Editor’s Note: You can tell from our site’s title that A Tribe Called Quest is a big deal to us. We are deeply saddened by Phife’s passing. He was gone too soon but will never be forgotten.
A Tribe Called Quest’s “Electric Relaxation” sounds like exactly that: sleeping on the beat it’s kicking into overdrive, supercharged and laidback, cocky as hell and cool as a cucumber. Coming off the rap group’s 1993 classic, “Midnight Marauders,” it’s one of the Tribe’s most iconic songs.
Typical of the group’s chill sound, “Electric Relaxation” doesn’t have the sort of beat that gets the club shaking. It doesn’t bring the noise. The opening hits like you just stepped out your New York apartment in slow motion on a breezy afternoon, putting foot to pavement with an easy stride. You walk a confident stroll, taking everything in, the city’s sights and sounds a warm tonic for chilly weather.
Then that “Mystic Brew” sample rolls on through, and all of a sudden you go from walking to floating, above it all but one with it all, and any sort of stress and worry just brushes right off.
As a city boy, this is how my favorite Tribe song hits me: cool and carefree like a bunch of friends nodding in sync to a beat. I’ve been nodding along to “Electric Relaxation” for most of the day since I learned Malik Taylor, aka Phife Dawg, passed away. I just had to put it on. It encompasses much of what made the Tribe so endearing. It’s one of their odes to those ‘round the way girls. You know: those girls LL Cool J used to rap about (“She likes to dance to the rap jams / She sweet as brown sugar with the candied yams”), those tough yet tender girls. Q-Tip and Phife spit the usual boasts commonly associated with rap, but the playful lyrics and sly tone undercut them; they know who’s in charge here.
Everyone remembers Phife’s preferences for women (“I like ‘em brown, yellow, Puerto Rican or Haitian”), the way his witty punchlines provide perfect counterpoint to Q-Tip’s jazzy, seductive delivery (“Honey, check it out, you got me mesmerized…”).
But it’s the vibe of the piece that really gets you. That bassline just takes permanent residence in your brain, riding with you on the subway or sitting with you in a cafe (in black and white of course). “Electric Relaxation” is the skyscrapers and the corner stores. It’s the neighborhood cutie catching everyone’s eye. It’s you and your squad cruising down the street, the car radio giving rhythm and purpose to the road, everyone nodding along to the beat.
Phife may be gone, but the beat goes on, electric and relaxing.