These days Jelly Rollis one of the fastest-rising stars on the planet. He’s had three #1 singles already in 2023, and was recently named New Artist of the Year at the CMA Awards on the heels of his incredible debut country album, Whitsitt Chapel.
But it’s been a long and winding road to get here, as the 39-year old referenced in his incredible acceptance speech when he mused about winning New Artist of the Year at his age:
“There is something poetic about 39-year old man winning New Artist of the Year.
I don’t know where you’re at in your life or what you’re going through, but I wanna tell you to keep going, baby. I wanna tell you success is on the other side of it.
I wanna tell you it’s gonna be okay. I wanna tell you that the windshield is bigger than the rear view mirror for a reason, because what’s in front of you is so much more important than what’s behind you. Let’s party Nashville!”
The struggles that Jelly Roll (whose real name is Jason DeFord) has faced have been well-documented, and he’s never shied away from his past.
At the age of 15, he was locked up for armed robbery and ultimately ended up pleading guilty to a felony robbery charge in 2003.
He spoke about his time behind bars during an appearance on the Joe Rogan podcast:
“We robbed a couple guys for some weed, but they called the police because we took some money and stuff.
It was an armed robbery, I mean we went in there with a gun, I regret it every day of my life…
I spent my 15th, my 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th birthdays incarcerated. My daughter inevitably, by the grace of God, will get a car on her 16th birthday. You know like the dream sh*t, with the ribbon. It’s gonna be a big moment.
But they didn’t even give me an extra piece of cake for dinner. You know what I mean? Like I didn’t have a guard tell me like happy 15th, 16th birthday.
You don’t get a family visit. Like I missed high school completely. I think I was in high school for like… six weeks.”
And it was while Jelly Roll was locked up that his daughter was born, a moment that he said brought everything into focus and made him realize that he needed to change his life:
“The only sh*t that turned that around for me was Bailee. I knew I got a woman pregnant, I’m back in jail, she’s pregnant. She hates me, we’re not talking, I’m a bad human… she’s right, I was a horrible human.
And I’m sitting in there, and that guard knocks on my door May 22nd, 2008… He goes ‘You had a kid today,’ and he walked away. I still get emotional.
It’s like a Damascus road experience in the Bible. I immediately was like I’ve got to do something. I’ve got to quit this sh*t. I’ve got to figure it out.”
Well it’s safe to say that he’s figured it out since then. After a career as a rapper, Jelly Roll made the switch to country music and has been on a rocketship ever since.
But he’s never forgotten about his past or where he came from.
The native of Antioch, Tennessee, a suburb of Nashville, revealed during an appearance on This Past Weekend with Theo Von that he recently returned to visit that same cell that he was locked up in when he found out that he was a father – and as you can imagine, it was an emotional moment:
“I’m filming a special for a television show, CBS Sunday Morning…
They took me back to my old jail yesterday. The jail that I found out I had my daughter in. They took me back to my old cell.
I walked in there certain I wasn’t going to be emotional, because I walked in so happy and in such a good mood. We’re chatting, I’m telling them stories, we walk upstairs.
And as soon as I walked into that cell I cried like a baby. It was like every memory from that jail cell. The hearing that I had a daughter, every song I wrote, everything I went through. And you’re just sitting there like, ‘Man, this is unreal.'”
Jelly Roll said the experience was a humbling one, and it’s one of the reasons he wants to give back so much:
“It’s such a humbling thing for me. And then I go do a show with Nelly and Riley Green and I’m on f*cking the biggest podcast on earth the next day…
I’m so blessed. And that’s why I do all the giveback stuff. Like, how could God bless me so much and me not want to bless somebody?”
Say what you will about his music, but how can you not love Jelly Roll the person?