Pop’s most elusive artist Jai Paul officially releases two new tracks in seven years, alongside a trove of unfinished gems that was leaked in 2013.
Jai Paul’s decade long career reads like one of a tortured artist. Just two weeks ago, a 1500-word text document released by Paul gave context to the confounding mystery of his album leak in 2013, involving a police investigation, a stolen CD and overcoming trauma with therapy. His return was marked by two new tracks, an official release of the unfinished material and an infinite AI remix of ‘Jasmine’.
Over a decade ago, Jai Paul taunted the interwebs with a premonition disguised as a love song. The demo was titled ‘BTSTU’, and it was hosted on his MySpace page before it would be officially released. Its intricately woven synth-heavy melody opens curtly with a ghostly falsetto that chids, “don’t fuck with me, don’t fuck with me.”
As the media caught wind of this disruptive ode to pop, record companies begun a fiery bidding war, with Paul ultimately signing with XL Recordings. At the end of a crazy 2010, BBC longlisted Paul alongside a vanguard of cutting-edge producers and vocalists like James Blake, Nero and Jamie Woon, in what seemed like the cherry on top of a whirlwind year for Paul.
In the next two years, Paul would continue to converge his underground sensibilities with mainstream appeal, releasing ‘Jasmine’ — a dark, sinuous”, bass-heavy track to favourable reviews yet again. The Rayners Lane native was an unstoppable, hotly-tipped newcomer, and all was going to plan. However, that Juggernaut-like momentum would soon be killed.
One Saturday night in April 2013, an illegally leaked album surfaced on Bandcamp containing a series of untitled tracks by Paul. Speculation to the leak was rife, and some believed that its premise was a cleverly fashioned stunt by his record label. The elusive Paul then sought to set the record straight, emailing journalist Owen Myers stating, “I have not released a new record. This is an unofficial release. Official releases are handled by XL.”
While this infraction was shrouded in mystery, those who plugged in sung the same tune despite its raw, unfinished state — it was magic. The album even made its way onto several year-end lists — ranking 28th on The Guardian’s “Best Albums of 2013”, 20th on Pitchfork’s “Top 50 Albums of 2013”, and subsequently on their list of the 100 best albums of the decade in 2014 — paving the way for a paradigm shift in electronic pop music.
Then, he vanished.
Jai Paul has always been a reclusive cipher. The 30-year-old songwriter, record producer and recording artist bears a public persona has been widely discussed by music media, his ambiguous background and purpose at times overshadowing the ingenuity of his music. While some believe his sense of mystique is carefully calculated, Nao (having worked with Paul’s brother) has this to say about their image in an interview with Rolling Stone: “They’re normal guys that are trying to find their own route without playing the game.”
Unlike the notorious Paul brothers (think mammoth American internet personalities), Jai Paul and his Ivor Novello-winning brother Anup Kumar Paul (or A.K. Paul), seem to be deathly allergic to attention. While inscrutable artists are hand-crafted on the daily, their facade doesn’t seem to be all smoke and mirrors. Instead, Paul’s barely-there presence seems to stem from a desire to let his art speak for itself — an artist persona detracts from the art.
A while after, Paul briefly emerged from the woodwork in 2016 when he announced a new venture, formed with A.K. Paul, and Muz Azar, called the Paul Institute, and once more in 2017, when he was pictured for the first time in four years with an interesting fit — a hard hat, aviators and a hi-vis jacket (cue ironic laughter). He had just signed a lease for a space in London for the Institute.
Launching itself as a record label and a music platform, the Institute brought on a handful of artists since its inception — Fabiana Palladino, Ruthven, HIRA and REINEN — appliquéing some high-production gloss to the scene. Once again, Paul was in the position of disrupting the flow of pop music, this time guiding others in the right way.
Amid Paul’s dusty but influential catalogue — two innovative official releases, a mish-mash of incomplete tracks that were leaked and reuploaded in perpetuity, and a body of immaculately produced tracks — any sliver of new music would be enough to satiate Paul’s legions of fans who can recite the lyrics of ‘BTSTU’ and ‘Jasmine’ backwards.
