British Music Wouldn’t Be the Same Without Jamal Edwards

After the SB.TV founder passed away yesterday at 31, legions of musicians and fans celebrate his huge impact on UK rap and grime.
Ryan Bassil
London, GB
Jamal Edwards at the BRIT Awards
Jamal Edwards at the BRIT Awards in 2019. Photo: Getty Images

Back in 2019, Stormzy read out a list of musicians at Glastonbury who he thought deserved to be on as big of a stage as him: J Hus, Dave, Skepta, JME, Nines, Giggs, Ghetts, Wretch 32, Lady Leshurr… He may as well have been listing the artists Jamal Edwards – who passed away suddenly yesterday morning, at the age of 31 – had an impact on, with his legendary online music channel SB.TV. So many music icons had a banner SB.TV moment that became part of their story. 

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Founded at a time when most of the UK music establishment couldn’t give a toss about supporting rap and grime, SB.TV (or SmokeyBarz as it was known then) was funded with a cheap video camera, which Edwards used to platform young musicians, before the world of web-based content and big-brand online music platforms were even really a thing. 

The channel began in 2006 – a year after YouTube was created – and became responsible for helping to build the infrastructure seen in UK music today. Whether it was a famous F64 or Warm Up Session freestyle video, a music video launch or simply unrelenting backing, Edwards and SB.TV defined rap and grime music culture in the UK and helped push the scene forward. As one Twitter user noted this morning: “Go on SBTV's videos, set the filter to most viewed, scroll & explore for just one minute, you'll see how many careers Jamal Edwards launched.”

Most famously, Edwards helped to launch Ed Sheeran’s career, who came up via the platform with a loop-pedaled performance of his track “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You”, a year before he broke through to the mainstream. The pair remained friends from then and Edwards’ spirit for connecting the dots continued to shine. Just last December he encouraged Sheeran to collaborate on a track with Nigerian artist Fireboy DML, resulting in the musician’s first international hit and a number two placement on the UK charts (Edwards cameos in the video). 

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Edwards appeared in adverts for Google (check this for a throwback to the channel’s light-fuelled breakthrough) and in 2014 he was awarded an MBE for services to music – yet throughout his rise he never appeared to want to take credit for his mammoth impact on the scene. So, in the wake of his passing, industry folk and more are all speaking up about his generosity and warmth. 

Abdi.TV, who created one of the multitude of UK music platforms born out of the SB.TV atmosphere, wrote: “Jamal Edwards single handled [sic] changed the whole game, man had a Google Advert the levels were different. SBTV opened doors for so many people.” 

Despa Robinson, founder and CEO of music label Be83, said: “I used to talk to this 15 y/o kid on MSN & we compared notes on cameras in my early Despacam days. That kid went on to become a giant by the name of Jamal Edwards. He left the door open & 1000s of us ran through it.”

Clint, founder of uprising London fashion label CRTZ, also posted a tribute, stating: “Jamal edwards overall was just a great brudda, 1 of the first people in this ting to believe in man when I hadn’t done shit, mans superpower was believing in people before they even believed in themselves.”

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One thing that shines brightest in all the outpouring is Edwards’ generosity and spirit. See: Robinson’s follow-up post where he notes how, when he approached Edwards to be a guest  speaker at a creative education project he had been attempting to get off the ground, Edwards responded: “Just cover my petrol please brother, I’ll tell my agent to waive the fee.” 

See also: the first time I met Edwards at a music festival when we were both in our late teens – I was trying to photograph the event for my pre-VICE music blog, but struggling to get good photos of the acts; he took my camera and came back with a load of photographs of Boy Better Know. See: the fact nearly every musician of a certain era/scene has a story to tell about his impact upon their work. 

Culture creators don’t come along very often but when they do they connect the dots in a way that lives on forever, long after they’re gone. “SBTV was bigger than MTV where I’m from,” wrote one person on Twitter this morning.

Given that platform’s impact on music entertainment, it wouldn’t be an understatement to suggest that music in the UK wouldn’t be how it is today with him.

@ryanbassil