Jamal Edwards: Game-Changer With A Heart Of Gold 🕊️

Words: Chantelle Fiddy
Photography: Hyperfrank & Milo Hale

It’s Sunday evening.

Willing it not to be true.

Cursing the fast tongue of social media.

Willing it not to be true.

Willing Jamal to be okay...

But the worst has happened: Jamal Edwards, 31, has passed away.

Like so many others in our wonderful scene, the small hours of the night were spent talking to peers, united in shell-shock, tears, and an outpouring of love. And so I pen this piece, writing the only outlet that makes any sense to me right now.

Jamal Edwards. SB. Smokey Barz. The word ‘lovely’ could have been made just for him. A true grafter, he was cheeky but polite, fun, a thinker, someone who believed in himself, and in others. Always smiling, he was able to move as easily around real OG’s as he could some of the world’s most successful businessmen.

I was privileged to meet a teenage Jamal and witness the coming of SBTV, a YouTube channel that can be credited with creating a total shift in DIY digital culture, still felt today. And while Jamal’s laudits are many, what the true heads rated him for was the consistent pushing of the music he loved. He didn’t charge to turn up. He turned up because he liked you or your craft. Always willing to go the extra mile, he put many, many artists on the radar. Thousands, in fact. And often when no one else cared. We all know the well-touted Ed Sheeran story and the role Jamal played in getting the scene’s co-sign before the big-time hit. But it’s Nolay’s F64 I’ve used for guest lectures at Syracuse University. Grime was at the heart and soul of the channel—but here’s the thing: every fan will have a connection to a video, a piece of music, an artist, a memory, all thanks to Jamal Edwards.

Despite meeting him as a journalist, working with him on pieces for the likes of Ctrl.Alt.Shift, SUPERSUPER, Dazed and i-D, Jamal and I crossed paths again as I made moves into other lanes of the industry; marketing, A&R and music management. My first artist, a then-unknown singer/songwriter from Liverpool, had found himself the subject of an SBTV A64 (acoustic freestyle) when no one was paying attention. Needless to say, like so many others who debuted on the platform, Boy Matthews is now an extremely successful artist living his best platinum-selling life out in LA.

Whether he was behind the camera or championing you for a funding grant, he just wanted people to win. Jamal broke barriers in business, too. His early advertising deal with Google Chrome in 2011 saw other big brands finally coming to the Black music table. A best-selling ebook followed, interviews with David Cameron, meetings with Richard Branson, an MBE from The Queen. As his phoenix was rising in the world of business—and boy did he live life, travelling the world and building bridges—he never forgot where his soul was at. Family, his mother Brenda and sister Tanisha, were at the forefront of his mind, always. He considered them, spoke freely of their love, highs and lows, always encouraging them like they did he.

Born in Luton in 1990 and raised in Acton, West London, it was while at college that Jamal edged closer to his actual beginnings in the big wide world. Juggling filming foxes and his mates on his £20 NEC phone with a part-time job at Topman (where, one day, you’d buy his first foray into menswear: a collaborative range with American Freshman), it was the Panasonic camera he got as a Christmas present from his mum that really sealed his direction. Since 2006, Jamal has grown SBTV from the inner confines of his bedroom into a renowned brand with global appeal.

Encapsulating the DIY ethos of the underground music scene that inspired the then-teen to pick up a camera in the first place, Jamal Edwards documented the rise of a new breed of previously ignored video stars. Early nods of approval came from Richard Branson and Simon Cowell, but now SBTV—the first ever new media business on YouTube—boasts 1 million subscribers and a billion views. Jamal Edwards could be found on The Times Young Power List. Further demonstrating his skillset, he worked with Burberry as part of Creative Lives, fronted a Puma campaign (which saw a 50% rise in suede sales), presented at the BAFTA Children’s Awards, and delivered talks for Cannes Lions, TedXHollywood and TedXHousesOfParliament. In a nod to his grandparents, he was equally heartened to receive an St. Vincent Business Award in 2014.

Having previously acted as an ambassador for MTV’s Staying Alive, working towards eliminating the stigma of HIV, and the Spirit of London Awards, The Prince’s Trust, a favourite of his and where he became an ambassador (and led to SBTV further expanding its broadcasting remit; among those who’ve been quizzed are HRH Prince Charles, Bill Clinton, Ed Miliband and Chad Hurley, co-founder of YouTube), he became something of a regular in royal circles. Jamal was honoured when he became one of the Queen’s Young Leaders, after being called upon to run the first ever social media hub at Buckingham Palace. Achievements like this saw Jamal placed at No. 2 in The Guardian’s Top 30 young people in digital media 2014. He’s graced the cover of Intelligent Life, Wired and the Emirates Airline in-flight magazine, while also frequenting the pages of publications like GQ, Q, Forbes, and TIME.

Renowned for taking followers to shows if he had a spare ticket, or wearing new brands in a bid to give them a little kickstart, hard work has always been the ethic, his many followers on social media adopting his #SelfBelief tactics. There was even a marketing term born in his namesake: ‘The Jamal Edwards Effect’, an ideology that anything is possible in the digital age. Lest we forget he could spit bars, too.

Jamal’s ability to propel philanthropic work to the fore of his business was another great gift. Having spoken on his own struggles with anxiety, he worked to break down taboos about men’s mental health. In 2019, he formed grassroots youth project JEDelve, aimed at providing young people with opportunities and social spaces, going on to fund four youth clubs that opened in late 2021. As part of the Ballantine’s True Music platform, addressing discrimination in the music industry, he allocated a £10,000 grant to No Signal Radio. With a recently launched app named 8BARS, which aims to give up-and-coming rappers a shot, and Channel 4 recommissioning the SBTV-directed Unapologetic series with Zeze Millz and Yinka Bokinni, the loss of Jamal will be felt from the streets through to the upper echelons of society.

It is with great sadness we say goodbye...
But for Jamal, we give thanks.
Absolute thanks.
Jamal, we love you.
And to Brenda, Tanisha, and the rest of the family: we send our heartfelt condolences.

Love from Fiddy, JP, Hyperfrank & the entire TRENCH crew x

Posted on February 24, 2022