A 10-song primer on Jai Paul, the elusive artist making his live debut at Coachella
One of the biggest surprises on Coachella's 2023 lineup, British-Indian producer/songwriter/vocalist Jai Paul has carried some lore since his start on the internet in the late 2000s. He stirred up buzz in the early 2010s with first two singles "BTSTU" (which he originally posted to MySpace in 2007) and "Jasmine," but after his unfinished debut LP Bait Ones was leaked on Bandcamp in 2013, he slipped under the radar and stayed quiet for years. In 2016, Jai teamed up with his brother A.K. Paul to form Paul Institute, a production initiative that kicked off with A.K.'s own single "Landcruisin." The track debuted on UK radio, but was only available to Paul Institute members initially. The Paul Institute also released Fabiana Palladino's 2017 single "Mystery," produced and co-written by Jai. In 2020, Paul Institute released a 6-song EP featuring a handful of their productions, with tracks by A.K., Fabiana, HIRA, REINEN, Ruthven, and Pen Pals.
In 2019, Jai Paul officially released his leaked album under the name Leak 04-13 (Bait Ones) on his website and streaming services. Around that same time, he released two new official singles, "Do You Lover Her Now" and "He." Since his debut, "BTSTU" has been sampled by Drake ("Dreams Money Can Buy"), Beyoncé ("End Of Time"), G-Eazy ("Kings") and more, and he's appeared on multiple DJ mixes, including Moodymann's 2016 DJ-Kicks mix that features Moodymann's own remix of "BTSTU." He also produced and sang on Big Boi on "Higher Res" featuring Little Dragon, and contributed production to Childish Gambino's "Time" featuring Ariana Grande. Jai also made a cameo in season 3 of Atlanta, Donald Glover's TV show. It was a rare visual appearance for the artist--but maybe not anymore.
It's anyone's guess what he'll have in store for us at Coachella, which marks his live performance debut (unless he adds a warm-up show or two), and/or if he has more new music or his first official album on the way, but in the meantime, if you'd like a refresher on what's out there so far, we've put together a list of 10 great songs that show why Jai Paul has become one of the most cultishly loved artists of the last decade. Read on for the list, in chronological order...
"BTSTU - Edit"
The first 30 seconds of "BTSTU" give a clear window into Jai Paul's singular style: sweet vocals are juxtaposed with harsh lyrics; whispery, electronically layered "oohs" give way to first verse "Don't fuck with me, don't fuck with me/Since you shipped my ass off to sea/I never knew where I was going/I went where the water was flowing." The rest of the track features dubstep-inspired production and glittering synths, plus more of Jai's waifish falsetto. (FWIW, according to Jai's old MySpace profile, "BTSTU" stands for Batistuta, a former Argentinian soccer player. Alternatively, it is rumored to mean "back to save the universe.")
"Jasmine - Demo"
Jai pieces together smothered vocals, sparse synth and guitar, and thumping drums in spacey cut "Jasmine." The song plays with a lot of rhythmic elements and beat switches, changing its sound on a dime as the drums halt and shift.
"Higher Res" (with Big Boi and Little Dragon)
His first officially-released collaborative credit, "Higher Res" appeared on the deluxe version of Big Boi's 2012 album Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors. Jai contributed production and vocals on the hook that opens the song, with Little Dragon taking over partway through. It foregrounds Jai's dense and dark production-style, creating a compelling avant-garde background for Big Boi's verses.
"Str8 Outta Mumbai"
Ostensibly the only fully-complete song on Bait Ones at the time of its leak, "Str8 Outta Mumbai" sees Jai Paul expand his instrumentation to saxophone and bells to shape a pop song about a growing relationship. The song climaxes with its sax solo, bridge, and sample of Tamil pop song "Bala Main Bairagan" by Vani Jairam.
"Genevieve - Unfinished"
"Genevieve" has a guitar line and hook harmonies that sound like Prince, a cowbell reminiscent of LCD Soundsystem, and blaring synths that recall Skrillex. Plus, it features one of Jai's most assertive vocal performances on the album. The track clocks in at just under four minutes, but the last minute serves as a kind of interlude, or maybe alternate ending. Like some of the shorter cuts on Bait Ones--"chix," "baby beat," "good time," etc--it gives an intimate glimpse at his process of producing the album.
"raw beat - Unfinished"
One of those aforementioned shorter cuts, 29-seconds-long "raw beat" has one of the most intriguing sample flips. Jai uses a sample of a woman talking about skin and cooking methods. Within 10 seconds, he zeroes in on the word "raw," and adds breathy sounds and a polyrhythmic dance beat underneath. It could go overlooked as one of the shortest bits on the album, but his take makes you wonder what a full track would sound like.
"100,000 - Unfinished"
"100,000" sounds kind of like hyperpop before hyperpop existed. Heavy, confrontational synths and clattering, clashing vocals comprise the backbone of the song. Still, the hook is super poppy, and just as ahead of its time--Jai's harmonized falsetto "I'll be a hundred thousand light years away" sounds like it could be Harry Styles circa 2022, and the "hoh!"s that punctuate the verses could fit right on The Weeknd's new album.
"All Night - Unfinished"
Flexing his musical range, "All Night" flips a sample of Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings." The track fleshes out a concept he plays with in previous track "chix - Unfinished"; he modulates down the usually-devastating classical piece and adds effects to his solo guitar that make the whole thing sound like it's underwater. The effect is a sultry jam, with a clipped drum beat breaking up the song's smoothed-out aquatic texture.
"Do You Love Her Now"
The longest of Jai's kaleidoscopic singles, "Do You Love Her Now" takes cues from Motown harmonies, '90s-style R&B interludes, slow-jamming drums, and almost yacht-rock-esque guitars. It builds and drops into Jai's lushest productions yet.
"He" carries over the same sample that opens "Do You Love Her Now," but takes on a more classic-rock build that simultaneously references "Eye of the Tiger" and a Michael Jackson-style "hee hee." Once the beat drops, "He" expands into a more industrial space before dipping into his classic R&B electronica. The song sounds like an amalgamation of Genesis, Bon Iver, Disclosure, and more, but maintains a shimmer unique to Jai Paul.