On Sunday 20 February, Jamal Edwards, the groundbreaking music entrepreneur and founder of pioneering media company SB.TV, passed away aged 31.
Edwards’ death is a monumental loss for Black British culture and the UK music industry at large. Born in Luton in 1990, he dedicated his life to amplifying talent. He broke new ground through DIY entrepreneurial pursuits, giving artists an uninterrupted, unfiltered platform on his music and entertainment channel SB.TV.
These SB.TV performance videos, often shot by a solo, then-teenage Edwards, led to a domino effect, of sorts. As those he spotlighted walked a path towards commercial and critical success, new generations came through the ranks. These artists would aspire to feature on the channel, and work with Edwards, in the same way as their contemporaries. Even as his own profile grew, and accolades such as his MBE – awarded in 2014 for his services to music – were earned, Edwards remained selfless and dedicated to his cause: pushing artists forward, and in turn, pushing culture onwards.
In 2019, Edwards launched Jamal Edwards Delve, a grassroots charity providing youth clubs in his home borough of Ealing in London. We spoke to Edwards at the time, and he told us about the bureaucracy he faced while setting up the project. “It was just me trying to break down the doors like, ‘Look, I’m just trying to do something good for the young people – do you not want us?’” he explained. “It was proper frustrating at times. But I just had to keep going and show them that this is for the good of these young people.”
Here, we speak to a selection of artists who connected with Edwards for SB.TV projects. From nervous first encounters to sage words of wisdom from the late figure, learn about their time spent shooting with Edwards below.
Working with Jamal was amazing. I remember when he reached out over 12 years ago and said, “Do you want to come on F64?” I said, “Of course!” I remember writing my lyrics – I’d had no sleep and I just kept rehearsing and rehearsing. I knew I had to get this right. If I can remember correctly, I was one of the first Birmingham artists, if not the first female Brummie, on the channel. I thought he’d have a big camera crew, but my sister [and I] drove down and when I got there it was just him with a camera. The way that he embraced me… I just knew that it was more than music – I was definitely going to have a friend in this person.
We kept in touch and he reached out again. I ended up doing two F64s and one freestyle. The second time I went down was for the freestyle and he asked me, “So who are some of the hottest MCs in Brum? Bring them down.” At that time, Sox was the guy popping and so Sox and Jaykae came. Sox got on the channel and it was just expanding Brum on a whole – especially with grime music. It was an opportunity we wouldn’t have had anywhere else because there weren’t many channels out at the time. We had our own channels up Brum [where we were] trying to create our own lane, but Jamal really bridged the gap between the Brummies and the Londoners.
My first F64 was a one take. [My] second F64, the second freestyle one, was also a one take. The third one I messed up because I wasn’t up to scratch – these times had gotten a little bit busy. I’d just come back from an interview and my head was fried. I had loads of interviews that day and I had tried to dress as business-like as I could. I remember Jamal hitting me up like, “Yo, you ready for your F64 yet?” I said, “Ah Jamal, I don’t really know if I know all the bars man.” He said, “Ah come on man, I’ll link you now.” He linked me in the office where I had done my last interview and that was it. I messed up a couple of times. You can hear at the end of my second F64 I go, “Yes!” because I messed up about twice.
I loved Jamal. We had our own bond as well – it wasn’t just music.
I met Jamal over 12 years ago. He contacted me about a piece he was working on for the BBC called Jail Tales. He was a fan of the group I used to be in, Unorthodox, being that the other members hailed from west London, which was close to his heart. We’ve worked on many pieces together since then and he played a big part in showcasing my talents to a broader audience.
He used to call me a ‘mic monster’. When we first shot together, I entered the building and he said, “Everyone, this is Nolay. One of my fav MCs and a mic monster.” It really triggers sadness within me thinking about it, but brings me happiness at the same time. It’s a bittersweet feeling. I shot an F64 with him that same day or week. I remember as I had the same scarf on in the videos and my little curly afro which I’d fucked up and dyed ginger by accident – I was too excited to care about the colour of my hair then. He said, “You ready?” and I said to him, “I don’t think my image goes with my bars. I’m here spitting crud with a cute scarf and clip-on pearl earrings.” I looked at him and said, “Do you think I should take them off Jamal?” He replied, “Nah man, that’s what adds to the visual and the viewers will be more surprised when you open up your mouth.” Boy was he right.
