Jelly Roll Biography: Rediscovering Jelly Roll’s Musical Odyssey

Jelly Roll is the stage name of American rapper and songwriter Jason DeFord (born September 27, 1987). He is known for combining hip hop, country, rock, and other genres in his music. Jelly Roll has had a turbulent life, including struggles with addiction and homelessness, but has found success in the music industry with hits like “Save Me” and “Creature.”

Early Life and Childhood

Jelly Roll was born in Antioch, Tennessee, a suburb of Nashville. His mother was a singer and his father played guitar in a local rock band. However, Jelly Roll had an unstable childhood due to his parents’ drug addictions and turbulent relationship.

At age 7, his parents divorced. Jelly Roll started rebelling and getting into trouble in his youth. He started drinking alcohol at 12 years old and using drugs like cocaine soon after. Jelly Roll was shuffled between different family members’ houses and sometimes slept on friends’ couches or outside when he had no place to stay.

Despite his problems, Jelly Roll discovered hip hop music through artists like DMX and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony during his teenage years. He started writing rap lyrics as an outlet.

Education and Early Career Aspirations

Jelly Roll attended Antioch High School but dropped out before graduating at 17. He then worked odd jobs like as a mechanic and at a restaurant to get by.

During this time, Jelly Roll knew he wanted a career in the music industry. He started making connections through the Nashville hip hop scene and releasing songs locally as a rapper. However, his drug addictions made it difficult for him to pursue music seriously.

At 19, Jelly Roll was arrested for possession and intent to sell over a pound of marijuana. He spent nine months in prison in Mississippi. The experience was difficult but motivated Jelly Roll to turn his life around through music upon release.

Homelessness and Addiction Struggles

Despite aspirations of a music career after jail, Jelly Roll relapsed into cocaine and alcohol addiction in his early 20s. His addictions overwhelmed his life, causing him to lose jobs, relationships, and stable housing.

Jelly Roll spent almost four years homeless, occasionally staying in motels but primarily living on the streets. He sometimes slept under bridges or outside the Nashville Music Row studios hoping to connect with music industry people. The instability also meant he went in and out of jail frequently during this period.

Jelly Roll fell into a deep depression and his addiction grew increasingly severe. He attempted suicide multiple times. One near-death overdose put Jelly Roll in a coma for several days.

At his lowest point, he was drinking over a fifth of vodka and using up to an 8 ball of cocaine daily just to function while living on the streets.

Getting Sober and Landing a Record Deal

In 2010, at 23 years old, Jelly Roll finally became sober and determined to restart his music career. While performing at open mic events, he caught the attention of producer Big Sam who signed Jelly Roll to his indie label.

The next few years were a rebuilding process as Jelly Roll adjusted to sobriety and releasing music professionally. His 2013 debut album “No Filter” reflected on his struggles with raw emotion.

As Jelly Roll became more established in the Nashville scene, his genre-blending sound earned him a deal with the major label Cinq Music in 2016. This launched his career to greater heights.

Musical Style and Song Themes

Jelly Roll stands out for seamlessly combining elements of hip hop, country, blues, rock, and alternative music in his songs. His distinctive hybrid sound reflects his experiences growing up with a singer mother and rocker father in Music City.

While mainly delivered through spoken, rhythmic lyrics like hip hop, Jelly Roll’s music features strong melodies and guitar riffs like rock while also incorporating Southern musicality reminiscent of country and blues. The genre mashing creates cinematic songs covering heavy topics.

Lyrical Focus on Struggle, Perseverance, and Redemption

Having survived poverty, trauma, addiction battles, homelessness, suicide attempts, incarceration, and more, Jelly Roll channels his pain into raw confessionals in his songwriting.

He primarily focuses on themes of inner demons, struggle, loss, resilience, personal growth, making amends, and redemption over dark times. Jelly Roll creates message music to help himself and listeners coping with similar issues feel less alone in their lowest moments while fighting to carry on.

