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Jai Paul - Leak 04-13 (Bait Ones) Music Album Reviews

The decade’s most tantalizing pop enigma officially releases a trove of unfinished material that was originally leaked online six years ago.

This is not the debut album from Jai Paul. It’s a collection of largely incomplete drafts that was stolen and illegally posted online in April 2013. Ever since, the 16-song release has lived on via dusty MP3s and cobbled-together YouTube playlists as a testament to boundless, unrealized promise. All the while, the London singer and producer stayed almost completely silent, creating a vacuum for an insatiable internet to fill with conspiracies, desires, and frustrations. That is, until last weekend.


On June 1, along with two totally new songs, Paul put this work that was once ripped from his hands onto streaming services as well as his own website, alongside a heartfelt note to fans. “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,” the 30-year-old wrote. “Looking back, it’s sad to think about what could have been, but it is what it is and I had to let go.” Elsewhere in the statement, he candidly discussed the seismic breach of trust he felt following the initial leak as well as an unmoored feeling of being perpetually misunderstood. He wrote of a withdrawal, a breakdown, and a slow trek toward recovery, aided by therapy. The official release of the unofficial document Paul has decided to call Leak 04-13 (Bait Ones)—Bait Ones being a slangy working title for the project during the original sessions—brings with it a sense of closure, of finally wrangling some dominion over chaos.

An ability to control the uncontrollable is part of what made Jai Paul’s music so mesmerizing in the first place. On the couple of songs he properly released before the leak, “BTSTU (Edit)” and “jasmine (demo),” he bent pop music to his off-kilter will. Both tracks, which also appear on Bait Ones, are at once propulsive and elusive, like quicksand pumping out of a speaker cone, with Paul’s mumbling falsetto self-consciously buried in the mix (in the recent note, he mentioned, “It will always be a little painful for me to listen to myself.”) Here was a guy in his early 20s spiking his obsessions with J Dilla, Michael Jackson, and D’Angelo with uncanny pauses, flyby instrument breaks, and laser zaps—a meticulous introvert whose slippery sound was soon being sampled by Drake and Beyoncé.

When Paul arrived at the start of the decade, he found himself among a vanguard of innovative and ambitious musicians who were opening up a dialog with the major pop establishment. James Blake was stretching Destiny’s Child songs into alien new shapes; Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon was wailing on Kanye records; Rostam Batmanglij was toying with Auto-Tune in Vampire Weekend and Discovery; Frank Ocean was covering Coldplay with startling sincerity. Leading up to the 2013 leak, some of the feverish anticipation surrounding Paul’s official debut album involved the widespread notion that it was high time for him to fully claim his place alongside such peers—and that, if things fell into place, he could very well surpass them all. Then, everything fell apart.

But the sketchy tracks that now comprise Bait Ones endured for good reason. To be clear, there are some differences between the original leak and this new version: Both are 16 tracks long and run around 38 minutes, but Bait Ones does not include some of the goofily endearing snatches of dialog from “Gossip Girl,” Harry Potter movies, and Tomb Raider video games due to sample-clearance issues. The fidelity of Bait Ones is sharper and richer than the low-quality leaked version, though the tracks were not remixed. Instead, an engineer combed through Paul’s archive of high-quality files in order to find the closest matches to each leaked song, according to his label, XL.

Generally though, perhaps the most surprising thing about this peculiar re-release is how much hasn’t changed. Paul himself commented on the awkwardness of the endeavor in his statement. “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!” he admitted, adding that, “Much of the tracking and production work was there, but it’s a shame about the scratch vocals and the overall mix.”

The titles of 11 of the 16 songs here are amended with a word that serves as a lowkey warning, and a reminder: “Unfinished.” This is a little ironic, considering how the excitement of Paul’s music was always tangled up in its undoneness; official early singles “BTSTU (Edit)” and “jasmine (demo)” both had parenthetical notes in their names, suggesting eternal works in progress. All of it hinted at a keen understanding of the forever-tweaking online realm years before Kanye deemed his morphing The Life of Pablo a “living, breathing, changing creative expression” in 2016. But now, Paul’s tendency to leave threads dangling seems less like soothsaying and more like a compulsion: We may never know exactly how unfinished a lot of these tracks are, because Jai Paul may never know, either.

Throughout Bait Ones, Paul sounds like he’s battling his own tentativeness, as he oscillates between indecision and bravado. Like his hero D’Angelo, who sang about his own notoriously measured creative pace on Voodoo’s “The Line,” Paul could be commiserating with impatient fans with lines here like, “This ain’t no quick ting, I won’t lie/It’s gonna take time.” On “Zion Wolf Theme,” he offers up a host of questions about his own fate without any definitive answers. “Can I make you fall in love with me?” he asks over a syncopated, sinister beat that would make prime-era Timbaland envious, perhaps addressing a potentially adoring public. Given the internet drama—and police investigation—surrounding the leak, along with Paul’s subsequent vanishing act, another couplet in the same song now feels tragically prescient: “In the company of thieves/Will I stay or will I leave?”

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Elsewhere, though, there are moments where Paul sounds exuberant, like he’s vanquishing his anxious demons one gargantuan synth riff at a time. If “jasmine (demo)” is a slurry drunk dial of a love song, “Genevieve” is its effervescent counterpart. Paul woos back an ex with confidence over a peacocking production jam-packed with cowbell, sci-fi blips, and orgasmic moans (it’s also the only song on Bait Ones with a notable addition compared to the leaked version, in the form of a pleading, minute-long outro). “100,000” is similarly preening, with Paul proclaiming his dominance over any and all competition while copping to the hard work he put in to attain that dominance; in his note, he mentioned that he had been working on the Bait Ones material for six years leading up to the 2013 leak. His conflicted attitude—hesitant but resolute—is stated best on the hook to “BTSTU (demo),” his first-ever release and the last song here, where he deadpans, “I know I’ve been gone a long time/But I’m back and I want what is mine.”

There is just one full track on Bait Ones that does not come with some sort of parenthetical disclaimer in its title: According to this Jai Paul-sanctioned release, “Str8 Outta Mumbai” seems to be, maybe, dare I say—finished. Which makes sense, because it would be impossible to improve upon this. The mind reels when imagining the colossal impact this song could have made if it was given a proper release years ago—the charts it could have climbed, the brains it could have blown, the joy it could have spread. Propelled by samples of Ravi Shankar’s soundtrack for the 1979 Bollywood film Meera, “Str8 Outta Mumbai” is a miracle of cultural synthesis, in which a young British man of Indian descent gloriously expands what pop music can be. At the song’s apex, right when you expect a Prince-ly guitar solo to hit, a Hindi vocal sample erupts instead. I’ve listened to this song hundreds of times across the last six years, and that moment still fills me with awe. It’s the sound of borders breaking, of traditions mingling, of a utopian closeness that so often seems so far away.


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