Jamal was authentic and real to work with because he was a fan of my music before I met him. He understood my formula and he wasn’t shooting me to capitalise on any buzz. He was shooting me because he believed in my talent and had a passion for what I bring to the table as a lyricist. We had so many laughs off camera but I’m so glad we captured a happy time at the end of my Warm Up Sessions – which was another freestyle series by Jamal. He decided to let the camera roll after I finished rapping and he released the full shoot! It was genius because it really showed a softer and happier side of my personality that the audience doesn’t get to see.
I felt confident and very happy on the day that we shot Jail Tales and my F64. I went home buzzing off from the fact that I’d shot two visuals because I felt like I was doing what I was meant to be doing again. I had taken a break from music [beforehand] and wasn’t very inspired at that point.
Jamal pushed those around him to be the best they can be. When you work in an industry like this, from the outside it can seem like we are moving forward, and that life goes on. I suppose life does go on, but what people don’t see is that behind everything that seems like the industry still moving [forward] is a gaping hole in our hearts, and in our scene, that will never be filled. Thank you Jamal.
Manga Saint Hilare
I was connected with Jamal through him being everywhere – there wasn’t a place he wasn’t at. When SB.TV started everyone wanted to be on it. I was lucky enough to be featured on there quite early. The first time I shoot with Jamal was my F64. It was very quick, to be honest. We met in north west London, I done my bars and he was gone in the wind after. He was mad busy at the time, so I don’t blame him.
Any time we shot it was just easy – no stress and straightforward, which I love. He just knew what was needed which is a special talent. When it comes to special moments, there wasn’t one in particular. He just always made time and had great energy around him anytime we met. That’s what I appreciated and what I’ll never forget.
I got to know Jamal through writing raps and posting videos. On one occasion, some of my friends tagged him on social media. He sent me a DM the same day with his number and invited me for a Warm Up Sessions.
The shoot was really chill, we spoke and got to know each other a bit. I told him I was from south [London] and shared the ambitions I had at the time. He expressed how much faith he had in me and that if I ever needed the platform’s support it was there – and it was. He filmed my Warm Up Sessions himself and I released three more videos on the channel after that, on his word. He was always very encouraging when we worked together – no judgement or questions. It felt like I was being afforded a real chance at a career at the time just because I was talented and not based on anything else, which was freeing.
We bumped into each other at the premiere for a movie a few years later and the energy still felt as real and genuine. We were both so much further in our careers, too. It was nice to feel like our journeys were aligned like that and [both] on the up. We shared a lot of laughs that day.
Rhys Kirkby-Cox (Everyone You Know)
Jamal first reached out to us on Instagram after hearing one of our Bars In Car freestyles. He hopped in the DMs and asked us if we would be up for a Warm Up Sessions. The shoot was wicked. We shot in early January and it was freezing. Even though we were in lockdown, Jamal still made the effort to attend. I know he had multiple shoots that day, but when you were with him he was truly present and really made you feel like a priority.
It was a moment ticked off the bucket list for a 16 or 17 year old me. Growing up, we used to watch all the F64s and Warm Up Sessions and that was one of the main ways we would hear about upcoming artists. To have the chance to do our own Warm Up Sessions and get to work with Jamal was a real moment. You meet a load of people in this industry, and I can honestly say he was one of the most genuine and selfless people we’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.
We did the session in one take and when we finished Jamal and the crew were gassed! I got back in the car to head home and he text me straight after saying how sick he thought it was and that he’d love to do some more bits going forward. Like I said, doing that freestyle was a bucket list moment for my younger self, so knowing that we’d impressed him and he gave us the nod was massively special for us. It took me about two and half hours to get home, and I don’t think I stopped smiling once.
I came across YouTube when I was a young boy – I’m talking primary school days. My mumma happened to get an internet trail and I came across SB.TV. From then I wanted to meet Jamal and record my own freestyles. I didn’t even have lyrics then. A few years went by and I did [have lyrics] and so I was trying to get hold of SB.TV anyway I could. I happened to call Jamal on Skype. I remember somehow I got his email and I called him. He was in the office with somebody else who was working for him at the time. I spat some bars for him and he said to keep practising and when the time was right we would do a SB.TV.
I remember the day I recorded my first SB.TV freestyle. Jamal linked me and the mandem in central London and not only did the time end up being right, but he also let one of the mandem showcase their talent as well. He had never met him before, he just randomly asked if any of them had talent as well, and one of them had the courage to tell him yes. Jamal did what Jamal was very much all about: sharing opportunities.
Anytime me and Jamal linked up it was always love and respect. He was a good soul – a good guy, trust me. I’d like to thank him for all the inspiration, advice and thoughts that he shared. I will continue to show others the love and respect he showed me. His name and what he created will definitely live on. He knew that though, as he set the mark.