Two weeks ago, on June 1, Paul re-emerged with a double B-side with, ‘Do You Love Her Now’ and ‘He’ in all its futuresque electro-soul glory. The first track is a warm, shimmering slow jam, inspired by R&B and soft rock contemporaries. Guided by percussive guitar accents, its emergence is a delicate build, washed with buttery vocal harmonies by Paul and Palladino.
The track almost feels like an ending piece of an early ‘90s flick, and fits in the zeitgeist of pensive closers like ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ by Simple Minds for The Breakfast Club or The Jesus and Mary Chain’s ‘Just Like Honey’ for Lost in Translation. This delicate pop tune is a symphony of coos that serves to remind us of the necessity of Paul’s absence: “It’s fine, you might love me, but you don’t need me to be there all the time.”
While ‘He’ feels distinctly different from the audial aesthetics of its predecessors, a look into Paul’s MySpace page back in 2010 would reveal a list of influences that underpins his production ethos: Michael Jackson, J Dilla, and D’Angelo. ‘He’ draws from the playfulness of the ‘80s — its sprightly guitar plucks and assured drums seem to be clearly inspired by Prince — but ultimately ascends into future-sounding funk territories that are more than dancefloor-worthy.
The up-tempo record crescendos alongside minimal electric guitar licks and atmospheric synths to a groovy number strung together by intersecting instruments and pulsating funk-inspired beats. Paul’s slithery falsetto and feverish growls are vaguely reminiscent of Devonté Hynes (better known as Blood Orange), and he makes quick work of his playful vocals to tie in various genre-displacing instruments.
If it seems like Paul never left, it is probably because Paul had been working on these tracks since the time of the leak. Furthermore, Paul’s finger has never been on the pulse of sonic tropes, his sonic landscapes instead drawing from classic interpretations and genres like R&B and soul, as well as his English Indian cultural identity. Ultimately, Paul’s production aesthetic is a cultivated blend of seemingly disparate elements, but he makes magic of it.
It has been a long time coming for Paul, who also released a heartfelt note alongside the cache of his unfinished work, titled Leak 04-13 (Bait Ones). “Looking back, it’s sad to think about what could have been, but it is what it is and I had to let go,” he explained. And that is much coming from an artist whose whole shtick was about prioritising perfectionism over everything else.
He wrote earnestly of how he has grown to appreciate those that have enjoyed the music that was (illegally) put out, stuff that he “began writing as a teenager in my room just for fun”. Furthermore, he discussed how the media storm following the leak also left him feeling perpetually misunderstood, and how he eventually succumbed to a breakdown which he slowly got out of through therapy.
Listening to Bait Ones brings about a certain wave of poignancy, a sonic reminder of how innovation precedes completion, and that true finesse takes time. The album is available in much higher fidelity than the version that was leaked, but it still remains unremixed, and does not include some of the witty dialogue (the Gossip Girl series, Harry Potter films and Tomb Raider video games) due to sample-clearance issues.
Even so, the beauty of the album is in how complete it is despite its various states of undoneness, chronicled and sequenced by the very people who leaked it. Paul deplores on the quality of finish, saying: “Much of the tracking and production work was there, but it’s a shame about the scratch vocals and the overall mix.”
Much like ‘Str8 Outta Mumbai’ in Bait Ones — constructed by weaving old filmi (music from Indian films) elements beside the modernity of electronica — Jai Paul’s skill is in converging unlikely sentiments, breaking down barriers with a few tweaks in the studio and making a pop song sound comfortably eclectic. Six years on from its leak, the album still stands its ground, and elicits the same response it did, in leading people to dance, to think, and to feel.
Ultimately, whether Paul is intentionally looking to expand the dialogue within the industry or not, he is making music moves that are sure to reverberate among peers, critics and listeners alike. In this regard, Paul has also shared a new infinite remix of ‘Jasmine’ using an AI Engine, named BRONZE. According to him, “BRONZE is a new technology that allows music creators to utilise AI and machine learning as creative tools for composition and arrangement.”
With his latest releases, it seems Paul’s premonition has come full circle. “I know I’ve been gone a long time, but I’m back and I want what is mine,” he asserts in the track that started it all. A decade on, MySpace has since died, and digital streaming services are reigning. Although times are changing, Paul musical prowess assures that an artist’s aptitude will only get better with time. With that said, his jibe still stands: don’t fuck with him.
Listen to the new material by Jai Paul below: