Jai Paul: the mainstream artist that never came to be

A promising new artist suddenly vanished from the spotlight when all of his work was stolen and leaked.

The year is 2010 and the world wide web is fascinated with MySpace, a social media for the entire world to communicate. A demo recording named BTSTU is released by a new artist, the London-based Jai Paul. With heavenly background vocals and familiar lo-fi drums shoved behind a heavy buzzing, people went crazy. UK radio stations loved the sound, feeling similar to other popular music but a refreshing hit of indie originality.

A year later, Jai Paul released the more polished version including clearer instrumentals and sounds. The song garnered a lot of attention and was sampled with big artists like Drake, Beyoncé, and Charli XCX. Another year later, the spacey demo Jasmine is again released to acclaim, and follows a similar aesthetic to the previous songs.

BTSTU Vinyl (Original Photography) – Devon Fender

At this point, Jai Paul had released very little music. However, this changed on April 13, 2013, but in a very unfortunate way. At 3 am, all of Jai Paul’s unfinished music (since 2007) was stolen and then distributed and sold on Bandcamp, a popular music streaming and sharing service, without Paul even knowing.

As you might imagine, this was devastating. All of his music was in an unfinished form, nowhere near ready to be released to the public. The songs were really rough around the edges, some of them no longer than 30 seconds. Jai and his team immediately rushed to try to remove the demos.

Eventually, an investigation months later led to two suspects who were arrested, but it was too late, the music already spread.

“I suppose the music was special to me in a way, stuff that I began writing as a teenager in my room just for fun, eventually signing my record deal with it at 21, and hoping that I could put it towards a debut album with XL. I guess having that dream torn up in front of me hit me pretty hard,” said Jai Paul in an official statement.

The music that was released, although very incomplete, almost had a charm that came from its roughness and lo-fi feel. Its unique instrumentals felt like something out of a different planet, and its revolutionary production feels like something from the modern day. Str8 Outta Mumbai feels like experimental world music, with wild laser synths and exciting percussion that makes it feel like a soundtrack to an 80’s sci-fi movie. The samples chosen across all the demos were interesting but fitting, suggesting just how groundbreaking his music would’ve been to the mainstream scene at the time if it had been properly released.

Official Cover Image of Jai Paul’s unfinished music – Pitchfork

Paul disappeared from the spotlight for many years, and worked on himself during that time. In 2016, he founded and started the Paul Institute with his brother, a record label that helps bring new up and coming artists to the spotlight. “I wanted to create a positive environment that artists could be supported in and stand together through some of the pressures that can make this industry difficult to navigate.

Even though he only released a few songs officially, Paul’s influence can still be felt in the modern music scene. Nao, a popular English musician, said that “Jai and Anup (A.K.) are the two most influential producers/songwriters of their generation for me… Like Phil Spector, Quincy Jones, Prince or Brian Wilson, they’ve been sonic pioneers and broken all the rules about how you write, arrange and mix, but not at the expense of musicality”

In 2019 he became more open about the leak, giving more information on the situation that affected his career and officially releasing the unfinished music on streaming services to make money. He also released a short two-song EP, with a much more traditional sound compared to his previous music, utilising soft guitars and strong vocals.

In January, when Coachella released their setlist for 2023, many were surprised to see Jai Paul listed as performing along with big artists like Frank Ocean and Gorillaz. This will be the first time that Jai has ever had a live performance. Many of the details are uncertain, but the announcement suggests that Jai Paul may be coming back, with new music.

For his part, Paul seems to have reflected a lot on the events that derailed his career many years ago, suggesting that we cannot change the past but we can still appreciate what has been made. “I’ve grown to appreciate that people have enjoyed that music and lived with it, and I accept that there is no way to put that shit back in the box.” Paul says. “There was no way to fix what happened and continue down our original path. Looking back, it’s sad to think about what could have been, but it is what it is and I had to let go.”

Featured Image: The Sound Sniffer

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