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Jamal Edwards, SBTV founder, music entrepreneur and activist, dies aged 31

The YouTube pioneer died after a “sudden illness”, his mother said. Last year he told The Big Issue: “We have to be the change and be the good we want to see in the world.”

Jamal Edwards, the YouTube pioneer, music entrepreneur and activist who helped launch the careers of Ed Sheeran, Dave and Jessie J has died aged 31. 

Edwards was the founder of the hugely influential SBTV media platform, which helped bring grime music and its stars to a worldwide audience, and was awarded an MBE when he was just 24 for his work.

He was a director, a designer and a community activist. He worked as an ambassador for the Prince’s Trust and campaigned, successfully, to reopen youth centres in his hometown of Acton and beyond.  

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A statement issued by his mother, TV presenter Brenda Edwards, confirmed the tragic news.  

“It is with the deepest heartache that I confirm that my beautiful son Jamal Edwards passed away yesterday morning after a sudden illness,” she said.

“Myself, his sister Tanisha and the rest of his family and friends are completely devastated. He was the centre of our world. 

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“As we come to terms with his passing, we ask for privacy to grieve this unimaginable loss. I would like to thank everyone for their messages of love and support. 

“Jamal was an inspiration to myself and so many. Our love for him lives on, his legacy lives on. Long live Jamal Edwards MBE, MBA, PHD.” 

The YouTube channel Edwards created using his mobile phone helped launch the careers of many well-known artists and is credited with helping grime to become the most important UK subculture in decades. It has had more than 800million views since launching in 2006.

Speaking to The Big Issue in 2021, Edwards reflected on his rise to prominence.  

He said: “When I was about 15, I was given a camera as a gift. I started to run about and film artists that were not getting represented in mainstream media.  

“I started uploading to YouTube when there was hardly any original music content on there. At the time, it was all funny videos or things ripped from TV.  

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“I saw a gap in the market and started uploading original filmed content. I started hustling, filming my mates, turning up to events, trying to get bigger artists, building a brand from there. So I was an early adopter.  

“It was mainly underground grime, rap and hip hop. I started branching out and it didn’t matter what genre you were, as long as you had something to say and it had a groove, you would get on my channel, SBTV.  

“I’d say I was one of the platforms that helped grime becoming so important. People message me to say I helped build it and get eyeballs on it.” 

When he became successful, counting Sheeran, Prince Harry and Richard Branson among his friends, Edwards used his platform to continue to champion underrepresented groups, expanding opportunity, nurturing talent and amplifying voices. 

We have to be the change and be the good we want to see in the world

Jamal Edwards

He worked to reopen youth centres in Acton, where he grew up, telling The Big Issue: “When I was younger, I did my first film workshop at a local youth centre. It was a good place to be outside of school and outside of your home. Youth centres were super important. So for them to close down youth centres – where are people going to be? The kids are going to be on the streets.  

“I wanted to make a place where they could come so I went on a mission to raise money – I partnered with Google, YouTube and the Wellcome Trust to reopen four youth centres in my local area of Acton. We try to make them spaces to learn, work and connect. We have done bullying workshops, how to carry yourself online workshops, cookery classes – we want it to be a safe haven for kids to come and chill, but also educate them and inspire them.  

“I want my platforms to be fun, but spaces where you learn stuff at the same time.”

Tributes to Edwards have come from across the music and culture industries, as artists he inspired or helped come to terms with the awful news of his death.

Edwards also gave The Big Issue a glimpse into his personal philosophy on approaching the world: “We need to love all, trust a few, do wrong to none. That’s how I see it. Everyone’s got their own battles they are facing. We have to be the change and be the good we want to see in the world.

“Like Maya Angelou said: “When you learn, teach. When you get, give.” We have to pay it forward. We have to help each other.”

When asked to sum up his work by The Big Issue, Edwards thought for a while, before saying: “I suppose I’m an entrepreneur-slash-film director. But what I really do is connect worlds.”  

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