Tributes have flooded in for music entrepreneur Jamal Edwards, who has died at the age of 31, a Youtube star who helped propel British rap and grime into the mainstream.
Today, the life and legacy of the man who changed the UK’s music industry.
The best UK garage act is, and I love them, So Solid.Mobo Awards 2001
In 2001 So Solid Crew, a UK garage collective, won a Music of Black Origin, or Mobo, Award.
Their song “21 Seconds” went to number one in the charts.
This perhaps was the peak of the UK garage scene — the last big, mainstream hurrah of a genre that exploded in the late 90s. It was a genre that eventually fell out of favour, being overtaken by its younger siblings: 2-step garage, dubstep and, most enduringly, grime.
During that musical transformation, a 15 year old in Acton, west London, was picking up a camera that he got for his birthday.
I started off kind of filming my mates on my estate and I wanted to kind of put them on a platform to put out to the masses because I don’t think mainstream media was kind of focused on them a lot.BBC
That’s Jamal Edwards. He started filming himself and his friends in 2006, uploading the videos onto a new, exciting website that you might’ve heard of: YouTube. His channel was called SB.TV. And it brought the sounds that were taking over London’s streets to the internet.
He was by all accounts a visionary — seeing the democratising potential of what a website like YouTube could do for him and the music that he loved.
The main reason for me setting SB.TV up was because I didn’t feel like my mates were being put on a mainstream platform so I thought I wanted to create a platform for them to be able to express their views and opinions.Sky News
From those early days posting videos online grew a 16-year career during which he helped launch the careers of some of Britain’s biggest superstars – like Ed Sheeran, Stormzy, Jessie J and Skepta.
This past weekend, at the age of 31, Jamal Edwards died. His death was met with an outpouring of tributes from friends, colleagues, fans and distant admirers. In his short life, this young entrepreneur managed to permanently change British music. How did he do it?
In its infancy, grime did not enjoy the reputation it does now. Like many Black subcultures it was attacked in the media, attracting national headlines that claimed grime was glorifying violence and pushing young people into criminality.
Some grime did do that, but that narrative became all encompassing. The issues that young, Black British people faced were not because of poverty or overpolicing or systemic racism — it was, the story went, because of grime.
And even though big record labels were signing grime artists – Dizzee Rascal won a Mercury Prize in 2003 for his debut album Boy In Da Corner – the wider music industry remained uninterested.
But Jamal Edwards didn’t care what the wider industry thought. Through SB.TV he showed the world what grime was, in its purest form. The year that Jamal Edwards got his first camera, the Metropolitan Police introduced a form that was used to assess the risk of violence at club nights and music events.
People in the industry say that this form used in London known as the Metropolitan Police’s promotion event risk assessment form 696 is stopping those experiences and it’s targeting music like grime.BBC
The form asked questions about whether ethnic minorities would be in attendance and the genre of music that would be played. Grime shows were often shut down.
SB.TV sidestepped that and created a home, online, for iconic music moments.
Jamal Edwards never wanted to be the face of the movement, or a leader, but he became one nonetheless – by putting a spotlight on artists the industry didn’t want to invest in.
By his early 20s, Jamal Edwards was a millionaire, had been awarded an MBE for his service to music and was an ambassador for the Prince’s Trust. His death has left a gaping void in an industry that is going through a tumultuous period similar to the early 2000s.
Spotify gained popularity, artists started to wonder why they weren’t seeing the financial gains they were used to with CD sales and downloads. Taylor Swift boycotted Spotify in 2014, pulling all of her music off the service and saying she and other artists weren’t being paid enough for each stream.CNBC
But his legacy will live on in the many careers he has helped launch and the lives he has helped improve. When SB.TV launched there were no UK rappers in the top 40 – this month Dave hosted the Brit awards.
In 2012 Jamal Edwards wrote: “We all die. The goal isn’t to live forever, the goal is to create something that will.”
Reading the tributes to him after his death, there can be little doubt that he achieved that goal.
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