LONDON — Jamal Edwards, the founder of a YouTube music channel that provided an early platform for British rap stars like Stormzy, Skepta and Dave, as well as pop stars like Ed Sheeran, passed away on Sunday. He was 31.
His death from “sudden illness” was confirmed by his mother, Brenda Edwards, a well-known TV presenter in Britain. “Jamal was an inspiration to myself and so many,” she said in a statement†
Edwards founded the YouTube channel SB.TV in 2006, initially featuring clips of rappers performing on street corners and in public housing projects. A few years later, he broadened the channel’s focus to include interviews and music in other styles, including pop from emerging artists. Edwards posted a video of Ed Sheeran in 2010, more than a year before the British singer-songwriter released his first single on a major label.
Sheeran went on to make several videos for the channel. In a 2017 clip, he wrote to SB.TV that he “started my career the right way.”
Edwards grew up in Acton, a suburb of London. When he was 15, his mother gave him a video camera for Christmas, which he used to record friends rapping. Edwards told the BBC in 2014 that he started the YouTube channel after friends expressed frustration at not knowing how to get their music on MTV. “I was like, ‘I’ve got a camera for Christmas, I’m going to film people and upload them,'” he said.
His first clip – a raw, ready-made recording featuring the rappers Soul and Slides – was shot during a study trip to a chocolate factory and uploaded to a YouTube channel Edwards called SB.TV after the name he sometimes rapped under: SmokeyBarz.
Friends were initially skeptical of the project, Edwards told the BBC. But soon SB.TV caught the attention of young British rap fans who had few other platforms to suit their tastes.
The channel had 1.2 million subscribers at the time of Edwards’ death and for many years was seen as a major force in British rap, even as other YouTube channels such as GRM Daily gained more subscribers and a higher profile.
On Monday, countless British music stars praised Edwards. Singer Rita Ora, who shot clips for SB.TV early in her career, paid tribute in an Instagram post to the faith Edwards had displayed “in me and so many of us before we even believed in ourselves.”
Dave, one of Britain’s most famous rappers, shared a photo of Edwards on Twitterwith the message: “Thanks for everything.”
Despite the underground roots of Edwards’ fame, he has long been recognized by the British establishment. In 2014, he went to Buckingham Palace, the home of the British Royal Family, to receive one of the country’s highest awards for his contributions to music. Edwards also founded a charity, JE Delve, that works with young people in the suburb where Edwards grew up.
“Most of the kids who come from where I come from would never believe that in a million years they could go to Buckingham Palace,” Edwards told The Guardian in 2017. “Maybe they’ll feel more confident seeing me do it.”