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Self-described as "a mod for the hip-hop generation," Jai grew up in the same British village as PJ Harvey and played in a trio whose other two members later formed her first backing band. Born Jason Rowe in Yeovil, England, he was inspired by a variety of musical sources both modern (Kraftwerk, Massive Attack, Public Enemy) and classic (Marvin Gaye, Burt Bacharach). Rowe began playing with a pop band, but when his mates left him to play with PJ Harvey, he moved to London and met up with guitarist/producer Joel Bogen while at a club. The duo began working together, combining Jai's aching falsetto with Bogen's arranging skills, inherited from rock & roll sources as well as traditional pop, soul and jazz. After assembling a three-track demo tape — including a version of Gershwin's "Summertime" — Jai signed to the small British label M&G and released his debut single "Don't Give Me Away" in January 1997. The single did well in England as well as the continent, and several impressive live shows (with a full band) enhanced Jai's image as a cocktail pop singer for the 1990s. He signed to RCA, and released his debut album Heaven late in 1997.