Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
This week’s song of the week is a bit of a throwback to the days when people read about music without listening to it at the same time. Can you even imagine? (It was a bit like this but more papery.) Now, unless you’ve been hiding under a rock without wifi, you’ll be familiar with the fiasco surrounding Jai Paul this week. If not, in brief (patience-worn folk, please skip to the end of this paragraph), at the weekend a bunch of songs by Jai Paul were uploaded to Bandcamp and purchasable for the not-unreasonable sum of seven quid. Cue much excitement, Paypal payments from all corners of the music press (myself included) and instant proclamations of its genius/ghastliness. But – uh-oh – come Monday, like a bad hangover, it transpired that Jai didn’t upload the tracks, something that his label XL Recordings confirmed in a statement on Wednesday. It wasn’t his debut album but instead “various unfinished recordings from Jai’s past.”
While this tells us something about the modern music industry and the way that the release process can shape music’s reception – quite literally opening or closing ears by either thrilling or boring us – it’s not the story I’m interested in. I’m also not losing sleep over whether it really was a case of a stolen laptop or a spontaneous move that was then regretted. What’s making my synapses backflip is the music itself.
Alongside a demo version of last year’s Jasmine (one of Dummy’s songs of 2012) and BTSTU (the song that kicked it all off in 2010) was Track 7, which turned out to be a cover of Jennifer Paige’s Crush. The gentle swagger that courses through Jai Paul’s two official single releases is very much in attendance: that languid, bassy beat; those choppy synth stabs; the breathy intro of “real” [pause] “hits” [pause] “only”. Even the way he pronounces ‘little’ with his London accent – lit’ul – when he sings the the chorus. The sex appeal of Jai Paul’s pop vision has always been boy-next-door-but-one: there’s a shy smile to his vocal delivery but his clipped production means he’s forever, deliciously, just out of reach.
It’s this deeply knowing musical prowess that’s really at the heart of our lit’ul crush on Jai Paul. That flame’s stayed alive because his officially released songs have stuck around: we keep listening. I don’t buy arguments about hype affecting our ability to listen: it doesn’t fill our collective ears with honey, it simply sets tongues wagging. Moreover, hype doesn’t so much force a rush to be first but a rush to take a side. Are you for or against? And how loudly can you chant? Musical crushes don’t disperse because of release hiccups and comment columns, they only quit if the music itself slips up. So far, musically, Jai’s not put a lux-sportswear-clad foot wrong. Someone, somewhere, messed up over these demos – if Jai Paul didn’t want them heard then that really stinks – but let’s not over-analyse or go too deep with it, baby. It’s just a little crush, and it’s still a hard feeling to beat.