Jelly Roll‘s debut country album, Whitsitt Chapel, just came out, but it’s not because he just decided to write country music. Instead, the rapper-turned-singer says he has always been tied to the country music genre, even if the connection wasn’t obvious.
“I feel like I’ve always written nothing but country songs, they were just my version of it and produced weirdly. … All my songs were written in the truth and to tell a story,” Jelly Roll said as part of Billboard‘s Country Live in Conversation. “The production; admittedly, I’m a music man. I’m not a trained musician. So when you start getting into those weeds, you start getting out of my tax bracket.”
Jelly Roll has had a whirlwind year. After the release of “Son of a Sinner,” which set a new Billboard chart record, Jelly Roll’s popularity in country music exploded. As he adjusts to his relatively newfound fame, the Nashville native has found a perhaps unlikely way to maintain a level of sanity: video games.
“I play video games for about an hour, every day,” Jelly Roll reveals. “No matter what’s happening in my life, this is my me hour. Sometimes I’ll play with friends, sometimes I won’t. But I prioritize a little bit of me time. There are 24 hours in the day; we should be able to make a little bit of me time for us. Something you love to do, I encourage you. It helps with mental health, so much.”
“When you’re incarcerated, religious material, reading material, magazines specifically, are one of the few things that you have access to, if somebody cares enough to send it to you,” Jelly Roll says. “They couldn’t send me weed or liquor or none of the stuff I needed, but they could definitely send me these things. I read magazines, and it’s every kid’s first instinct, whether you want to be an artist or not, you daydream of somebody writing about you.”.
As part of Jelly Roll’s far-reaching conversation with Billboard, the 38-year-old opened up about his former criminal charges, which include a felony offense from a crime he committed when he was just 16 years old.
“They were talking about giving me more time than I’d been alive,” Jelly Roll says, adding that he ultimately served a little over a year for his conviction. “I hadn’t hit my last growth spurt. I was charged as an adult years before I could buy a beer, lease an apartment, get a pack of cigarettes … I feel like the justice system at that point kind of parked me on my only set path.”
Although Jelly Roll has since turned his life around, the “Save Me” singer is still plagued by the felony conviction, which impacts every area of his life, including where he lives. After finding his dream house on a golf course, one he could finally afford, he was ultimately turned away because of his criminal record, which was prohibited in the neighborhood.
“Imagine changing your life in such a way that you can afford the kind of house in this community I was looking at,” Jelly Roll says. “My money was welcome, but I wasn’t, all because of something I did [almost] 24 years ago.”
Jelly Roll has said he would love a pardon from Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, but only if it came with reform for other incarcerated youth.
“Maybe we’re disciplining an age group that should be rehabilitated,” Jelly Roll suggests. “I just want to have that conversation, and if it can end in a pardon … let’s go.”
“I want to be a guidepost of hope for people to know that losers can win,” he adds. “That who you were isn’t who you are.”
Jelly Roll’s Save Me documentary is streaming now on Hulu. He will kick off his Backroad Baptism Tour on July 28, joined by a rotating list of opening acts, including Ashley McBryde, Chase Rice, Struggle Jennings, Caitlynne Curtis, Elle King, Merkules, Three 6 Mafia, Yelawolf and Josh Adam Meyers. Find Whitsitt Chapel and all of Jelly Roll’s music and upcoming shows at JellyRoll615.com
Photo Credit: Michael Buckner for Billboard