The music world is reeling this week with the news of entrepreneur, rapper, and music pioneer Jamal Edwards’ passing. The cause of death appears to be a sudden, unexpected heart attack. He was visiting his mother’s house, mere hours after playing his final DJ set. He is survived by his mother, Brenda Edwards, and sister Tanisha.
Edwards’ family originates from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. As a child, he was introduced to stage school by his mother (a singer in her own right, having come fourth in the second series of the X Factor UK). She encouraged him to pursue acting and drama, however as a young man, Edwards was more attracted to music, wanting success on his own terms in the music industry.
Doing the Work
While he had the drive, he struggled initially with academics, not managing to achieve the grades necessary for college and studying an extra year to attain them. He then attended Ealing Green College, which is part of Western London College. Here he received a BTEC Diploma in Media Moving Image.
However, like many before him, he unearthed his true passion while at school. While in classes and on breaks, he would often rap for his friends, filming videos with them that he would post on YouTube. This was long before the current age of social media, circa 2004, and he was one of the early adopters of the Internet as a platform for both himself and other artists to get exposure and subsequent success.
SBTV & Success
The early start of rapping and making videos with his friends inspired Edwards to create SBTV, a YouTube-based platform for discovering and marketing talent. It launched in 2006 and, as of 2019, had over one million subscribers.
From as young as 15 though, he had been given a video camera and had made rap videos with friends – which led to the original creation of the channel. His rapping name at the time was “SmokeyBarz” (hence the “SB” in SBTV). After he left school, he paid the bills by working for the clothing company Topman while continuing to produce content.
Around this time, SBTV began to branch out and include other artists. Edwards filmed these videos himself and has the distinction of recording singer Jessie J’s first acoustic video outside of her own personal YouTube channel. The channel also saw the debut of a wide variety of artists, including Stormzy, Ed Sheeran, Dave, Emeli Sandé, Rita Ora, Krept & Konan, Yungen, Mic Righteous, Nines, Tori Kelly, Bugzy Malone, Mist, English Frank, Aaron Unknown, and Cadet.
Prince Charles even made an appearance. Check it out below:
Beyond SBTV: Fashion, Artist, Author, Director
After SBTV really took off, it gained Jamal Edwards admiration from the music industry and opened doors for him to expand his career. In collaboration with his former employer Topman, he released a headwear collection featuring limited-edition snapbacks and bucket hats designed by Edwards himself.
As part of the GQ Heroes series in London, 2019, he hosted an open forum discussion with fashion model Adwoa Aboah on mental health. He also walked in catwalk shows and has worked with Kurt Geiger and Primark on campaigns.
In 2013 he added “successful author” to his list of credentials. He released an ebook entitled “Self Belief: The Vision: How To Be a Success on Your Own Terms.” According to iBooks, it achieved success and was the number one selling ebook series. Throughout this later stage in his career, he also continued to make music, collaborating with Chelsea FC to direct a remix video of grime artist Capo Lee’s “Style and Swag.” In 2021, Edwards created the pseudonym Jamal Artman to launch his DJ career, paying homage to his birth name. In 2021 he was also signed to production company RadicalMedia as a director. He produced some commercial content for brands like Subway and Depop.
— Jamal Edwards MBE, MBA (@jamaledwards) February 28, 2018
He also made a documentary-style series on singer-songwriter Jake Bugg, showcasing the unseen side of his story, including his early years in Nottingham and the inspiration behind his music and lyrics. In addition, he collaborated with long-time friend Ed Sheeran on some of his videos, including the “Bad Habits” remix.
Community Minded & Charity Oriented
Coming from humble beginnings himself, Edwards – apart from being a self-made success story – was also very community-minded and never forgot where he came from. With this in mind, he was involved heavily in philanthropic and mentor work in addition to his entrepreneurship.
In 2019 he founded JED (Jamal Edwards Delve), a grassroots youth-centre project. It was a very effective campaign, as Edwards managed to refurbish and reopen four youth centres in his hometown of Acton and had 150 people engaged across these centres. He also announced a partnership with the Department of Education in 2020, starring in a three-part series designed to encourage young creatives to consider taking up an apprenticeship.
He was also a big advocate for mental health. His March 2017 documentary, in conjunction with The Guardian, tackles male suicide. In it, he interviews his childhood friends about their mental health struggles. This was in no doubt linked to his desire to understand his own struggles, stating in an interview with Music Week: “Anxiety comes over me at the most random times. I wanted to create awareness. As much as music is my entry point, I feel a responsibility to talk about these other issues. I wanted to get people talking to each other and they have been, I’m happy.”
Passing & Tributes
Edwards passed away from a sudden illness over the weekend. Death is never easy, but in this case, it stings. Not only was Edwards so young, but also, a committed individual with a determination to demand the best. Not only from himself, but from the institutions and structures put in place to help people. A kind and generous soul, his loss is still being processed.
Everyone from Idris Elba to Prince Charles is paying tribute to the multi-talented individual in the days since his passing. Hollywood star Elba posted a black square on Instagram, writing: “We lost one @jamaledwards. You will be missed little brother.”
Without a doubt, Edwards’ loss will be felt keenly throughout the UK; especially by the youth. An ambassador for young people, he showed what was possible when you put your mind and hustle to something. His achievements, reaching heights that I doubt even he had in mind when he began his journey.
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