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The sad and untimely passing of young music OG, entrepreneur and philanthropist Jamal Edwards on Sunday has rocked me, to say the least. My week—so far—has been a complete right-off, as if it were a family member that had gone on to be with the Lord.
It’s 8pm on Sunday evening, and I had just woken up from a powernap—after a full plate of chicken, rice and peas (and plantain!)—when I receive a text from my good friend and fellow writer, Laura ‘Hyperfrank’ Brosnan, saying: “Has someone died? I keep on seeing weird messages on Twitter.” My heart starts double-beating; I’m wide awake now. It was only last year that we lost another close industry friend, legendary artist manager Thembi Jozana, so—as you can imagine—I was shaken to know we may have potentially lost another one. I then take to Twitter, and all I see is a sea of broken heart emojis, prayer hand emojis, and lines along the likes of: “Say it ain’t so…” I DM a DJ that I know to find out who everyone was talking about, only to find out it was Jamal Edwards—31-years-young, happy-go-lucky Jamal Edwards—who I had known and worked with for close to 15 years. When the news was confirmed an hour later by reliable sources, our collective hearts dropped.
Because, for a lot of us in the UK music industry, Jamal was like family, someone who never let the fame and success—which he had plenty of—get to his head when he was well in his right to do so. I mean, he’d worked harder than most to get it. A millionaire by the age of 25, he inspired us all to step our game up. He definitely inspired me in the time that I knew him. While we didn’t do the same things—him, the owner of SBTV, one of the leading YouTube platforms for grime and UK rap; me, an established, somewhat “celebrated” music writer—with us both being young, Black, from the ends, we were some of the first to do what we did at a high level so we always had that mutual respect for each other’s craft.
I first met Jamal when he was 17 years old, in 2008, when he went under the name Smokey Barz. And, indeed, his bars were smokey. The kid could really spit, and had he wanted to make a career out of it, he could’ve easily gone on to become one of grime’s biggest MCs. But I digress. Jamal had been a big fan of my grime-led club night, ChockABlock—which I had launched the year prior—from seeing footage from the raves that had everyone from Skepta and Ghetts to Tinchy Stryder and Tempz bless the stage. One day, Jamal hit me up on MySpace (yep: we’re that old), asking if he could come and film the next event I was having at EGG Nightclub in Kings Cross. This was to be his first time meeting some of his grime idols and filming at, and attending, his first proper rave. He was still only 17. I told him to meet me outside the club for 9pm—before the bouncers and LOUD ticket-picker arrived—and I managed to sneak him in.
The grin on his face from being able to film freestyles with some of his favourite MCs that night, I’ll never forget. Born in Luton and raised in West London’s Acton, Jamal had a vision for SBTV at the age of 15, when he got a camera from his mother at Christmas. When he started filming local spitters for his channel, YouTube was still in its infancy, and the age of grime/rap DVDs was on the way out, so the stage was set for a platform like his to flourish. If you were anyone in grime or UK rap, you had an F64 freestyle to your name—just ask Krept & Konan, Lady Leshurr, Wretch 32 and Frisco. If you were an aspiring singer-songwriter, an A64 acoustic session was essential—just ask Ed Sheeran, Jessie J, Angel and Maverick Sabre. Jamal single-handedly built an online empire and laid foundations for inspired channels to have a shot too, and was also known for lending competitors a helping hand. Selfless is a word that often gets pegged to J, and it’s true: he definitely was.
From that night Jamal came to my event, our brotherhood stayed strong. In our early rise, we would regularly link up at industry events in Shoreditch, East London, which was the place to be for every creative, every artist, on Friday nights back then. And when the hood house invasion hit in 2012, we would regularly catch each other at raves like Can’t Stop Won’t Stop and Radunos. Up until two months ago, I saw Jamal out—life of the party—shuffling and cutting shapes like there was no tomorrow. Jamal was a man of the people and I saw this in action many times, often giving advice to random people and even bringing them into his circle and helping them out if they had the right idea. So when he was given an MBE by the Queen and became more of a celebrity figure, connecting with billionaires like Richard Branson along the way, you couldn’t help but be happy for the man because you knew how well he treated others on his way up. And there’s a lesson to be learned in how J moved in the world: with grace, no ego, level-headed at all times.
This week has made me think about my own mortality; Jamal was 31, I’ll soon be 34, and death is no respecter of persons. His motivational tagline for the last few years of his life—#SelfBelief—also embodied living life to the fullest and having a belief that you can achieve anything you put your mind to, because that’s exactly what he did. Jamal Edwards’ life impacted millions, and his legacy shines on through us all.
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Jamal Edwards, UK Music’s Beacon Of Light, Shines On Through Us All – Complex