Jamal Edwards was an Internet videography pioneer, cultural catalyst, philanthropist and entrepreneur who helped launch and grow the careers of several musicians, including Rita Ora and Ed Sheeran.
Edwards, who died of a sudden illness at the age of 31, was an early exponent of the online video world, bringing hitherto unknown musical acts and genres to online audiences.
Jamal Edwards was born in Luton, Bedfordshire, in 1990 and grew up with his mother Brenda, stepfather Patrick and younger sister Tanisha. He left school with few diplomas, his teachers telling him that he “would only go to work at Safeways”. However, through workshops in youth clubs, he self-taught the basics of sound and video recording that would shape his future career.
When Edwards came across the newly launched YouTube, he found very little original music content, let alone featuring black musicians. He decided to bring London’s musical underground to a wider audience, later recalling in an interview: “I remember I was just sitting there and thinking, ‘Why can’t I can’t find them online? and if they were online it was just shoddy versions so I was like, ‘Okay, cool, I’ll try to film the people in my area and upload it to YouTube’ . And from there it just started to build and grow.
Edwards started his online channel SmokeyBarz TV (SBTV) on YouTube in 2006, aged just 15, after his parents gave him a video camera for Christmas. Beginning with films of himself and his friends, he reached out to the local scene and began promoting virtually unknown acts. “I started approaching random people,” he recalls. “I just walked up to them and said, ‘Can I film you for my YouTube channel?
He became a key figure in the popularization of grime, the new musical genre that had evolved from the UK garage and jungle scene in the early 2000s. Through his channel SBTV, Edwards was able to champion the new form, introducing it to the world outside the capital.
By the age of 20, Edwards had set up his own label, Just Jam Records, after signing a deal with Sony RCA, and faced grime star Maxsta as his opening act. Today, his YouTube channel SBTV has over 1.2 million subscribers.
Edwards received an MBE in 2015 for his services to music. He had worked as an ambassador for the Prince’s Trust, a charity founded by Prince Charles to help young people set up their own businesses. The Trust described him as “an incredible innovator and entrepreneur” and “an inspiration to so many young people, through our work and beyond”. Last year he set up Jamal Edwards Delve, an open-access, walk-in network of activities for young people in west London, including music, art and film workshops.
He shared his entrepreneurial experiences in the book Self-Belief: The Vision – How to Succeed on Your Own Terms, published by Penguin. This book uses a combination of memoir, professional advice and games to motivate its young readers, encouraging them to achieve their business goals.
He had just been playing a DJ set at a London bar and returned to his mother’s house in the early hours of Sunday February 20 when he suffered a heart attack and died.
Sheeran paid tribute to Edwards, acknowledging the contribution he had made to his own career. He said, “Jamal is my brother. His light shone so bright. He only used it to enlighten others and never asked for anything in return… I wouldn’t be here without him, professionally and personally.
Jamal Edwards, entrepreneur and philanthropist, born August 24, 1990, died February 20, 2022