For an artist who’s been around as long as Jelly Roll, it’s wild that he’s releasing a “debut” album.
Of course it’s not the first album he’s ever put out. But it’s still a debut album for a guy who’s managed to buck the trends on his way to becoming one of the biggest up-and-coming names in country music.
But bucking trends is just another day in the life of the Nashville native.
Jason DeFord, better known as Jelly Roll, has long worked the road as a rapper, releasing a seemingly endless stream of music that gained him a cult-like following. Yet while there’s no denying the gratitude he felt to that small group of fans, there just seemed to be something out of place.
He was drawing on a life of crime, prison, drugs, family struggles, lost love, and deep feelings of unworthiness, putting that all into his music, but something just wasn’t right. He spent many years trying to figure it out, until the truth hit him at a KOA truck stop in Nebraska while taking a trip (of sorts).
He was writing the right songs, but in the wrong way.
With that revelation lingering in his mind, Jelly Roll took his daughter to visit an old church he used to go to when he was a teenager, the Whitsitt Chapel Baptist Church, and in the car ride home, decided exactly what album he was going to write.
A bit country, a bit gospel, a bit rock, and entirely himself.
The result was his debut country album, Whitsitt Chapel, which finally dropped today and can be streamed now HERE.
It’s a 13-track journey that takes you from his roots to where he is now, with the grit, heart, and character that it took to get through the hard times sewn into every song – including a revamp of the first one where the voice he was looking for the whole time began shining through.
“Save Me” is a song of self-deprecation, pain, and hardship, but also one of hope. It’s become an anthem for millions who used it as fuel to get through their own problems and signified that Jelly Roll wasn’t just some rapper, but a diamond in the rough. And in many ways it’s the base on which this whole album was built.
Each song on this project has one important factor, one common thread among songs that connect deeper and stay around longer: A “why.”
Whether it’s to inspire or to reveal, to make you laugh or make you cry, each track has a meaning that comes from one of music’s biggest hearts, who’s seen it all and lives to tell the story.
Jelly Roll sat down with Zane Lowe from Apple Music 1 to discuss what he’s calling his “coming of age album”.
“I think that the voice has so much to do with it. And I was writing all these lyrics but I just couldn’t find a way to convey the pain the proper way. I knew the lyrics had so much pain… I could see the pain in them but how do I get people to feel it? Because I believe some music’s meant to be heard and some music’s meant to be felt.
And that’s whenever I started really singing because I had never really sang before. And I realized that just something about a lifetime of pain came out of my voice and that was it.
I’ve seen a Bob Seger interview from 1976 and they said, ‘Where do you get this beautiful voice, this big, just dark growly voice?’ Bob was a real quiet guy and he looked at the camera and said, ‘I just searched for songs I can sing with conviction.'”
If you’re looking for those songs to sing with conviction, look no further than Whitsitt Chapel.
Whether it’s “Need A Favor,” the Miranda Lambert co-write “The Lost,” or “Church,” which Jelly Roll wrote with his good friend Hardy, there’s something under the surface to be found in each of these songs.
I’ve been a Jelly Roll fan for a little while now and he’s long overdue for a real foray into country music. We welcome him with open arms, not just because he’s a good soul, but because he’s a damn good songwriter and one hell of an artist.