"I'm not here to take fame and glory; I just want to put people on"
The above message that Jamal Edwards delivered in his Music Week cover interview in 2017 still rings true: helping others was what mattered most to the SBTV founder. When his family announced that he had passed away aged 31 in February after a sudden illness, the business lost a true visionary, one who changed lives and played a major role in the explosion of grime and UK rap. The entrepreneur and executive helped revolutionise music culture, opened up new promotional avenues for artists and was among the first supporters of a raft of globally renowned British acts. To pay tribute, Music Week gathered a selection of those who worked with and alongside Edwards to hear their stories of the man who changed our industry forever. As a new foundation has been set up in his name, read their messages here…
PHOTOS: MEARA KALLISTA MORSE
Michael Adex, CEO, NQ:
“Jamal was a true pioneer in every sense of the word, he helped inspire a whole generation to express themselves in ways which are now the norm. He is someone that I personally admired a lot and his entrepreneurial spirit and vision are traits that sparked mine and many others’ curiosity to explore the opportunities in entertainment. His legacy is ingrained in British culture – from the underground to the mainstream he will never be forgotten.”
Ajaz Ahmed, CEO, AKQA:
“The loss of my friend Jamal is unimaginable and insurmountable. The meaning of the name Jamal is beauty. In all respects, that’s what he was: a beautiful, kind-natured, thoughtful soul who connected with all. A ray of hope, Jamal influenced a whole generation as the hero and extraordinary creative force who made a profound imprint and symbolised so many dreams and aspirations. He paved the way with immense foresight and determination. Jamal succeeded against all the odds, gave so much and had so much more to give. Loved and revered, he was taken from us too soon and leaves a legacy that will inspire forever. I don’t think Jamal ever realised how many lives he positively impacted or how legendary, iconic and important he was for so many.”
Laura Arowolo, legal & business affairs, EMI:
“Jamal was a true inspiration, a positive force. That cannot be emphasised enough. I remember meeting him at BAFTA the summer of my second year of university and from there he was so supportive, going on to give me my first opportunity in music with SBTV. He was integral to my career in music and I am just so sad that he is no longer with us to see the outpouring of love and respect we have for him. He has made an indelible mark on our lives and his impact will be felt for generations.”
Moe Bah & Kilo Jalloh, co-founders, 2K Management:
“Jamal was a true inspiration. His sudden loss is a major hit to our scene. He used his platform to put so many people on and he did so because he wanted to see everyone win! Because of Jamal, our scene was able to grow to where it is now. He was a huge part of our journey and he is responsible for so many of the great creatives who were able to make it through. We’ve met so many amazing people through Jamal who have been vital to our journey and always gave our artists a platform. The UK scene is thriving and we have Jamal to thank. We’ll miss him, but he’ll always be with us… Forever and always!”
Simon Barnabas, managing director, Universal Music On Demand:
“Jamal impacted both the culture and the business in an incomparable way. Meeting him at the beginning of the SBTV journey, it was immediately apparent that his long-term vision, incredible understanding of his brand, and his own aspirations were truly on another level. He will always be an inspiration.”
Karen Blackett, country manager, WWP UK/CEO, GroupM UK:
“The outpouring of love, respect and hurt from so many people is testament to the young man Jamal was. He not only opened the door so that more people from diverse backgrounds could truly be seen and heard, he quietly and humbly changed the game. The music industry and beyond owe Jamal a huge debt. Our Black community is so proud of the impact this extraordinary young man has had. He kept climbing, moving and pivoting, but always made sure he took others with him. His commitment to helping other young people was plain to see. His focus on spotlighting talent, with no ask for himself, was typical Jamal. I will miss his smile and his infectious laugh, his creativity and can-do attitude. His mobile phone pointing at me, trying to get a cheeky photo when he knew how much I hated having my photo taken. I will miss seeing his bike propped against my garden wall, as we sat plotting how he would change the world. He had so much more to give. Genius. Friend. Legend.”
