It all started in his bedroom: how Jamal Edwards changed the UK music scene

Tributes have poured in from the music world and beyond for entrepreneur and YouTube star Jamal Edwards, who died on Sunday at the age of 31.

Edwards leaves behind a lasting legacy on the UK music scene, having founded the YouTube channel SBTV from his bedroom in 2006 after getting a video camera for Christmas.

The online media platform was used as a jumping-off point for the careers of a long list of artists, including Stormzy, Ed Sheeran, Dave, J Hus, AJ Tracey and Krept & Konan, at a time when UK music, especially rap, had stagnated.

While police were attempting to shut down grime gigs with the controversial risk-assessment form 696, SBTV showed the genre could thrive online.

It was crucial in developing and growing a wide listener base for artists and more broadly, for grime.

When Edwards launched the channel, the top 100 didn’t feature any UK rappers and it was rappers from the United States who were getting the numbers to chart.

Almost 16 years later, the British music scene has changed dramatically and several artists who emerged on SBTV feature regularly in the charts and sell out stadium tours.

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Tributes pour in for Jamal Edwards

As showcased by the nominations for the 2022 Brit Awards, UK rap, grime and drill are now linchpins of British music, in no small part down to the influence of Edwards and SBTV.

Edwards started the channel when he was a teenager, filming artists rapping and performing, with the videos gaining thousands of views.

An ‘unparalleled’ legacy

Initially, the channel’s content focused on grime and dance music but expanded to other genres.

As well as giving rising stars a platform to showcase their talents, the entrepreneur also conducted the first online UK-based interviews with rappers Drake, Nicki Minaj and Wiz Khalifa.

But it is Edwards’s work with emerging artists that set him apart – and his unwavering love for music and passion for showcasing talent came across his work.

Che Lingo, a rapper from south London who appeared on SBTV’s warm-up sessions in 2014, described Edwards as “one of the founding fathers” of black music in the UK, who created the “blueprint” for the industry.

“His legacy is unparalleled. He is one of our generation’s founding fathers of UK black media,” he told Sky News.

“He changed the blueprint for a lot of people, he gave creative room for them to thrive in our culture in a way that nobody was really able to crack before.

“It was definitely a passion. I believe he as an individual was genuine about it, he never attached any criteria to someone’s talent. He nurtured; he was a nurturing guy. That’s why you’d see a lot of artists go back to the channel.”

‘A dream to get on SBTV’

For many artists, appearing on SBTV became a target, the moment that meant they felt was the start of their career.

This is true Che Lingo, who said “it was a real dream to get on SBTV”.

“It was part of the formula for a lot of us. It was a part of the blueprint, every formula is created from something genuine, something that feels real.

“He was that. At that time, SBTV was the contention point at the start of a career. There weren’t many other avenues for young budding artists of all walks of life that didn’t have a pathway.”

‘He opened doors for people’

While the channel has launched many careers, it also inspired artists who are taking their first steps in the industry today.

Cristale and Morgan Connie Smith both grew up on the channel and as they started making music, Edwards supported them in different ways.

“When I first got a repost from SBTV I was in shock. He has been there for these people, whether they’re at their lowest point or even when they weren’t sure about staying in the industry,” Cristale told Sky News.

“The communication and rapport between the artists and Jamal allowed them to grow. He supported me without me and him ever getting the chance to meet or speak. Without him, a lot of artists who inspired me might not have made it.”

Morgan added that Edwards was one of the most influential people in the scene and he paved the way for many artists.

“He opened doors for people, he will continue to have an impact. He was selfless, it was him and his camera. For me he is at the top, one of the most influential people in the scene,” she said.

Che Lingo echoed these sentiments, adding that “it was never about him, it felt like he preferred to orchestrate”.

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