Is “Electric Relaxation” one of the greatest songs ever?
“Relax yourself girl please set-tle down” gets me going every time. Sexy as s***. And even if some of the lyrics are corny, they’re perfectly corny.
But for the non-music nerds, I have to clue you in on something else that’s going on.
Part of Q-Tip’s genius AND contribution to modern music was his sample phrasing. Sampling starts with taking just a sound (ex. a snare drum). It continues with taking something you could loop (ex. a drum “break” – often a full measure or more). Q-Tip was one of the first to split the differences.
Differences. Plural. On “Check the Rhime” he cuts half a measure of a drum break to use. More than a sample, less than a traditional break. Might seem obvious, but somebody has to do it first. That’s fun, but it’s still in a clean subdivision. “Electric Relaxation” sees him fully move into jazz-composition territory.
Hip-hop lyrics are extensions of the breaks and the loops they fit over. At its most basic, think of basic rhymes. Two things match in cadence, and if you fit them first over 2 bars, then you can connect them across 4 (with the quatrain being just about everything in all rap), which if you repeat 4x expands into 16 bar verses, etc. You can find this in just about every rap song ever for that matter. Until… “Electric Relaxation.”
The guitar part is a three bar loop. Just start there when you listen. Count it out the 6 chords, changing every other beat, making for 6 bars. 6, not 8 – weird, right?
You hear that now? How it’s NOT cleanly divisible by 4? Just keep that in your head for a minute.
Because now the tension and contrasts with the rest of the song get really interesting.
2 rappers. Some 2 bar phrases, some 3, some 6s and 8s. The beat and lyrics are interwoven and stripped apart by the expectations of where stuff lands. And somehow – it works(!).
It grooves. It swings. I bet most people never notice. But that juxtaposition of the 3-bar sample against the 2 rappers, and the layers of lyrical and musical cadences, it’s mesmerizing, electric, and yeah – sexy as s***.
Enjoy some A Tribe Called Quest on this fine Sunday morning.
I sing the body electric relaxation.