Riki Bleau, founder, Since ’93/co-president, Since ’93 Records:
“I had the pleasure of observing Jamal’s rise and meeting with him in around 2009. From his success with SBTV to his label venture with Sony, Jamal had a list of firsts: he was the first of his generation to build a platform on social media and carry the culture forward for the new generation which confirmed his status as a trailblazer. I recently worked with him via our client Zeze Millz and the TV show Unapologetic, which Jamal’s production company produced. We were in dialogue over the last two weeks before his passing around a music project he had connected a major dot on for one of our clients. The list of people he has worked with and helped is as wide and varied as anyone I can think of. Jamal will be missed by all but I know one thing for sure: his legacy will live. My prayers and condolences go out to his mother and family. You raised a king!”
Whitney Boateng, agent, WME:
“There are so many words but simultaneously not enough words to describe Jamal, he was an inspiration and always a pleasure to be around. Usually, when you speak of your idols they are older than you, but I was lucky enough to have an idol as well as a peer in Jamal. His work ethic and genuine heart were a blessing to witness. Thank you Jamal, you will be missed.”
Vanessa Bosåen, managing director, Virgin Music UK:
“It’s hard to find the words to describe just how generous, supportive, and welcoming Jamal was. A true leader through kindness, skill, and the most astute business acumen you can imagine. Every time I talked to Jamal, he would say something that would challenge my worldview – always for the better. A true once-in-a-generation talent.”
Jamal Edwards on the cover of Music Week in 2017
Marc Boyan, CEO The Miroma Group, Miroma Ventures:
“Jamal was a pioneer. A humble gentleman, a caring, loyal and loving son, a brother and a friend. He gave me inspiration, drive and humour to push harder every day and to help others. He gave so many people self-belief – that no matter who you are, or where you have come from, you can achieve great things. So few people achieve what he did in his short life. When we first met he told me that he was just getting started. He was right.”
Sharon Brittan, chairman, Bolton Wanderers Football Club:
“My world stood still when I learned of Jamal’s passing. My family and I were blessed to know Jamal, who took my son, Oliver, under his wing when he was 15 and guided him with inspiration over many years. They were as close as brothers and Jamal was welcomed into our family. Jamal was a constant source of energy and positivity. He did so much for so many: putting others before himself and he never moaned or complained. He always wore a huge, bright and beautiful smile which put people at ease and made them happy in an instant. Jamal is a huge loss but heaven will be enriched by his caring spirit. We shall never forget that smile. We shall never forget the friendship we shared. We shall never forget his generosity and dedication to others. We shall never forget beautiful Jamal.”
Sheniece Charway, artist relations manager, YouTube Music:
“Jamal, I still can’t believe I’m writing this. Thank you for being such an inspiring, loyal and honest friend to me. From the day I met you, you’ve always had my back and always encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and I’ll forever be grateful. You’ve done so much for the culture, Black British music and the community. We are forever indebted to you. I promise we will make sure your legacy lives on forever. Until we meet again, friend.”
Adam Davis, CEO & founder, 8Bars:
“We were introduced via a friend in the football world because of our mutual love for the beautiful game and we started a business together because of our mutual love for giving talent opportunities. Naively, over the last two years I thought I was helping to teach you about start-ups and the challenges of building a mobile product, only now do I realise I was the student, and you were the teacher. You were delivering a masterclass which I’ll use as a blueprint for the rest of my life. Your death only magnified the impact you’ve had on so many and I consider it an honour to be a small part of continuing and spreading your legacy.”
Char Grant, A&R director, 0207 Def Jam/Black Music Coalition committee member:
“Jamal Edwards and I share the same birthday and it was always big vibes when we saw each other. He was a true pioneer. An agent of change. The creator of countless opportunities for many, and one of the most consistent people I have known in music for the last 10 years. To say we are all standing on his shoulders is no overstatement. I thank Jamal for believing in artists I have worked with. For never changing! For caring deeply and teaching us all that it’s not the length of time that matters, it’s what we do with the time we have that is most important.”
Koby ‘Post’ Hagan, co-founder, GRM Daily:
“Jamal Edwards was an icon and a pioneer, he was one of the first people to revolutionise how content is consumed online. He carried himself as a true gentleman while building an amazing brand, one that set a precedent for what could be achieved by a music platform.”
Sharon Hanley, head of comms, BBC Music:
“I sat next to Jamal at the BRITs in 2017 and we bonded over being Chelsea fans and Acton dwellers. I knew of him already as he was a massive presence, helping causes and raising the profile of London W3. I last saw him at a distance after the BRITs this year, as he had selfies taken with excited fans. They couldn’t believe they were meeting their hero at North Greenwich tube. I didn’t disturb them as I knew I’d see him soon on Churchfield Road. RIP Jamal.”
