Who Flipped It Better? Jay Electronica vs. Bobby Shmurda
The Sample: Bayeté - 'Free Angela (Thoughts...And All I've Got To Say)' 
When Angela Davis was captured by police at a New York motel on October 13, 1970, then president Richard Nixon must've let out a sigh of relief. Davis had been wanted in connection with the Marin County courthouse shooting on Aug. 7 of the same year, when a 17-year-old named Jonathan Jackson took the judge, the prosecutor, and three female jurors as hostages. He was attempting to free the Soledad brothers -- George Jackson, Fleeta Drumgoole, and John Clutchette -- George was John's older brother. The men were being charged for the murder of a white prison guard named John V. Mills in retaliation for the shooting of three black inmates by another guard, Opie G. Miller, who sniped the three men from his guard tower after a fist fight started amongst prisoners. The Soledad Brothers Defense Committee was started to help raise awareness of and funds for the case; Jane Fonda, Noam Chomsky, and Marlon Brando were among the Committee's supporters. While attempting to get away with the hostages and convicts, Jonathan Jackson was killed by police, and the judge was killed by a shot from a sawed-off shotgun that had been affixed under his chin.
Davis, who had allegedly bought the weapons Jackson used at the courthouse that day, was, in Nixon's eyes, a "dangerous terrorist." 11 days after the incident occurred, J. Edgar Hoover placed Davis on the F.B.I.'s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List, but once she was arrested, the public made it clear they wanted Angela Davis set free. One man hijacked a TWA flight and demanded Davis' release. The Rolling Stones, Phil Ranelin, and John Lennon and Yoko Ono all released songs in support of Davis. Nearly 16 months after her initial incarceration, a wealthy business owner and a farmer paid her $100,000 bail and she was freed. Shortly after, Davis was tried by an all-white jury and found innocent of the charges -- aggravated kidnapping and first degree murder.
But at the age of 20, a man named John Cochran released a lesser known artistic expression of the public's desire to see Davis freed. The song is called 'Free Angela,' and it features Cochran on the clavinet for (part of) today's sample. Cochran was going by the name Bayeté then, a moniker originally assigned to the great King Chaka os South Africa's Zulu people. Chaka was revered as an expert military strategist and a fierce warrior, and Cochran might have identified with the Zulu monarch as he envisioned himself fighting to make as much music as possible. Writing the liner notes for the album the song appeared on, Bobby Hutcherson, legendary vibraphone and marimba player, had this to say about Bayeté: "Constantly moving and on the go, it seems like he's doing three or four things at the same time, and doing the s--t out of them."
Flip 1: Jay Electronica - 'Dear Moleskine' (Prod. by Just Blaze) 
Just Blaze, ever the patient sampler, waits for the jumbled tune to smooth out around 3:11, then takes that part for 'Moleskine''s intro. At 3:59, the chilling flute comes in, played by Hadley Caliman, while Bacheté noodles on the clavinet behind him. Some have noted the dichotomy in Bacheté's original: chaos in the first half, calm in the second. Jay's lyrics seem to mirror this, as he raps of depression and death before finding respite in an L and a notepad.
Flip 2: Bobby Shmurda - 'Wipe That Case Away' (2014)
Bobby Shmurda's flip, on the another, mirrors the underlying subject matter of Bacheté's song instead of it's compositional structure. Just as Bayeté's song repeats "Free Angela" for a chorus, 'Wipe That Case Away' is about Bobby Shmurda, his lawyer, and the charges he's facing. You can tell as much from the title. Yet Shmurda might surprise more than a few people with this one. Not only does he tap into a melodic vein for a majority of the song, but he also taps into a vulnerable one. Here's a young black teen, rapping about selling crack since the fifth grade and giving life to an otherwise limp New York rap scene off the strength of a six-second dance. He's been pummeled with rapid fame, but his smile is still that of a juvenile. Beneath the guns and the drugs and Rowdy Rebel's rambunctiousness is a group of young kids from Brooklyn who are finding their way out of troubled circumstances through music. If you can't respect that, your whole perspective is wack.
'Wipe That Case Away' gets to the heart of Bobby's childlike vulnerability, and the Bayeté sample helps propel the songs emotional core. Not only is the subject matter and vocal technique something new for Bobby, but the production is also unlike any of the drill-influenced beats that've fueled his rise. It's easily the most important song on his upcoming 'Shmurda She Wrote' EP.
But Just Blaze still wins. That he could find a way to thread both parts of 'Free Angela' into a song every human being in the world can relate to speaks not only to Just's technical proficiency, but also to the depth of his musical knowledge. The most well-known use of this sample before Jay Elect was De La Soul's 'Sunshine,' where Pos and Dave bring a little light to some overlooked aspects of black American existence. Jay Electronica transcends blackness and instead speaks to the universal human experience; Bayeté's song mirrors that breadth, for people from all walks of life came together to support Angela Davis and ended up making her an icon of the post-Civil Rights movement. That Angela, Bacheté, Jay Elect, and Bobby Shmurda all now have something in common is beautiful enough. To hear the music is simply a blessing.