‘He was a cultural architect, a powerhouse’: musicians and peers pay tribute to Jamal Edwards

Politicians, colleagues and friends share how the SBTV founder had an unforgettable impact on their lives

Jamal Edwards, SBTV founder and music entrepreneur, dies aged 31
Obituary: Jamal Edwards

‘He catapulted artists to a global audience’

Kanya King.
Kanya King. Photograph: Tom Nicholson/Reuters

Kanya King, Mobo awards founder I met Jamal in the early days when SBTV was just starting. He would be on the Mobo red carpet capturing social media content. This was at a time when people didn’t realise the power of content, especially from talent underrepresented by the mainstream. He was always so keen to ensure that he got the most interesting interviews, the best music videos, the best freestyle.

Jamal was passionate about pushing his scene and culture and that’s what made him so special. When it came to what he wanted to achieve for his community and culture, he set the bar high and never missed it. Growing up, he was surrounded by talented musicians but their work was hard to find and he found a way to showcase the music he enjoyed and support artists through being an early adopter of YouTube. He catapulted artists to a global audience at a crucial time when not many did not showcase their work.

When I started the Mobo awards in 1996, it was extremely rare to have any Black CEOs in a position of influence in the music industry. We all had to overcome so many obstacles but we had a camaraderie through a common goal of trying to push the next generation to continue elevating Black news and culture. Jamal carried that fighting spirit. He had that same belief that we had, about fighting for your dream scene. We wanted any young person from any background to be able to think big and be inspired.

He was such a dynamic, driven and inspirational person. Post-SBTV, you saw the arrival of Link Up TV and GRM Daily. Jamal created friendly competitiveness that pushed the scene forward. Even though he was young, he leaves behind a powerful legacy that defined and will shape Black music and culture for generations to come.

Jamal Edwards with the Prince of Wales in 2013.
Jamal Edwards with the Prince of Wales in 2013. Photograph: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

‘I couldn’t believe SBTV had seen my little video’

Nadia Rose.
Nadia Rose. Photograph: Joseph Okpako/WireImage

Nadia Rose, musician In summer 2015 I put out my first music video. SBTV wrote an article about it, which was crazy, I couldn’t believe SBTV had seen my little video. Afterwards, Kane Chattey, a writer at SBTV, asked if I wanted to put my next music video on the platform. I did and that was my first time going viral. Jamal was fully behind that decision and SBTV heavily supported me. From then on I put out all my videos on SBTV and built a relationship with Jamal.

In the music and entertainment industries, it is rare to find people like Jamal. He had a clean heart and was so genuine. It didn’t matter how small a win was, he’d always be the first to congratulate me and I would almost always soon after find out he had something to do with it. He really kept you motivated, whether it was seeing what he was doing himself, or what he would say to you. At least 90% of the UK music scene has had Jamal do something with them or their careers. He was a cultural architect, a powerhouse.

In one of our last meetups, we went to the V&A museum. It was so dope. As much as I was learning about the artefacts, I was learning about Jamal. He was cracking so many jokes that day, he was always so charismatic and had great energy to be around. You couldn’t leave his space feeling down or negative. He always had positive vibrations.

‘SBTV made me feel like I could achieve anything I wanted to’

Not3s. Photograph: David M Benett/Getty Images for Beats by Dre

Not3s, musician As a kid I was watching SBTV for the longest time. People like Devlin, the times Ed [Sheeran] was on there, Krept and Konan – there were a lot of people in the scene that I recognised through it. For me, it was inspiring and motivating because it allowed me to know that even though I come from a background similar to those that are on this channel, or to the person that ran and owned the channel, I could still achieve anything that I wanted to achieve in life. SBTV always made me feel like I could do something – even before I became an artist.

The first time I ever met Jamal Edwards was after the GRM Rated awards, before I was ever nominated for one – I just went there as a spectator. I was outside and said hello to him. He didn’t know exactly who I was until we messaged after, and from then we stayed in touch. Today I was going through my messages from him and I realised how consistently he’d message me about what I was doing, how many times I was mentioned in his [Instagram] story. He was proper there, no matter what. He was always there to check for everyone. The whole time I’ve known him, that’s what I’ve seen.

He was there to make sure that all the dreamers – and all those that are motivated to do something different from what they might be stuck in in their environments – know they’re capable of pushing. With words, music, sounds, they’re capable of reaching a whole other level. Just off a dream. That’s something that he would let everybody know and explore to the best of their abilities with his help and his platform and his channel.

A young Jamal Edwards filming in the car park of Acton Morrisons.
A young Jamal Edwards filming in the car park of Acton Morrisons. Photograph: Karen Robinson/the Observer

He didn’t need to start up a channel or platform. He could have lived his life, gone to uni and kept on with himself – but no, he cared so much about everybody else. From overground to the underground, from the Ed Sheerans to the Devlins to the Ghetts, the Krept and Konans, he cared about the whole spectrum. He never let anybody’s colour get in the way of whatever he was doing. He never let anybody’s situation in life get in the way of what they were capable of doing. It’s inspiring for all of those coming up that might want to create something like his, or being a creative in general. It’s proper sad. It’s definitely gonna have a deep effect on the scene as a whole.

‘He was forever breaking down barriers’

Lady Leshurr.
Lady Leshurr. Photograph: Jeff Spicer/Getty Images for Virgin Media

Lady Leshurr, musician Jamal Edwards was a pioneer, entrepreneur, culture shifter and made a huge impact in UK music that gave us up-and-coming artists exposure all around the world. He helped so many of us that went off to do some great things and become successful. He always helped his people and was forever breaking down barriers and helping the kids have a better future by funding and opening up youth centres and partnering with the Department for Education to encourage young people to undertake apprenticeships. Such a heart full of gold.

