Recently included in Forbes 30 Under 30 list, Jamal Edwards MBE is the entrepreneur who has truly taken the UK music industry into the digital age.
Similar to Richard Branson, Edwards is that business man difficult to dislike, who knows his roots and isn’t afraid to stick up for the smaller man. Read on as we talk Grime, Simon Cowell, Black History Month and more.
TheSource.com: Hello Jamal, over here in Britain you’re an iconic figure who has brought urban music into the 21st Century. Explain a bit about yourself and what you do, for our US readers?
Jamal Edwards MBE: Thanks man, I’m humbled. My name is Jamal Edwards MBE (recently been honored, which was a surreal moment for myself and the scene). I’m a Pescatarian, I’m never asleep before 1am, never wake up later than 8am and I believe if life is a door, then self-belief is the key. A few years back, I launched a YouTube channel dedicated in showcasing talent the mainstream channels were not showcasing.
A new genre of urban music had been created called Grime and the artists were incredibly skilled but the mainstream outlets weren’t showing it enough love. YouTube had just launched and I thought this could be a great opportunity to get that talent out there.
Since launching the channel back in November 2006, we’ve worked with some of the biggest musicians on the planet but my core focus has always been on new talent, to help provide them with a platform to connect with real music lovers. Connecting with the right audience is so important as well as taking the bigger stars and doing stuff that puts them out of their comfort zone.
SBTV has become the leading figure in web-based music broadcasters within the UK, and has helped catapult the career of many musicians including Ed Sheeran. Did you ever expect it to get this big?
To be honest I always knew the artists had the talent to go global and really bring something new to mainstream music, so yes I am not surprised that UK music is garnering a following from all over the world. With regards to the recognition SBTV has had in the process I am always grateful and just try to encourage everyone to have self-belief in a vision and execute on it.
You’ve recently launched SBTV news, a media outlet designed to target the youth who are somewhat disenfranchised by current affairs. How have you aimed to tackle that market?
I think it’s about covering current affairs in a relatable and accessible voice. I don’t think it’s a problem with the content but there needs to be more diversity in ‘voice’ when it comes to what we look at as the news. The news is an important medium in raising awareness around issues facing our world today, so for me it’s important the youth have a platform in which they can explore this area of the media in their own voice.
Working with PA (Press Association) has ensured we get the right information and tailor it for the right audience, which in our case is the 15-30 age range.
The phrase ‘The Jamal Edwards Effect’ was first coined in 2013 by Susan Giner (Director of The Youth Media Agency) in an interview with The Independent newspaper. What exactly is it?
I think she just means breaking down barriers no matter your ethnicity or background. Because of what I have been lucky enough to achieve on YouTube and the community it has affected, I just think people like to coin things in this type of way. I am honored though that such a phrase even exists but to me it’s just about making sure the right talent get the right opportunities because it doesn’t always happen.
The state of music within Britain overall has come under question considerably over the last few years, with the domination of manufactured artists and talent show contestants. How do you see the current welfare of British music, in particular mainstream artists?
I think British music is having a fantastic moment, over the last few years we have seen underground artists really begin to punch through into the mainstream. Yes we have had talent shows that one could argue, have manufactured artists but I believe in balance and that everybody needs a platform.
Simon Cowell has built something incredible with X-Factor and I believe channels like mine provide another outlet for artists. Simon gave the world One Direction and I like to think we helped the world to meet Ed Sheeran.
Black History Month is currently upon us (even though in Britain it is celebrated in October), do you feel the education system does enough to teach children of all backgrounds and ethnicities about the history of Black people?
I think the history of Black people is so vast that the only answer to that is no, currently the only part of it which is taught is the slavery side of it and it would be great to look at the other parts of Black history, but I think that can be said of most ethnicities and cultures.
If you had to name one album that motivated you to get involved with music, what would it be and why?
I have various different albums, to be honest. Shola Ama‘s Much Love (1997) when I was about seven years old. She’s pretty much family to me and I always remember back in the day seeing her success inspired me because I was around her from a young boy. That sense of familiarity from a young age inspired me and from then I always was curious about music.
Then there was 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (2003) and Dizzee Rascals’ Boy In Da Corner (2003). The culmination of those albums made me realize you could actually do something in music, which motivated me to make a change myself, but via online video.
What are your plans for the future and any messages for The Source?
My plans for the future are to keep growing and to connect a new generation of entrepreneurs with opportunities. I want to keep building SBTV and have offices in different parts of the world. My message to The Source would be check out Nines, I’m sure you’ll like what you hear!