While unflinchingly honest, his lyrics project hope about overcoming one’s past troubles. Songs like “Dead Man Walking” and memoir-style releases such as his 2015 album “Addiction Kills People” document his turbulent life. But more recent songs demonstrate Jelly Roll’s positive mindset transformation after climbing out of his downward spiral.

Mainstream Success and Accomplishments

In 2016, Jelly Roll’s confessional single “Save Me” brought him mainstream attention, earning millions of YouTube views quickly.

The song connects with anyone battling serious issues by pleading for God’s help to save him from endless adversity with lyrics like “Broken halos, wings of angels will save me.”

“Save Me” resonated widely as Jelly Roll’s first crossover hit on multiple Billboard charts, including Hot Rock Songs, Hot Rap Songs, and Twitter Top Tracks. It demonstrated his potential for wider appeal beyond just the Nashville scene.

Several Hit Albums and Songs

Now a household name in hip hop and country-rap, Jelly Roll has released several successful albums and singles since his breakthrough.

  • Albums:
    • “Addiction Kills People” (2015) – peaked at #2 on Heatseekers
    • “As Promised” (2018)
    • “Saved by the Sauce” (2019) – debuted at #7 on Top Country Albums
    • “Ballads For The Down & Out” (2021) – peaked at #5 on Top Album Sales
  • Singles:
    • “Creature” ft. Tech N9ne and Krizz Kaliko (2019) – #1 on Bubbling Under Hot 100
    • “Son of a Sinner” (2020) – #35 Hot Country Songs
    • “Tombstone” (2021) – #1 Hot New Hip Hop Songs

Today Jelly Roll’s music videos average over 63 million views. He has over 1 million monthly listeners on Spotify.

Jelly Roll also founded his own label called Forklift Musik in 2021 to give rising artists in various genres distribution support.


Jelly Roll’s genre-bending style has allowed him to collaborate with diverse artists leading to unexpected musical chemistry.

Notable collaborations:

  • Lil Wyte – fellow Memphis rapper
  • Baby Blue from Pretty Ricky – R&B singer
  • Pimp C from Underground Kingz – legendary Southern hip hop act
  • Tech N9ne and Krizz Kaliko – Strange Music labelmates
  • Brantley Gilbert – country star
  • Lil Boosie and Lil Poppa – Southern rappers
  • Struggle Jennings, Caitlynne Curtis, Josh Adam Meyers – country/rap crossover acts

These features demonstrate Jelly Roll’s widespread respect and trailblazing impact bridging musical worlds.

Personal Life

While recording his 2013 debut album, Jelly Roll met hip hop artist Bunnie XO and fell in love. They married in Las Vegas in 2016.

Bunnie had a daughter named Noah from a previous relationship that Jelly Roll loves as his own. Their marriage and father-daughter bond represent healthier relationships compared to Jelly Roll’s traumatic childhood experiences.

Family life provided needed stability during Jelly Roll’s career ascent. However, they divorced during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. Jelly Roll also went through losing grandparents who raised him and his brother passing away in recent years which informed his music’s soulful evolution.

Ongoing Activism

With his prominence, Jelly Roll uses his platform for good causes related to his journey. Having lost over 30 friends to overdoses, he advocates strongly against opioid addiction. Jelly Roll partners with organizations holding addiction awareness events.

Understanding the struggles those without homes face firsthand for years, Jelly Roll actively gives back to people on Skid Row in Los Angeles too. Overall, he aims to spread positivity now that he overcame very dark times.

FAQs About Jelly Roll

Jelly Roll is multiracial. His mother is Caucasian and his estranged biological father is half African-American and half Cherokee Native American descent. On his father’s side, his grandfather was a sharecropper from Mississippi who played blues guitar.

What is Jelly Roll’s real name?

Jelly Roll’s birth name is Jason DeFord. He hails from Antioch, Tennessee and was born September 27, 1987. He is currently 36 years old as of 2024.