Tony Harlow, CEO, Warner Music UK:
“Jamal was a music visionary who gave so many artists their start in the industry. From his ground-breaking platform he helped to create global superstars. SBTV became the catalyst for a whole self-supported new music network, and an example to a new generation of entrepreneurs. Jamal was a pioneer whose impact will live on, not just within music, but through the incredible community and charity work he carried out throughout his life. He meant so much to so many within the Warner Music family and we send all our love and support to Jamal’s family and friends.”
Bob Harris, DJ, BBC Radio 2:
“I only met Jamal Edwards once, at a recording of the Blood On The Tracks podcast with Colin Murray and I had no idea then that he was to become a truly important person in my life. I thought he was amazing. He moved at his own pace, he was confident and clear without a hint of arrogance, and it shone through him that he really cared about people. I was honoured and very happy that we became friends and stayed in touch. A few weeks after the recording, I suffered an aortic dissection, an experience that nearly took my life. Jamal was one of the first people to check in to see if I was OK. His messages were supportive and inspiring and we corresponded regularly from then on. I am still here and recovered, yet one of the people who profoundly helped me in my hour of need is gone. RIP Jamal. Thank you for all you did and the love you gave… to all of us.”
Ed Howard, co-president, Atlantic Records:
“Jamal was a friend and collaborator since the very early days of me working with Ed Sheeran. I last saw him about a month ago, he had brought Ed and Fireboy DML together to collaborate on Peru, but we spent most of the time talking about how many amazing, young, creative people he knew and wanted to introduce Atlantic to, and also the numerous brilliant community projects he was pioneering in West London. As usual I came away completely uplifted and inspired by Jamal and I’m pretty sure that was everyone’s experience of him. He is a great loss to our industry and community and his incredible legacy will live on.”
Jammer, Boy Better Know:
“One particular side to Jamal was Jamal ‘Smokey Barz’ Edwards the MC. Not a lot of people knew how much love for MCing Jamal had, and I was lucky enough to share the stage with him at a BBK show. Skepta, JME and I all pushed him to spit his lyrics to the crowd, he did and it was a monumental moment, I remember the crowd going mad! That’s a memory that will stay with me forever.”
Jason Iley, chairman and CEO, Sony Music UK & Ireland:
“Jamal was one of the most kind, considerate and passionate people I’ve ever met. The SBTV platform was fundamental to breaking artists and his influence has had an immeasurable impact on countless artists’ lives.”
Shabs Jobanputra, MD, Relentless:
“Integrity. Passion. Goodwill. In a business often found wanting in some of these aspects Jamal stood tall as someone you could believe. He did what he said, told you straight and backed people because he cared. As charlatans came and went, he kept his belief in the music and his desire to help. We have lost someone far too young, who championed how you should behave in the world of music we are lucky to be in.”
David Joseph, chairman & CEO, Universal Music UK:
“It’s such a loss. My personal experience of Jamal was as a deeply thoughtful and modest person, but it’s impossible to overstate his influence on British culture.”
Kanya King, founder, MOBO:
“Jamal Edwards was zealous about pushing the scene and culture forward, as well as providing a platform for the next generation. From a young age, he set the bar high and never missed it. His success as the founder of SBTV was only a small piece of who he was, and would have been superseded only by his remarkable efforts to advance his community, giving opportunities to young people and empowering them, all of which made him so special. I met Jamal in the early days when SBTV was just starting out. Over the years, he attended our film screenings and even served as a guest presenter at the MOBOs. The last time I caught up with him was when we were both in Monza for the Italian Grand Prix. I have lovely memories of him just wanting to DJ for all the hospitality guests and all that consumed him was how he could manage to play music for the crowd. On that same trip he created a video for me congratulating me on winning the Music Week Strat Award last year. He thought it was awesome – that is just who he was, generous and unselfish. His passing is a tremendous loss. Like many, I am forever honoured to have experienced his presence.”
Pamela McCormick, founder & CEO, UD:
“With every day that has passed since Jamal’s death, the sense of loss has only grown. I first met Jamal in 2010 when UD supported Skepta with his MOBO tour. Soon after, Jamal and SBTV became part of our family. Jamal was a constant support and presence. He championed our young people, produced our videos, facilitated initiatives with industry giants like Sony Music, identified amazing opportunities for talent and offered to produce dedicated SBTV series of them. The bit we loved the most was when he would drop by the studio. He saw limitless potential in what we were doing and he embodied the ideal of limitless potential. His loss might be too much to process now, but we know that through his legacy, he will live on.”
Jack Melhuish, director of marketing, partnership & strategy, Parlophone Records:
“Sometimes in life you just meet good humans; Jamal was one of those. When SBTV emerged in the early noughties it quickly became a new star that the music industry shifted to orbit around. Jamal created both a platform and a new medium that shifted the landscape. It’s not a small thing to say that he laid foundations for the scene we have today and was instrumental in bringing artists to an entirely new audience.”
Elisabeth Murdoch, founder and chair, Sister:
“I had the pleasure of knowing Jamal for over 10 years and he was one of the most wonderful human beings. He was a truly special man: always so generous, so thoughtful, so open, and with a boundless entrepreneurial spirit. At the heart of our conversations over the years was Jamal’s selfless desire to pave the way for other young people to access the industry and fulfil their potential. His light shone so brightly – he was a beacon of hope and opportunity for so many. He was much loved, hugely respected, and his loss will leave an inexpressible void. My great hope and desire is that we will all continue Jamal’s great legacy.”
Trevor Nelson, DJ, BBC Radio 2/1Xtra:
“I’m still in shock, every time I hear Jamal’s voice, it’s difficult. Jamal was a friend of my daughter’s and asked to interview me, so he came to my flat. It renewed my hope in youth as he was so full of positive energy. He went to the source of where the music was. Record labels didn’t go to council estates to find talent, but Jamal did. What made him so special was that he was such an affable lovely guy that he could sit with Richard Branson or Prince Charles and still light up the room. There was a mural in Acton of him before he died, which is so poignant. For some, it might have been too soon to see a mural of a 31-year-old, as they wouldn’t have known who he was. Now everybody knows. He was a one-off.”
Tracey Parry-Knight, director, JE Global/co-secretary, SBTV Global:
“I first met Jamal the day he was born. His mother Brenda and I were inseparable friends who did everything together. We both moved to London from Luton at the same time and for a while we lived in a flat in Kilburn with Jamal and [his sister] Tanisha. Jamal was a very quiet and shy little boy, a beautiful chocolate little boy with the biggest brown eyes you’ve ever seen. He was always very quiet and shy and you would not know he was in the room unless you saw him. He didn’t speak unless you addressed him and when he did talk he would do so very quietly. But when that little boy laughed you would see every single one of his baby teeth and the sound was wonderful and distinctive.
“It was 2009 when SBTV really started to gain momentum. I had recently left my job working for Bill Roedy at MTV when his mother asked me if I would help Jamal. Back in those early days Jamal sometimes struggled with having to make business decisions. He really just wanted to film and be creative as that was his happy place, he was never comfortable in the corporate world. If there was a situation that needed attention he would say to me, ‘You play bad cop and I’ll be good cop, OK?’ As he grew older he was able to navigate through these things himself, albeit sometimes uncomfortably, as he just never wanted to ruffle feathers.
“That was Jamal to the end. I can honestly hand on heart say that he would never speak badly about anyone. There were times when I would rage about someone who had done something to Jamal that I did not like and he would listen quietly and either agree or he would tell me why he thought I had misunderstood, but there was never judgement on anyone. He would avoid someone if they made him feel uncomfortable, but I never knew Jamal to argue with anyone.
“His life could be very stressful for someone so young and I wanted to protect him more than I was able to. I would call his mum and let her know of various situations so she could sit down with him and chat. But among the stressful times, Jamal led a life that others can only dream of. He loved what he did. He spent every Christmas Day at a homeless shelter and he loved his friends and family, who are setting up a foundation in his name.
I can honestly say the last year of Jamal’s life was the happiest he had ever been and I’m so grateful for that. My memories of Jamal are vast. There are so many beautiful and funny things I can say about him, not just as the Jamal Edwards that the country is talking about, but the little shy boy with the big brown eyes that his mother and I knew as Jams.”
Joseph ‘JP’ Patterson, editor-in-chief, Complex UK/founder, Trench Magazine:
“The music industry just lost a real one. From watching his most recent moves, it felt like Jamal was about to hit a new level and, at 31, the world was still very much his oyster. He changed the game for UK rap, grime, and everything in between at SBTV, and that’s saying nothing of his work behind the scenes in the advancement of Black British music. Jamal was for the culture; like, really for the culture. People like him don’t come around often.”
Zeon Richards, head of hip-hop partnerships, Europe, Pollen:
“It is impossible to sum up the impact of Jamal. During his short life he made a contribution that crossed genres, culture and platforms. It is not an understatement to say that Jamal became an icon. He documented legendary moments that not only benefited the careers of artists, but countless creatives as well as managers. We can argue all day whether anyone has a better F64 than Wretch 32 or a better A64 than Emeli Sandé. Who has created anything as creative as Pepstar’s Beats And Bars series? How many people in this business today have a livelihood because Jamal decided to start filming content at 15? Thankfully, his work is online for all to see, but it is truly a shame as he had so much more to give. The biggest compliment to Jamal is that he was wholeheartedly loved and trusted.”
DJ Semtex, director of artist development, Sony Music UK:
“His relentless support for artistry, music, and young people was limitless. There was a purity to what he did.”
Leila Singh, marketing manager, Atlantic Records UK:
“I met Jamal when we were just 16. Jamal encouraged, inspired and motivated everyone who knew him. I found myself working with Jamal across every step of my career – he gave me an opportunity and believed in me. I am lucky to have worked closely with him, but most of all to have known him for so long and spent time with him that I will treasure forever. I want to extend my deepest love and prayers not only to his family, but to his colleagues Duncan [Eaton] and Isaac [Densu] who were Jamal’s right hands in business. We will miss him very much.”
Stacey Tang, EVP, RCA:
“Jamal was a gentleman. A leading light across so many facets of the cultural spectrum. He always contributed generously in terms of his time, enthusiasm and belief in people, change and good. He made things happen and was totally non-partisan. He was an upstanding member of the community everyone looked up to and he had so much time for all. That smile! It was like a [sun]beam in the room. He is greatly missed and yet we can see and feel his reach and the potential of the foundations he laid for so many.”
Andy Varley, founder & CEO, Insanity:
“I had the huge honour of managing Jamal back in 2014. We were introduced by David Levy from WME just before Jamal’s 23rd birthday. I was blown away by his drive and enthusiasm, and in our first meeting he told me, ‘with self-belief, anything is possible.’ I remember taking him to LA to do a TED talk and being in awe as he had a room full of executives hanging on his every word. He was the epitome of the word trailblazer, a true visionary who did everything he could to lift those around him.”
A selection of artist tributes to Jamal Edwards:
Ed Sheeran: Jamal is my brother. His light shone so bright. He only used it to illuminate others and never asked for anything. A star’s light shines for millions of years after they go, and his will continue to light up every dark moment, we are all witnessing his power. I would not be here without him. There will never be anything close to what he is, but I’m so grateful to have existed in his orbit.
Dave: Thank you for everything. Words can’t explain.
Jessie J: Your ideas, your love for your mum and 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’s why my heart is broken. We had plans bro. I can’t believe this is real. I love you.
Rita Ora: My first ever interview was with you, Jamal. Our endless talks on music and the belief you had in me and so many of us. I’m devastated. No words can describe how grateful I am to have been in your presence.
AJ Tracey: RIP Jamal Edwards, West London legend status.
Hardy Caprio: Saving one life is something to be proud of. Saving multiple is something to be celebrated for. Here is a man who saved all of our lives, whether you were watching his vids or an artist he gave an opportunity. RIP Jamal Edwards. Those good deeds will always follow you.
Lady Leshurr: I’m in tears. So heartbreaking to hear the news of Jamal Edwards. Prayers to his family and loved ones, nothing makes sense anymore.
Rachel Chinouriri: The things Jamal Edwards achieved at such a young age for the music scene are truly incredible and he will always be remembered for that and the music industry owe him so much, so so devastating.
Nadia Rose: There’s good souls, then there’s great souls, then there’s Jamal Edwards.
Unknown T: Jamal Edwards. Fucking legend, RIP.