The unexpected death of Jamal Edwards MBE at only 31 years of age has shocked the hip hop, grime and wider music community in the UK.
Edwards was hugely respected for his promotion of the music he loved and grew up with in west London’s suburb of Acton. His YouTube channel SBTV was the first to give a platform to London’s grime scene as well as exposing the world to artists such as Stormzy, Dave, AJ Tracey and Ed Sheeran.
His positive approach to music as a force for good earned him an MBE for services to music in 2014 and his death has attracted tributes from far beyond the realms of rap music, including Prince Charles, Idris Elba, Richard Branson, Chelsea Football Club, London Mayor Sadiq Khan and former Prime Minister David Cameron, who credited Edwards with ‘supporting and inspiring young people to be the best they could be, leading from the front and showing what’s possible with hard work and determination.’
Edwards was the bridge between the young and underprivileged, especially those of BAME origin and British society. He had started wanting to be a rapper himself. The SBTV name came from his rap name SmokeyBarz. But he decided he wanted to work behind the scenes, being the ‘Banksy’ of grime and rap.
It didn’t work, though, and Edwards earned unwanted fame for his work finding and promoting the acts that he loved. Eventually, SBTV attracted well over a million subscribers. With this success, he reinvested in projects such as his JE Delve charity, providing youth clubs, education and career opportunities for young people around Acton.
He was a regular visiting speaker at schools in West London, encouraging young people to motivate themselves and run their own businesses. He also worked closely with the Prince’s Trust, working alongside Prince Charles to help inspire young people. In a Tweet, the Prince called Jamal Edwards, ‘An incredible innovator and entrepreneur, Jamal Edwards MBE has been an inspiration for so many young people, through our work and beyond. Our thoughts are with his family.’
Richard Branson, who wrote the foreword for Edwards’ 2013 book Self Belief: The Vision; How to be a Success on Your Own Terms, said that he was ‘a truly extraordinary young man who made a huge difference to so many people’s lives’.
It is the emotional responses from Edwards’ friends and colleagues which demonstrate how incredibly important he was to British black music.
Jessie J was one of many whose music was given early exposure on SBTV and was said to be heartbroken. In an Instagram clip she said, ‘Your light. Your ideas. Your love for your Mum and your sister. Your work ethic. Your dedication to making a difference not just in this industry but in this world. Your laugh. Your care for every person you met was unmatched. But your friendship… Phew. That is why my heart is broken.’
Edwards’ mother Brenda Edwards, a presenter on ITV’s ‘Loose Women’ chat show, said she and her daughter Tanisha were ‘completely devastated’ by her son’s sudden death, rumoured to have been the result of a heart attack. In a statement, she said, ‘It is with the deepest heartache that I confirm that my beautiful son Jamal Edwards passed away yesterday morning after a sudden illness. Myself, his sister Tanisha and the rest of his family and friends are completely devastated. He was the centre of our world.’