Jamal Edwards, Force in British Rap, Dies at 31

When Jamal Edwards founded his YouTube channel in 2006, it was a rare platform dedicated to British rap music. Credit…Chris Jackson/Chris Jackson Collection, via Getty Images

LONDON — Jamal Edwards, the founder of a music YouTube channel that gave an early platform to British rap stars including Stormzy, Skepta and Dave, as well as pop stars like Ed Sheeran, died on Sunday. He was 31.

His death of “a sudden illness” was confirmed by his mother, Brenda Edwards, a well-known TV presenter in Britain. “Jamal was an inspiration to myself and so many,” she said in a statement.

Edwards set up the YouTube channel SB.TV in 2006, at first posting clips of rappers performing on street corners and in public housing projects. A few years later, he widened the channel’s focus to include interviews, and music in other styles, including pop from emerging artists. Edwards posted a video of Ed Sheeran in 2010, more than a year before the British singer-songwriter released his first single on a major label.

Sheeran went on to make several videos for the channel. In a clip from 2017, he credited SB.TV with “starting my career properly.”

Edwards grew up in Acton, a suburb of London. When he was 15, his mother gave him a video camera for Christmas, which he used to record friends rapping. Edwards told the BBC in 2014 that he started the YouTube channel after friends expressed frustration that they didn’t know how to get their music on MTV. “I was like, ‘I’ve got a camera for Christmas, I’m going to start filming people and uploading it,’” he said.

His first clip — a rough and ready recording featuring the rappers Soul and Slides — was made during a college trip to a chocolate factory and uploaded to a YouTube channel Edwards named SB.TV after the name he sometimes rapped under: SmokeyBarz.

Friends were initially sceptical of the project, Edwards told the BBC. But soon, SB.TV was getting attention from young British rap fans who had few other platforms catering to their tastes.

The channel had accumulated 1.2 million subscribers at the time of Edwards’s death, and was seen as a key force in British rap for several years, even as other YouTube channels like GRM Daily gained more subscribers and a higher profile.

On Monday, numerous British music stars praised Edwards. The singer Rita Ora, who recorded clips for SB.TV early in her career, paid tribute in an Instagram post to the belief Edwards had shown “in me and so many of us before we even believed in ourselves.”

Dave, one of Britain’s highest profile rappers, shared a picture of Edwards on Twitter, with the message, “Thank you for everything.”

Despite the underground roots of Edwards’s fame, he had long been recognized by Britain’s establishment. In 2014, he went to Buckingham Palace, the home of Britain’s royal family, to receive one of the country’s highest honors for his services to music. Edwards also founded a charity, JE Delve, that works with young people in the suburb where Edwards grew up.

“Most kids who come from where I come from would never believe they could go to Buckingham Palace in a million years,” Edwards told The Guardian newspaper in 2017. “Maybe seeing me do that will give them more self belief.”

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