‘My timeline is full of charities praising him for helping behind the scenes’

Rupa Huq.
Rupa Huq. Photograph: Mark Kerrison/Alamy

Rupa Huq, MP for for Ealing Central and Acton Jamal Edwards was a force of nature, once met never forgotten. He worked hard to push the boundaries of Black British music from his teens onwards. With a camera given to him by his mum Brenda and a YouTube channel, he democratised the platforms by which young people could get their music out to a wider public. His contribution to the way we make music today is immeasurable – demystifying the music biz with the SBTV platform that allowed kids to get out their music direct without unnecessary stultifying layers of bureaucracy.

Yet he was never bombastic and showy or self-aggrandising. He was the opposite – always giving back to his community. I joined him at council functions like the opening of a youth centre and switching on the Christmas lights – but he first came to me as a punter at my MP advice surgery with ideas about a youth work charity he was setting up. He championed youth expression through the arts, be it recording studios in youth clubs on estates, or our recently opened community arthouse cinema in a repurposed semi-derelict library on Acton high street. He was there just the other day.

Chris Packham and Jamal Edwards, who joined forces to promote wildlife conservation.
Chris Packham and Edwards, who joined forces to promote wildlife conservation. Photograph: John Phillips/Getty Images for National Lottery

My timeline today is full of charities I work with as MP mourning his passing and praising him for helping out behind the scenes – Acton Homeless Concern, Ealing Soup Kitchen, Ealing Wildlife Group. It’s almost a quasi-Diana thing: we only knew about many of her charitable works after her death. The mural to Jamal – unveiled only last year – is a site where flowers are being laid today, analogous to the David Bowie wall in Brixton that’s now a shrine. Except Jamal has been taken from us sooner than either. He still had so much more to give. He may be gone but never forgotten.

‘He would listen and always be ready to help’

Miraa May, musician He was the kind of person who if he felt like you were talented, he would just back you. He wouldn’t wait for anybody else to co-sign you before he lent you a helping hand. In my case, he gave me a platform to be able to sing rap songs on guitar and it not translate in a bad way. SBTV A64 was one of the first co-signs I got from anyone that was like: she’s sick, we really mess with her.

Jamal Edwards holding his MBE, March 2015.
Jamal Edwards holding his MBE, March 2015. Photograph: John Stillwell/PA Wire/Press Association Images

His SBTV Summer Cookout was one of my first performances where I felt like wow, this is a really big crowd. That’s one of the biggest reasons why now I’m able to go on stage and be really comfortable. And it’s not like he would invite us one year and then not invite us again. He was a constant friend. He would listen and always be ready to help. If we needed anything and we hit him up, he wouldn’t air [ignore] you. And he didn’t want anything in return, which is something that you don’t find in this industry at all.

He’s in the top three people who pushed UK music and the culture forward. A lot of people including myself would not be here without him. Everybody who he has given a platform, you can always go back and look at their humble beginnings and see where they are now. It only takes one person to give you a platform, to believe in you and say: I’m going to shout about it and let everyone know. That’s something that doesn’t come without some sort of payment these days. With him, it was just very pure. He brought so many people together. I remember watching all of the rappers sharing one stage and there were no issues. He was one of the first people to give us a platform – and give us a party. Somewhere where everyone can go and be celebrated. He was a pioneer. He was one of the people – if not the person – who started what a lot of us are running on now.

‘Jamal worked to turn around racist opinions of young Black lives’

Vie Marshall, music journalist I was one of the early Black music journalists and club organisers in this country. It’s taken a whole lot of us to open the door, and Jamal propelled everything we started to a level we could only dream of. When I was working on [magazines] Hip-Hop Connection and Blues & Soul, we either had to be very militantly revolutionary or obsequious in the face of people who assumed the worst. I started the first regular rap night, Muthaland, and we had to go out of our way to assure everybody that there wasn’t going to be violence and drug taking. Those were times where everything was a battle – for Black people and young Black kids to be seen as humans with something good to contribute to the world. It’s taken a lot for people to inch their way in.

And then Jamal comes along, with his finger on the internet’s pulse, possibly influenced by people like So Solid Crew, where you were able to see people from the streets being successful. He was upset that he wasn’t seeing people that had talent get into the mainstream. A lot of people get into the music industry or media in a self-serving way because they have ambitions for themselves. And from everything I saw of him, it was selfless and community-driven. He used his good karma to put a lot of people on.

‘Jamal discussing mental health helped save lives’

Owen Jones, journalist It was in the run-up to the 2015 election when I appeared with Jamal Edwards on a Sky One special on young people and voting, and he crackled with passion, insight and humanity. With mainstream politics, media and increasingly pop music so dominated by the privileged, it’s notable that it’s hip-hop and grime which have produced outspoken voices of working-class young people such as Jamal. It’s those young people who understand the significance of youth centres – a decade ago, London had 299, but now has just 166 – which is what drove his passion to re-open them. Given the particular stigma among men attached to discussing mental health, it’s no exaggeration that celebrated icons like Jamal speaking out has helped save lives. A generation has lost one of its most compelling voices: but his legacy will have inspired so many more.


Interviews by Chanté Joseph and Laura Snapes

The GuardianTramp

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