‘I know I’ve been gone a long time, but/I’m back and I want what is mine’. Jai Paul’s first single, BTSTU, was seismic, if ominously foreboding. After setting the blogosphere alight in the late 2000s with the single, labels clambered to sign the unknown artist, creating a bidding war won by XL Recordings. The label re-released the record in 2011, and Jai Paul found instant and insurmountable attention from the single, finding a position on the BBC Sounds of 2011 poll as well as receiving untold radio play and widespread acclaim. The track was even sampled by both Drake and Beyonce, thrusting the inexperienced musician onto a global stage. With just one single to his name, the world’s expectations weighed heavy on Jai Paul’s shoulders. There was, put simply, a need for more.
In 2013, a slew of unfinished tracks found their way onto Bandcamp, creating a furore that would ultimately strip Jai Paul of both his artistry and the control he wielded over his art. Into the world came Jai Paul, the billed ‘debut album’, leaked from a source that remains unknown to this day, and with it came further mysteries surrounding the musician. Claims that Jai Paul himself had leaked the album swirled, despite both XL and Jai Paul firmly denying the allegations.
Regardless, with the amount of hype behind the musician the unauthorised release was practically unstoppable and soon found a home in the iTunes library of every Jai Paul fan across the globe (for a mere price of around £7). The leak was snapped up by avid fans worldwide, all itching to hear something new from the musician, all willing to disregard the obvious signs of theft for new music. To make things worse, numerous music websites not only reported on the leak, but actively promoted it, with Pitchfork placing it in both their Albums of the Year 2013 list and in their Albums of the Decade list the following year. They were not the only ones to do so. Jai Paul returned to the shadows, traumatised by the way his own incomplete art had been taken from him and sold for the profit of others.
The ‘album’ became something of a relic; a bittersweet reminder of what could have been should we have maintained some patience. Further insult to injury came with Everlasting Mixtape, a compilation of demos pilfered from old MySpace uploads that featured slightly different versions of many of the leaked tracks, as well as two completely new demos, ‘Flip Out’ and the ‘Limit To Your Love’ sampling ‘Feist Beats’. Jai Paul had his unfinished works leaked repeatedly over the course of a year, all presented to the public with no input or control over the work himself, an unspeakably transgressive act to the perceived perfectionist.
It wasn’t until this year, 6 years after the leak (and 7 years since an ‘official’ solo release with Jasmine), that Jai Paul released a statement fully detailing what actually happened. And whilst the events of the leak had long been theorised, if not confirmed, something more than lamentation was apparent in his statement: the idea of confrontation, acceptance, and, most importantly, ownership.
Alongside the ‘official’ release of the leaked album – now titled ‘Leak 04-13 (Bait Ones)’ – Jai Paul released two standalone B-Sides originally from the ‘leaked’ era, ‘He’ and ‘Do You Love Her Now’. The sense of closure is palpable, both in the reaffirmed ownership of the leaked tracks and in finishing two songs from an era of ‘grief and trauma’. The release of these two B-sides is itself more of a monumental occasion than the official release of Bait Ones, and not just for the fact that new music from Jai Paul will always be cause for celebration after 7 years out. With the singles, Jai Paul managed to regain the narrative right that had been taken from him. Whilst he can never take back full control of Bait Ones – even he notes the irony in officially releasing an unfinished album sequenced by someone else – what he has done is assert the end of that period of turmoil. By finishing two singles from the leaked era, Jai Paul has effectively drawn his own line under the events, accepting that they happened and closing the epoch on his own terms with a release that recovers his authority over his art. Both tracks are, of course, phenomenal.
But Jai Paul’s path to closure is perhaps more nuanced than that, with the elusive musician drawing a close to numerous other aspects of the leaked era that may seem trivial to us. The brand-new (if clunky) Jai Paul webstore features numerous tidbits that reference that time period. For instance, there’s the ‘Jai Paul Christmas Card’, a sly nod to the christmas card that XL sent out as a promotional item in 2012 that plays 30 seconds of audio from ‘STR8 Out of Mumbai’. There’s the XL records t-shirt design that mirrors the hand-numbered and screen printed Jasmine record that was only sold at Spitalfields Market Independent Record Fair in 2012. There’s beefed up versions of both ‘BTSTU’ and ‘Jasmine’, re-mastered for 2019, with the latter featuring freshly updated artwork. And then, perhaps more importantly than a wry reference, there’s Paul Institute, a collective set up with brother and Bait Ones collaborator A.K. Paul that gives a platform to new and equally as exciting emerging artists and one that Jai has lent his production skills to. It’s been a long road to rehabilitation, but it certainly looks like Jai Paul’s nearing the end of that path.
The story of Jai Paul is, on the surface, a strange one. But it is one perfectly at home in the modern era, a story of unrelenting need for the unattainable and a stark desire for instant gratification without a second of thought to the people it may be affecting. Stoked by the fanfare of the average man alongside journalists hailing an unofficial release (despite clear indications it was illegitimate), both the leaks of Bait Ones and Everlasting Mixtape were ravished by all and sundry, and could very easily have ended the career of the musician we were so eager to hear more from.
Leaks are by no means a new concept – many have had their works leaked prematurely in the past, and it’s now more common for an album to leak prior to release than to not. Only yesterday did 18 hours of Radiohead material leak from the Ok Computer sessions, a violation of the group who clearly didn’t want those takes to be heard by the public. Streaming and surprise drops are now the norm, and in creating an industry of instant digital consumption, we risk the health – and careers – of the musicians we crave to hear from. Jai Paul may have returned to regain ownership of what is rightfully his, but unless we can learn from the harsh realities of music consumerism, maybe we don’t deserve to have him back.