginning of the millennium. Additionally, Matt Reyes can claim to be a vital contributor to the Boston area rap scene.
Based in Dedham and Medford, MA, Reyes, originally known as DJ Spin, has been in groups such as White Magic, The Diamond 2, COD Crew and Kingsmythe, and, more importantly, running a recording facility that operates under the name World One since the mid-’80s, producing and working with local acts such as Tuff Enuff Crew, Justice CDC, Maine T, Poetic Soldiers, Act 1/Squeeze, D.Scribe, T-Ruckus, Rip-Shop, The sHaPeShIfTeRs, Groove Goddess, Raw Field, Phi Crew Committee, Akrobatik, 7L & Esoteric, Nabo Rawk, etc. His tracks received airplay as early as 1986 on Boston’s then only rap show, Lecco’s Lemma. In 1992 he joined TYPE 4, where he became responsible for sampling, keys and arrangements. With Williams rapping since the early ’90s, TYPE 4 combine a heap of experience.
I have an almost unlimited amount of sympathy for such a backstory. TYPE 4 represent the early suburban/small-town rap demographic who tried to come up with a version of hip-hop that fit their own life experiences. It’s easy to understand where TYPE 4 are coming from. What’s not quite as easy to understand is why “As Is” sounds 15 years older than it is. I could say I have to dig deep into my collection to find a record similar to “As Is,” but even if I had such a record, I probably couldn’t remember it because the lasting impressions from that time were left by too many classic rap acts to name. The music of TYPE 4 predates most commercially successful rap/rock mash-ups you may remember from the ’90s, such as Limp Bizkit or 311. To compare them to late ’80s/early ’90s crossover bands such as Fishbone, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Primus, Faith No More, Rage Against the Machine, Limbomaniacs, or 24-7 Spyz would not quite nail it either.
“As Is” is a parochial interpretation of rap and rock. It is dudes jamming together. Circa 1990. At least that’s how it sounds. That’s not to say that the music isn’t enjoyable or interesting, in fact it often is, but if aspiring rap and rock require a sonic identity, “As Is” is nothing more than a uncomplicated first encounter of both genres. Of the many rap samples on this disc not one was recorded after 1990. Rapper Tom Williams sounds like a younger version of Mike D without the Beastie Boy’s rap flavor and rock attitude. It is the very opposite of a voice that has matured as the years went by. The whole thing is completely perplexing.
What makes “As Is” ultimately work is that taken as a time capsule, it makes absolutely sense. The trio comes across as guys who really love rap but don’t consider it necessary to follow hip-hop stereotypes (particularly post-’80s trends). From the unique opening “Beat” collage to the fictional Schoolly D feature “Get So Cool,” TYPE 4 radiate the vibe of a crew that does whatever the hell it wants, unfettered by sample clearance issues, market research studies and the possibility of Rick Rubin producing their next album. And on the mike, Tom Williams unleashes his slacker-meets-rapper philosophy. He’s “pickin’ lint off the nickels to buy a pack of smoke.” He’s got “rhymes for the kiddies and loads for the bitches.” He doesn’t “wanna go outside and deal with the dickheads.” He’s got “a mouth full of cavities, a brain full of damage.” He’s “the shitbag your mom don’t want you with.” He’s “doper than most dicks who got a record deal.”
