I was a junior in high school and was on campus late one Saturday evening for an anti-drug rally. There were some girls from a neighboring town in attendance and I had taken a liking to one of them. The rally ended at 10PM, but their ride was late… so I chivalrously (and maybe selfishly) volunteered to wait with them. It was cold, but that’s ok: I let lil shorty wear my Starter jacket (and didn’t wash it for a month afterward because it smelled like her), let her sit in my dad’s Ford Escort Hatchback, and passed the time by trying to come up with the cryptic words to the chorus of “Electric Relaxation”.
“Electric Relaxation” was to 1993 as “I Need Love” was to 1987. Q-Tip was the smooth operator; Phife was the realist (I love the line: ‘I like ‘em brown, yellow, Puerto Rican, or Haitian’). Ali Shaheed Muhammad masterfully reworked Ronnie Foster’s “Mystic Brew” (played by Raphel Saadiq on the track) into an instant classic.
Some months later, I found myself at South Carolina Boys Camp and had the fortune of spending the week with three really cool brothers. We spend our nights talking about girls, playing spades, taking basketball, and listening to a bevy of hip-hop albums, most notably Midnight Marauders. We must have rapped that entire album back and forth each night, with all of us taking turns as Q-Tip or Phife.
Those six months would set up the best 18 month stretch of my teenage life. I was rounding out my junior year and headed into a great senior year. I had a bevy of firsts – first car, first date, first (real) kiss, first teenage love (not the young lady referenced above). I was growing up. It made sense that I was moving to grown-up music.
This album (a slight step down from Low End Theory) was magnificent from the start. “Electric Relaxation” rightly gets the most press, however the entire album is worthy of multiple listens. The album starts with the electronic Midnight Marauder Tour Guide (backed by a dope sample of Cal Tjader’s “Aquarius”). From there, the boys kick into high gear with the underrated “Steve Biko (Stir It Up)”, then move to a murders row of great tracks: “Award Tour”, “8 Million Stories”,” Sucka Nigga”, and “Midnight”. There’s a slight misstep (the ‘just-ok’ “We Can Get Down” before they start dropping bombs: the before mentioned “Electric Relaxation” (note: those weird lyrics are ‘Relax Girl, Please Set-tle Down’), “The Chase, Part 2”,“Oh My God”, “God Lives Through”.
My second favorite track (behind “Electric…”) is the Large Professor produced “Keep It Rollin’”. It’s just smooth as all get-out (I love the sample from Roy Ayers’ “Feel Like Makin' Love”). Phife and Q-Tip are at their best, playing off each other like Dre and Big Boi would master 5 years later on Aquemeni).
Damn... they just don't make music like this anymore.