The Legacy of Jamal Edwards & SBTV
When YouTube was founded back in 2005, it became a place where people would just upload anything and everything. In 2005, the term “content creator” had not been coined, and people who found themselves uploading on YouTube mostly consisted of hobbyists and dreamers. There was no strategy, and there was a certain beauty about exploring this unmapped terrain, before the algorithms swooped in and became our invisible pathfinder. One of the dreamers during these frontier days was a plucky young man from a remote part of West London, Jamal Edwards. Picking up his camera and heading out to film people (initially) in and around his estate in Acton, was how the legendary SBTV started.
The videos were grainy, and shot wherever Jamal had met up with the artist, so early videos were on buses, outside garages or any nondescript street corner. The no frills approach of these early releases was almost like holding a microscope to life in inner city London, and embedded in the lyricism that Jamal’s lens captured so perfectly, were the voices of a generation that had scarcely been heard before. Jamal didn’t know then, but these serendipitous uploads were the beginnings of a media empire, that would shake the entire British music industry in ways that he certainly could never have dreamt of.
But that is exactly what happened, a young Black teenager from Acton changed the game forever, and the moves he made during the next 16 years, became the blueprint for everyone that came after him. A cursory look at the channels’ earliest videos reveal just how influential Jamal and SB have been in so many of your favourite artists’ careers. Ranging from the hyperlocal stars like Smart Kid, to big names like Skepta, Krept & Konan, Wretch 32 and Ed Sheeran to name a few. During the channels’ formative years, there really isn’t anyone that Jamal hadn’t set the crosshairs of his viewfinder on. The first few years consisted mostly of Jamal just putting in the work, filming people anywhere and everywhere spitting to the camera, nothing more, nothing less.
Slowly he began to diversify his content, adding behind the scenes footage, early music videos started to crop up, and even a range of rudimentary interviews too. The beauty of this was, that us as the viewers were growing with Jamal, and we were watching his journey unfold before our eyes in the shape of the content he was putting out. We didn’t know it then, but we were watching him map out his master plan one video upload at a time. So it never felt out of place, or it didn’t look like “selling out” when the first International artists began to appear on the channel that was so close to our hearts, it felt like growth, so we celebrated along with Jamal, in the comments or on the forums, letting him know that his wins felt like a win for all of us.
Even from afar, you got the sense that Jamal was someone who really loved what he was doing, and each release felt like it meant something to him, there was a seemingly untainted purity in the uploads, just a man who loved music and wanted to share his love with the world, no strings attached. In an industry as treacherous as the music industry, clean hearts don’t always win, despite what people’s Instagram captions might tell you, so it was really refreshing to see Jamal continue to go from strength to strength with his labour of love.
Straight bars was the bread and butter of SB.TV. Just a bunch of people (or one person) some known, some unknown; just spitting their hearts out, often over tinny instrumentals coming out their phone speakers, this was the essence. Jamal refined this formula by creating one of the most iconic freestyle series in the country, the F64. By doing this Jamal ensured that he always got the best original content out of the artists, challenging them to spit a Fresh 64, rather than just lazy recycled lyrics. Fem Fel would introduce fans to the new series, but Little Dee would be the first to step up to the plate and give us a Fresh 64. Season one alone housed some of the most loved freestyles to date, featuring the likes of Wretch 32, Chip, Lowkey, JME, Krept & Konan, GFrsh, Blade Brown & countless others.
Bars aside, Jamal knew that talent existed outside the constraints of rhythm and poetry. So, keen to broaden the horizons of SBTV, Jamal started A64, which in similar fashion to F64 challenged artists to deliver something completely new, but this time backed by acoustics, thus making room for an entirely different type of artist, while still catering for those spitters willing to step outside of their comfort zones. A fresh faced Maverick Sabre would kick off the series which is probably best known for featuring the now gargantuan talent, Ed Sheeran, but similar to the F64, the roll call of featured artists reads like a list of Black British music royalty, with the likes of Emeli Sandé, Labrinth and Angel all making appearances in the first season.
It’s easy to diminish Jamal Edward’s legacy to these pioneering exploits of SBTV, but being a pioneer means more than just being the first to think of something. Jamal showed us that once you’re at the top you don’t pull the ladder up, the philosophy is one of altruism, as opposed to dogged individualism; and he became a living embodiment of his Self Belief mantra. It’s easier to believe in yourself when someone like Jamal is showing you how endless the possibilities are when you do.