Remembering Jamal Edwards: Champion of a Cultural Revolution.
I can remember the first time I discovered Youtube. It was the summer of 2008 and I was hanging out with my neighbour at her house. She asked me if I’d heard of this new website called “Youtube”. I sheepishly told her that I hadn’t — fighting thelowkey teenage urge to be ‘on trend’. She described it as this new website where you could upload and watch videos for free — how you could find literally anything on there. Curious, I asked her if she could show me the “Youtube” website. We spent the next few hours watching random videos and afterwards, in the words of Drake… ‘Nothing was the Same’.
This was all happening during the height of the DVD era and the rise of sites like Limewire — those who know, know. Limewire was a software you would download onto your PC and it allowed you to download the latest multimedia entirely for free. You could watch the latest films, listen to the latest songs if you couldn’t make it to the cinema or buy the albums. The only problem with Limewire was there was always a 50% chance you wouldn’t receive what you were looking for. I remember once trying to download a Harry Potter film (the Half-Blood Prince) and ended up getting How High — probably not age appropriate but super funny and a classic film in its own right. People my age were looking for quicker ways to engage with culture and we were finding them one platform at a time.
Around this time, Channel U was the main TV channel for non-mainstream British music. I remember coming home straight from school and watching the videos on the channel. It was the home for raw UK music — largely Grime, Jungle and Garage but sometimes R’n’B and Hip Hop too. The videos were raw, viewers commented via live text-to-screen and the best videos were often.
It’s no surprise that with the rise of Youtube, many artists began side-stepping the Chanel U model. It eventually died out and those artists started uploading videos directly to the platform on their own channels. No fees and total control to control your narrative and engagement with followers.
I discovered SBTV soon after I found Youtube. I loved watching the rhymes straight to camera. The artistry. The fashion. The camaraderie and best of all — the drama that would unfold on camera, in the comments section and in subsequent videos. SBTV created a community to embrace a sub-culture that still was largely unseen, ignored and misunderstood aspect of British culture.
Today, many of the artists I used to watch on the channel back in 2008 are now stars in their own rights. When I think of SBTV, I am transported back to that feeling when I was a teenager navigating those weird years of equal growth and stagnation and where playground discussions and debates about our culture were so exciting and something I looked forward to.
For me, Jamal’s legacy is not defined by the number of individuals he catapulted into stardom through his platform. For me, it was his clever documenting of the germination of grime culture — telling the story of this music genre with care and complexity. Not just as a music form but everything that went around it too. Jamal didn’t just capture stars, he captured every contribution, every bar, every diss track that, when combined… were brick-by-brick the foundation of Grime music.
When I think of Jamal Edwards, I think of my school days. The culture, joy and troubles of girlhood as I experienced it as a Londoner. Best of all, I know I’m not the only one who feels this way because Jamal created a community who will always remember him this way when they think of what he created. Now, in retrorespect I remember a strange period where developments in tech transformed the way we consume culture and grime was no different.
Jamal had a natural ability to cultivate the culture of his community. He also knew he had the democratising power of the internet to create new story-tellers, powerhouses in their own right.
In memory of our West London Legend Jamal, I share some of my favourite SBTV videos below.