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With his wealth of tattoos, Southern rapper Jelly Roll is an illustrated man. But the ink tells the story of who the onetime gangster was — not who he is now. Today, he is a reformed man, an underdog, a dedicated father to a little girl, an inspiration to those who grew up hustling like him and, most of all, a groundbreaking artist. “My tattoos are not a reflection of who I am at all,” says Jelly Roll. “But they’re a very good description of who I was. I never thought I’d be what I am now.” Jelly Roll is at the fore of the country rap scene, distinguished by his edgy, lived-in lyrics (he first went to juvenile detention when he was only 14; prison soon followed) and a sound he calls “country, rock, white trash rap.” To be sure, it’s a unique hybrid, as informed by the Motown Jelly’s mother played him as a child as it is by the Nashville street rap he listened to in his teens.
A gifted singer as well as rapper, to hear Jelly Roll perform songs like the R&B-flavored “Sunday Morning” and the Southern rock of “Bad Apple” is to believe that the county-rap genre is far from a novelty. “My lyrics are very true to who I am. I’m very real, very honest, very straightforward and I’m in an industry where a number of artists are not,” says Jelly Roll, who was born and raised in gritty Antioch, Tennessee, just south of Music City. “I don’t hide anything.” Including his incarcerations for robbery and drugs. Surviving prison ultimately motivated Jelly Roll, an all-too-rare case of the system actually working. But it was when he met composer and producer Jared Gutstadt — aka Jingle Jared, who has worked with artists from Dierks Bentley and Lynyrd Skynyrd to Nas and Chiddy Bang — and his creative team the Jingle Punks that helped Jelly launch a proper career.
"He was a white rapper, and I thought, 'I've seen that before,'" says Gutstadt. "But then I heard what he was doing. It was fresh, inventive stuff. I think he and I can create a new sound for Nashville." With the Jingle Punks creative force onboard, Jelly Roll is eager to explore his fresh direction via a new EP. Titled Sunday Morning after his popular day-after anthem, the project picks up where "Kid Rock left off," Gutstadt says. Like Jelly Roll, it’s a combination of all the things that define a man: loving and leaving, winning and losing, and sinning and forgiving. “Since I left prison, I don’t have the kinds of problems I used to have. I’ve changed and so my music is changing with me,” says Jelly Roll. “But the good news is my audience is growing with me too.” And he’s excited for them, along with new fans, to hear his country, rock, white-trash rap. “I’m excited for everyone to hear my music,” he says. “It’s real, it’s honest and, dammit, it’s fun.”
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