Jelly Roll could also be nominated for Recent Artist of the 12 months on the 2023 Country Music Association Awards — one in all five awards he’s up for Wednesday night at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena — but he’s hardly fresh off the farm.
In actual fact, the Antioch, Tennessee native, behind hits corresponding to “Need a Favor” and current single “Save Me,” began his recording profession as a rapper with the hip-hop group SNO, back in 2011 — long before making his country debut with the chart-topping “Son of a Sinner” in 2022.
So really, the one thing “recent” concerning the artist born Jason DeFord is his genre of alternative.
“There’s something poetic a couple of 39-year old man with a 300-song release catalog being nominated for the CMA Recent Artist award,” Jelly Roll told The Post on a break from award show rehearsals. “It encapsulates my feelings this week, whether I win it or not.”
The music biz vet is the second most-nominated artist on Music City’s biggest night, trailing only Lainey Wilson — “My dance partner at country radio straight away,” Jelly Roll points out — with whom he’s up for Musical Event of the 12 months, for “Save Me.”
What’s more, the dude with the country music tradition-bucking tattooed face can also be opening the festivities — singing Single of the 12 months nominee “Need a Favor.”
“It’s the glory of all honors. Man, it’s a blessing,” said Jelly Roll, who can even perform “Love Can Construct a Bridge” with R&B diva K. Michelle — “The voice of God,” he remarked — during a scheduled tribute to the Judds, later within the show.
“I would like people to know that I’m here to remain. That’s type of what my goal is on the CMAs. Regardless that it took me 20 years, now I gotta prove my endurance,” he said.
But although Jelly Roll is now getting the type of acclaim and a focus as a rustic artist that he never achieved within the rap game, his heart still belongs to his less celebrated beginnings.
“Hip-hop was my old flame,” he says. “I remember after I was a young child, my brothers and sisters put their money together, they usually bought me a cassette tape. And it was a single for a song called ‘Rump Shaker’ by Wreckx-N-Effect. And I remember spending a complete summer going, ‘All I wanna do is zoom-a-zoom-zoom-zoom/And a poom-poom/Just shake ya rump.”
But along with battling other rappers, Jelly Roll would also tangle with the law, getting arrested multiple times while serving jail time for drug charges and aggravated robbery.
“Well, it taught me perseverance,” he said of his prison stint, during which he earned his G.E.D. “And it gave me a first-hand lesson on the human I don’t need to be, ‘cause I used to be a foul human for therefore long.”
Jelly Roll also struggled with drug addiction — a subject he addresses on “Son of a Sinner,” which won him three trophies on the CMT Awards in April. “We were high as a mother,” he said of recording the tune. “We’d been up all night.”
And while he may now have country cred to spare, Jelly Roll still feels very much connected to hip-hop.
“I’m still as hip-hop as I’ve ever been,” he said. “And my approach to the sport is hip-hop.”
Plus, he added, the 2 genres have more in common than you may think. “Country music began so much like hip-hop,” he said. “It was numerous people just telling the stories of the poor white people.”
Still, there are those country traditionalists who’re, unlike the CMAs, not ready to simply accept Jelly Roll as the brand new big thing.
“I mean, I’ve needed to fight numerous uphill battles,” he said. “I’d be lying if I inform you it still doesn’t get under my skin a bit of bit. You get nominated for the Country Music [Association] Awards, and the primary comment you see under there’s, ‘He’s not even country!’ I grew up in Antioch on a creek catching crawfish. You recognize what I mean? It’s like, ‘Do I want to post an image of a dead deer?’ I don’t know the way way more country I may be.”