RIP Jamal Edwards, an inspiration who turned SB.TV into a Black British cultural dynasty

The west London entrepreneur, who has tragically passed away at the age of 31, was an icon who will live on forever in the hearts of true UK rap lovers

SB.TV has been the Holy Grail for the UK rap scene since its inception in 2006. If you didn’t have cable to watch other iconic television outlets such as Channel U, Starz, and Flava, you could still stay up-to-date with the scene through the channel’s playlists full of original freestyles, live performances and documentaries. While Gen-Zers were learning to be the digitally savvy kids we are now, it was revolutionary to scroll through YouTube and see a slice of Black British culture.

For this we have to thank SB.TV’s founder Jamal Edwards, the entrepreneur who has tragically died at the age of 31. Edwards etched himself in the history books from the age of 15 when he took his camera around London to document grime heroes. Little did he know that, having not even finished his GCSEs at the time, he was creating a dynasty. Jamal has been credited with starting numerous Platinum-selling careers: he was the one who gave Ed Sheeran a shot on a massive platform and hosted Dappy’s legendary ‘Tarzan’ Freestyle. Without SB.TV’s example, our favourite and the most popular YouTube platforms simply wouldn’t exist.

By the time Jamal Edwards was 20, he had a monstrously successful career: SB.TV was pulling in millions of views (unheard of for any music blog at that time) and he was now making documentaries with Channel 4, being commissioned for his beautifully emotive way of creating stories through the art of video. He championed grime when it was considered a careless and rowdy genre, and proved to the world that it is a scene to be cherished, as it is now. He even made an advert with Google, for goodness’ sake.

By 2017 – when NME interviewed Edwards about SB.TV’s 10-year anniversary – he was already an MBE. In 2015, when the Acton, west London legend was awarded his shiny medal, he reflected: “I think it is important for a lot of people to see that no matter where you come from, you can achieve greater things in life”.

And Edwards’ inspirational spirit was a lifelong quality. His Twitter feed is flooded with positive reinforcement to go and get what you want – just like he did. “Expect little from people,” he wrote earlier this year. “Expect a lot from yourself. That’s the secret of a happy life.” In conversation with NME for a cover interview in 2016, he mentioned that he would negotiate time off from his college courses to go and shoot on a school day. His drive was infectious.

Without Jamal, there would be no GRM Daily, no Link Up TV, no PressPlay Media: these YouTube channels garner 10s of millions of views from international fans checking out the UK scene. Speaking to NME in 2020, PressPlay founder Danny Olkhovski – who grew up from the same neck of the woods as Jamal Edwards – said: “[During] all my time outside on the estate, I remember Jamal Edwards from SB.TV was filming and it just seemed interesting.” Olkhovski saw Edwards at work firsthand, and wanted to be the cameraman for his friends. PressPlay Media is now the go-to hub for the drill scene internationally.

It’s easy to trace the roots of much about Black British music to Jamal. For this Black girl from west London who was in love with rap music, he was a mastermind. I was always the one telling my friends in primary and secondary school about the coolest tracks to listen to and exchanging playlists over BBM and Bluetooth. SB.TV was one of the first places that helped centralised mine and my friends’ music tastes.

My first memory of SB.TV is sitting down at a friend’s house on their thick and rubbery blue leather two-seater and propping up a Toshiba laptop as my pal searched for Dappy’s ‘Tarzan’ diss track. As a massive fan of N. Dubz, I knew Dappy was always an amazing lyricist, but more importantly, I would have never heard (or learned) about the art of dubplates, diss tracks and more if it hadn’t been for the instant access to this information on SB.TV.

The older I got, the more I fell in love with checking all the aforementioned sites on a daily basis. I was never out of the loop when I went into school the next day. These channels helped to curate and expand my knowledge of homegrown talent at a time when, through mainstream media, we were bombarded with Americanised rap talent. SB.TV was one of the key building blocks to my journalistic career.

Jamal Edwards was nothing short of legendary to me, especially as I grew up close to him. He achieved accolades only the greatest ever get to touch in such a short lifespan, and he changed the course of UK music forever. He lived by his own words, and was an inspirational pioneer who will never be forgotten. Jamal Edwards will be in history books. A tweet of his that is circulating right now sums up him and his legacy up the best: “We all die. The goal isn’t to live forever, the goal is to create something that will.”

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