Jamal Edwards: 'Every young guy wanted to do what he was doing'

By Kirsty Grant and Jennifer Meierhans
Newsbeat reporters

Published
Jamal EdwardsImage source, Getty Images

The sudden death of 31-year-old SBTV founder Jamal Edwards has sent waves of sadness though the music industry - and far beyond.

His loss is felt as strongly by the stars whose careers he launched as the countless young people he inspired as a role model for cultural change.

Jamal once tweeted: "We all die. The goal isn't to live forever, the goal is to create something that will."

27-year-old screenwriter Ameir Brown says Jamal certainly did that.

"I'm someone that doesn't really think about money in that sense, it's more about the impact you can leave on people and leave our communities," Ameir tells Newsbeat.

"Jamal definitely did that in his own communities."

Image source, Ameir Brown
Image caption,
Ameir says he admires how Jamal "impacted culture and made it louder"

Jamal was 15 when he got a camcorder for Christmas and started filming his friends rapping on the council estate he grew up on in Acton, west London.

In 2006, he set up SBTV which stands for his own rap name SmokeyBarz. He uploaded videos of breakthrough talent to YouTube at a time when YouTube was brand new, and rap and grime was unheard of in the charts.

Jamal created a platform where underground music, talent and culture could thrive when it had no mainstream stage or spotlight.

Artists like including Dave, Ed Sheeran and Jessie J gave some of their earliest performances on SBTV.

Ameir distinctly remembers watching a Google Chrome advert featuring Jamal's journey, and how he built up such a huge music platform.

"I just kept watching that advert again and again and again," he says.

"It was just a massive inspiration boost for me. It made me realise that it takes a lot of self belief and grinding to get to do what you want to do."

Now, Ameir has a career as a screenwriter, and he says having Jamal as a role model helped that.

"I wanted to be a writer and not knowing anyone in the industry, coming from a working class background, seeing that he got a camcorder for his birthday or Christmas and turned it into SBTV; it's that self-made thing that really drove me on."

Giving people a voice

By the age of 23, Jamal was a multimillionaire and channelled his success into helping others.

He told the BBC in 2013: "I come from a humble background, I'm from a council estate. It is nice to be comfortable, and be able to buy things for friends and family, but I'm not motivated by the money."

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Jamal founded grassroots youth charity JE Delve, which runs youth clubs in London.

He became an ambassador for the Prince's Trust, a charity headed by the Prince of Wales, and in 2014 he was awarded an MBE for his services to music.

Jamal was also an entrepreneur in residence at Sussex University, telling students "no question is off limits" and offering to share contacts, opportunities and advice.

Ameir says: "That kind of thing is what I kind of strive to do in my career.

"Bring people in, give people a voice - that's what I want to do with my writing.

Image source, Reece Grant
Image caption,
Reece got a camera after watching SBTV online, and that's where his "directing career started"

Like Ameir, 27 year old Reece Grant was directly inspired by Jamal's work.

As a teenager, he was studying photography, but after religiously watching SBTV freestyles, cyphers and music videos, he felt motivated to try filming.

"I experimented with shooting my friend's music video, and I liked it," Reece tells Newsbeat.

"Jamal was a big inspiration to me at the time. I'm from the Caribbean and he's from the Caribbean.

"He's only four or five years older than me, so just seeing a young guy direct videos online and having such success, It really made me feel like I could do it as well."

'Every guy wanted to do what he was doing'

Reece now works as a filmmaker, screenwriter and music video director. He recently read Jamal's book, Self Belief - The Vision: How to Be a Success on Your Own Terms.

"it's really good, and something people can learn from. That will be something people can reference."

Reece remembers the Google Chrome advert too, which was often played between primetime ITV programmes. It currently has more than six million views on YouTube.

"I know for a lot of young people that advert really inspired us to just to get out there and start shooting.

"Every young guy wanted to do what he was doing.

"There was like a spike in music video directors around that era, I think was like 2010 or 2011. He's definitely an icon."

'I don't need very much to have impact'

Arlène Dihoulou is a 26-year-old social producer, and, like Reece and Ameir, says she owes a lot of her motivation to Jamal and SBTV.

"He definitely played a part in my desire to become a producer", she tells Newsbeat.

"At the time, I didn't know what a producer was. I just knew that Jamal made films. These young black British people were creating a space that was by them, for them for us."

Image source, Arlène Dihoulou
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Arlène says she wouldn't be doing what she's doing if it wasn't for Jamal's impact

Seeing the content made by Jamal kick-started her in to picking up a camera herself, and posting on YouTube. Years down the line, Arlène says it opened many doors for her.

"Just getting started is everyone's biggest hurdle. And I think he inspired me to just do it - just get started.

"Sometimes your dream is bigger than you. Did he pick up his camera all those years ago, start filming, knowing he was going to have this impact and like change lives? And flip the industry on its head and create a safe space for black British music? No, he didn't.

"His story, his journey, his career made me realise I don't need very much to have impact, and to do something meaningful."

Jamal's mum, Loose Women presenter Brenda Edwards confirmed he had died after a "sudden illness".

She said her son was an inspiration to so many whose legacy lives on.

Last week, Jamal tweeted a link to what would be one of his final interviews.

He talked about his Delve project and how he wanted to give young people the space to explore who they were. He told Dummy magazine: "I just feel like I have to give back".

His tweet said the quote "Be the change you want to see in the world" was something he was trying to live by.

By all accounts he succeeded.

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