Jai Paul: A Forgotten Internet Enigma

Jai Paul’s recent album, Leak 04-13 (Bait Ones) is not a 2019 release, technically. Originally leaked in 2013, the demo album speaks to the important intersection between internet culture and popular music, but its legacy may be forgotten.

Jai Paul: A Forgotten Internet Enigma

With the advent of the internet, music has become easier and easier to release. This ease has led to what some would deem an oversaturation of the market, where consumers expect their favorite musicians to release albums very frequently. This impatience has even led to numerous songs by various artists being leaked before official release. Leaks and bootlegs have existed for much longer than the internet has, but they’ve become much more prominent this decade.

Consumers may even choose to ignore how such leaks affect the artist, distracted by the sole pursuit of listening to said leaks. The case of Jai Paul epitomizes this danger.

Releasing music up until 2013, Jai Paul had developed a strong fanbase for his off-kilter pop songs. They featured a glitchy electronic edge, while maintaining the appropriate authenticity for the funk and r&b influences Paul so frequently incorporated. 

Paul does venture outside of that description, though, creating “Str8 Outta Mumbai”, which samples a 1970s Bollywood song while maintaining the carefree demeanor of one of his idols, Michael Jackson. Str8 Outta Mumbai is one of Paul’s only songs that don’t have a clarification: such as “Zion Wolf Theme – Unfinished”, implying that Paul’s songs were a work in progress which would evolve past their release date. The promise of that evolution was never fulfilled. 

In April 2013, a user anonymously uploaded a collection of Jai Paul’s yet to be released recordings, under the title Jai Paul.  Although police found the criminal, Paul still felt a loss of trust from journalists, who alleged that the leak was a carefully executed plan by Paul and his label. Even worse, some alleged that Paul himself leaked the music in an attempt to sell his work independently from the label.

 “I was also frustrated by how all this was being framed online, leading to the widespread belief that I had decided to leak my own music, despite my record label and I saying otherwise”, Paul later clarified in a message to fans on June 1, 2019.

It took “therapy of various kinds,” to help him return to a place where he could even think about music. And upon reaching that place, Paul officially released those leaks as the album Leak 04-13 (Bait Ones)

Bait Ones doesn’t directly refer to the events that preceded its official release, but the pain and anxiety Paul describes himself as having felt prior to the leaks are somehow reflected in the songs here, as if he somehow knew of the turmoil he would go through. 

And that’s because the wide spectrum of emotions covered are explored through Paul’s unique cultural perspective. That perspective isn’t only realized in the aforementioned use of a Bollywood song, but also in the western artists from whom Paul was inspired. 

The emotion and inspiration both manifest themselves on the slurry, melancholy, insecure love song that anyone could relate to in “jasmine (demo)”, which mixes the synthetic ambience of Daft Punk with the honest neo-soul of D’ Angelo.

 But a few spots earlier in the track list, we get “Genevieve – Unfinished”, another love song which differs from “jasmine” in its confident delivery and instrumental, which is as indebted to the sci-fi raucous production style of Timbaland as it is to J Dilla’s stop-start rough around the edges approach.

Genre fusion doesn’t seem as revolutionary as it once did, but Paul has a big part to play in that. It’s fair to say that the most mainstream genre strattler of today was inspired by Paul: Drake sampled Jai’s “BTSTU” on his own song “Dreams Money Can Buy” before catapulting to international superstardom for his fusions of hip-hop and r&b. 

But, Paul lost the creative control that could’ve led to his own stardom. 

Of course, it’s completely surreal to me that this music will now exist officially in this form, unfinished, and even sequenced by the people who leaked it!”, Jai says. “There was a lot going through my mind, but the hardest thing to grasp was that I’d been denied the opportunity to finish my work and share it in its best possible form. I believe it’s important for artists as creators to have some control over the way in which their work is presented, at a time that they consider it complete and ready.”

Unfortunately for Paul, the internet robbed him of that control. But the internet also gave him the platform to put his music up in the first place, as he wouldn’t have found a lot of his artistic inspiration without the internet, and he wouldn’t have been able to upload those early, attention-grabbing demos to MySpace either. The internet birthed Jai Paul, and nearly killed him as well. But because of it, he was an enigma making headphone-based music before Frank Ocean, blended 80s pop and downtempo electronic before Lorde, and mixed the heavy-bass of Atlanta trap with synth-funk before Blood Orange. His stamp is all over popular music today, and his unfortunate career trajectory shouldn’t blind music listeners from that fact.