This is not the surreal beat poetry rap of Beck’s “Loser,” it’s straightforward old school brags and put-downs mixed with self-deprecating teenage sarcasm. And this is where “As Is” actually benefits from being such a throwback, because in TYPE 4’s world emo never happened, so that Williams always finds a reason to be optimistic, often coming to the conclusion that music is his savior. Underpinned by a kick-ass track (featuring drums laid down by deceased drummer Eric Goodridge), “Scatterbrains” is a pretty good representation of “As Is” as a whole:
“Sometimes I sit around and I drink
Beats gotta pound, pussy gotta be pink
I don’t give a flyin’ fuck what y’all think
I’m so broke, I just can’t cope
Feel like hoppin’ a bridge or hangin’ a rope
I got scatterbrains and a pocket of hope
I got the locals on my jock if the vocals are dope
I can stick to the plan, rock a rhyme a day
or I can smack it up and piss my life away
Either way I’ll be me, I’ll be Tom, I’ll be here
sportin’ shirts that an old fuckin’ man wouldn’t wear
I’m a dirt bomb tickin’ towards an early grave
indebted to life, to the beat I’m a slave
Livin’ in two worlds, one’s bad, one’s worse
It’s like havin’ these rap skills is havin’ a curse
But pound for pound TYPE 4 CDs
are worth more than 80 milligram OC’s
Peace pills are cool, but the shit fades away
but a TYPE 4 CD can rock all day”
It’s that “I keep my head in the clouds and my sneakers on the ground” attitude that makes Williams a relatable persona. Many (if not most) songs here deal with the same topics of smokes, chicks and rap. “Blame it on Tom” is a cheerful pop tune that perfectly exemplifies the notion that “the lows, the frowns, the get-me-downs / they fly out the window when the rap beat pounds.” “When the Beats Pound” is more of the same at a slower pace. Strings make “HMI” sound slightly more contemporary, while the rapper explains his rap-over-drugs motto: “Great music’s dope, talkin’ pound for pound / tried all the drugs, the only one I found / that’s true to the core when the big beats pound / keeps me up in the clouds instead of under the ground.”
One can make an interesting comparison to Minneapolis’ indie darlings Atmosphere. A couple of years ago they recorded a faithful interpretation of Kool G Rap & DJ Polo’s “Road to the Riches,” chronicling their come-up in the rap game. TYPE 4 pay tribute to the song as well with “Road,” but unlike Atmosphere’s rapper Slug Tom Williams has remained the amateur appropriating rap as a means to let off steam, in his very own way living up to the Kool G Rap template, talking about “you two-faced, ratty-ass, shit-talkin’ suckers / straight to hell with all you fake motherfuckers (…) sure as 7-Eleven’s got Slurpees / your sister got a big mouth, fake tits and herpes.”
To Williams’ credit, the longer “As Is” lasts, the more he gets philosophical, even on a song like “Road,” where he feels “one with the sun and a bag of bad habits / I can see the light but I just can’t grab it.” The thoughtful tone is echoed musically by songs like “IV” and “Sad Song,” both also lyrically featuring more somber reflections on drugs and death. While “Bag O’Bellybuttons” and “Piss Poor” dare to leave the early ’90s behind with an inspired dark boom bap backdrop and sinister, spaced out funk, respectively. “One More” finally is a dense, rock-heavy tune that adds credence to the MC’s Beantown braggadocio:
“Rippin’ hits like Carlton Fisk in ’75
because I’m raw to the bone and rockin’ Boston pride
I need a booty round-romp and a rack that’s real
you keep your skinny, underfed-lookin’ Ally McBeal
Dance to Scally Cap tracks, new Cool Kid stylee
and keep my hair slicked back like Pat Riley
The raw deal, for real, no phoney, an
old school bad guy, cool Bostonian”
So what’s my verdict on the TYPE 4 line-up as it exists since 2005? While not an actual band anymore, Matt Reyes still manages to make them sound like one. In Tom Williams they have a dominant vocalist who possesses a functional flow that is definitely not an embarrassment to them, but who also often writes rhymes that are as simplistic as they are dated. They mostly fail to pen real songs, but they still very clearly get across what they’re about. They have a knack for melodies and often come extremely close to a successful pop song format, but are ultimately musically too unfocused to ever score a hit. I applaud them for making such layered music with plenty of quotes and samples but miss the aspiration to create something more timeless. “As Is” is both unpolitical rebel music for college kids and an interesting suburban rap document. In short, I’m undecided, which isn’t the worst verdict to return with.