5 Minutes With: Jamal Edwards of SBTV
It’s a success story to rival the best of them: Kid takes a camera, films rappers, uploads those videos to YouTube and makes good — somewhere along the way turning his personal channel into the premier online hip-hop and lifestyle platform in the UK. The kid in question is Jamal Edwards and the channel is SBTV. SBTV is a product of both the DIY roots of the London grime scene and the internet generation. Parallels could be drawn between Jamal’s rise up the media ladder, and similar moves being made by the MCs he films. It’s about building something from scratch, an aggressive hankering for success, and making the right business moves. These days you’re likely to see Jamal interviewing the likes of Drake, ScHoolBoy Q or Wiz Khalifa, to name a few.
Last week we caught up with Jamal ahead of a workshop he was holding at Shinebright Studio, a creative pop-up and exhibition space in East London. Focusing on the advancement of emerging talent, Jamal was there to share a few notes on his hustle, with an eager audience. He spoke to us beforehand about his come-up, career highlights, and his plans for US domination, in our latest ‘5 Minutes With’.
SlamXHype: Let’s take it back to the start. What was the catalyst for you starting SBTV?
Jamal Edwards: I didn’t feel like my culture was being represented online and a load of my mates were having trouble getting their music out there as well. So I thought I wanted to create a platform to put them on, and broadcast their talents.
SXH: Since you started the platform in 2006 how have you experienced the industry changing?
Jamal: I think everyone is online now. Before, when I was going into record labels, I couldn’t get the time of day. Now they’re all over it, trying to find online campaigns, when it was all about TV and radio before. I feel like the industry has grown with internet culture; it’s blown up. It’s easier to get started, and penetrate the industry now. When I started it was more difficult. PRs and managers were going, “Nah, I don’t wanna put the artist on your channel. It’s got to be TV”. Or if I got interview time, it was only 3-5 minutes; it was very strict. I think now online content is much more accepted.
Do you think it’s democratized things?
Yeah, definitely. 100%.
Why did you want to get involved with Shinebright Studio?
I think events like Shinebright Studio, where they get together loads of talented people, are great. We can give back to the industry. I feel like there should be a lot more stuff like this. Every now and then a brand will do something, and it’s good for people who are starting out, to get inspired. It’s a good look, and it should be done more.
I guess with SBTV, you guys have always done that — fostering emerging talent and taking on that mentoring role. Things like [SBTV series] Skooled By, and things like that…
Yeah. I mean, I’m 23, so a lot of people who are my kind of audience don’t really know who the people on Skooled By really are. The whole Skooled By sessions were started because I thought my audience needed to be schooled, you know? …by people who don’t just talk rubbish all the time, and actually tell a story. It’s about the inspiration behind that.
When you were starting out, do you think there was the same guidance there?
Nah, I don’t think there was any guidance there. It was trial and error, I didn’t know what to do. It was general fun — the idea of me filming some artists who I’ve always listened to. When I used to film Logan Sama’s show every Monday, I’d be with like, Tiny, Skepta, JME – all these people – and I’d been listening to them, watching them on DVD for ages, so it was a buzz for me to film them. But there wasn’t any one person out there that was like, “this is the way to do it”, because there wasn’t anyone that had done it before. Nothing was online. When I started SBTV seven or eight years ago, YouTube had just been bought by Google and a lot of videos on YouTube were just comedy videos — like ‘Charlie Bit My Finger’, funny videos — but no music videos. So I did it by trial and error.
So it was literally just you running around with a camera?
Yeah just trying it out – uploading it – if I failed, then uploading it again.
As SBTV has grown over the last few years what do you think it means to the industry, in terms of being a mouthpiece for this culture?
I think it’s a stepping stone. Like, Expendables 3 is out today. They hollered at me, and I did an interview with Terry Crews. Today also we did an interview with Louis Mattrs, who’s signed to a management company as a new artist, so they’ve come to me to do an interview because he hadn’t really done anything online, and they wanted to give SBTV the exclusive. Kevin Hart — I was on a phone call with him today about Hartbeat Productions. They want SBTV to be an exclusive media partner. SBTV is an online promotional tool that they can all use.
So you’re there to facilitate…
Yeah – and in all areas, not just music. It’s a youth lifestyle platform.
What are some of the highlights of the last few years of SBTV?
Traveling. I drove from Las Vegas to LA, and stopped off in the desert. That was sick. Meeting Prince Harry and Prince William, filming loads of different people, and being able to meet people. I organized an event for Bill Clinton. Then there was the TED talk in Hollywood. But mostly, the highlights are traveling. And all this is off the back of SBTV.
Is expansion into the States and beyond high up on the agenda for SBTV?
Yeah. Over the next 18 months I’ll be over there. The US is my second biggest viewership after the UK, so I wanna go over there, do LA and New York and eight other states, and make a TV show about it. I don’t think there’s anything like SBTV over there. I went on the Rihanna ‘777’ tour, and Fader, Rolling Stone, and Complex were there, you know, but I don’t think anyone’s really doing it like SBTV — I think there’s a gap over there. Normally if I get content over there, they’ll film it there and send it over to me, but I think I need to get over there and start building it from scratch.
Does moving things to the States mean a change in content and format? Will you be trying to showcase US artists or is it more about showcasing UK artists in the US?
Nah, I’m going to start a whole new channel. It’s gonna be called SBTV: Stateside Breakthrough. It’ll focus mainly on artists who are from there. If I film it there, it’ll go on that channel. If I film it here, it’ll go on over here. If an American comes over to the UK, then I think they’re looking for a UK audience, so it’ll go on the UK channel, and vice versa. I want to start building it from scratch — singers, rappers, MCs … I don’t know if they do grime over there …
Grime is starting to permeate into some US hip-hop…
Yeah, like Virgil Abloh and those guys are picking up on it. Skepta just got back from Harlem, and he was performing ‘That’s Not Me” over there, so slowly but surely…
Even acts like Ratking seem to be picking up on it.
Yeah. Ratking is cool, man.
So what are you going to be sharing at the talk this evening?
I’m going to share a few first exclusives that no one knows about. And share the highs and lows — it’s not all glitz and glam. Plus a few tips. I haven’t done one of these for a while — less is more — but I thought it was a good time to talk to people. I’ve got my new site launching soon as well.
If you were to give people any advice, what would it be?
One of my main pieces of advice for people who want to get into the industry is this: credits. It’s the simplest thing but I don’t think people understand. When you watch a TV programm there are credits at the end. Watch the credits and find names. Stalk them. Find out who they are, where they are, and break down barriers. Simple things like this will help you get into places. Most people will switch off by the time the credits come on, but those are the most important bits to find out. Who’s making a show you enjoy? It’s little things like that.
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