Nashville emcee Jelly Roll may not be a household name yet, but make no mistake, he's one of hip-hop's great success stories.
After a youth filled with delinquency, and songs that only inspired the furthering of that life, Jelly Roll has done a complete 180. Now focused on fatherhood, and being a role model to his daughter, he's changed as a person, and with that, his music has evolved.
Back in December Jelly Roll released the first example of his musical evolution, an EP titled Whiskey Sessions, and he's completed a full length follow up due out later this year.
In a tweet, Jelly Roll described his new sound saying it's "Bob Seger meets UGK and Three 6 Mafia." There are also plenty of country music influences in his Whiskey Sessions, and the genre crossing has been opening up new doors for him. Doors that are easier for him to walk through, as one of his recent victories has been shedding over 100 pounds.
With so much going on in his life, RapReviews caught up with Jelly Roll to find out more about his incredible weight loss, his new sound, and the realizations that made him want to change both his music, and his life.
Adam Bernard: Before we get to your music, congrats on the weight loss. I hear you're down 100 pounds.
Jelly Roll: Yeah, about 110. 140 from my biggest.
AB: That's amazing. What motivated you to start losing weight?
JR: My little girl started kindergarten, and it wasn't day three that I started going to her school that a kid didn't say something about my weight. It don't bother me, what people say about me to me, personally, but I don't want her to ever be embarrassed. I don't want her ever have to suffer for a mistake I've been making continuously for years. So I literally just started fuckin shredding it right then. Very true story.
You're the first person that's ever asked me what triggered me to lose my weight. That's crazy.
Health, obviously, too, I mean I wanted to be healthy, and I wanted to look better, and all the things that come associated with it, but the straw that really broke the camel's back for me was just that reality at school.
I'm still losing now, I'm down to 345 right now. I'm trying to get down to 290. I just never want her to hear, "Wow, your fat ass father." I never want her to hear that.
AB: And you're taking care of that when she's in kindergarten.
JR: Exactly. Even now, (she's in) first grade, kids look at me different. Now I'm the guy with tattoos who's cool. I do it for her, and I'ma keep doing it for her. I want to lead by example.
AB: I gotta assume shedding 100 pounds has also had some positive effects on your music, like with breath control, and performance.
JR: Aw dude, I breathe better... here's what I tell people as I try to inspire bigger people now to lose weight; it's unbelievable how much better my life is right now with just that 100 pounds off. I'm still 350 fuckin pounds. I'm still huge, so I can only imagine what 250 is gonna feel like. I can only imagine what 220 feels like.
My sex life is better. My dick is bigger. I get hit on by more different calibers of women than ever. I feel better. I'm faster on my feet. Just everything about me, I walk up a flight of steps without feeling like I'm dying. Sitting on planes is still uncomfortable, but not nearly as uncomfortable as it once was.
When you think about all the stuff associated with being a fat ass, now I look at other fat people like, "Why are you not trying to lose that weight?"
AB: Moving to your music, you released your Whiskey Sessions EP back in December. It marks a change in sound for you, as you're now incorporating more country into your work. What are some of the ways you've found country music parallels with hip-hop?
JR: Nashville has a slogan that says, "Four chords and the truth." You find a story that relates to people, and you tell it. That was always my approach in hip-hop, minus the four chords. It was always real simple, don't over-think it, don't sit down and try to write a bunch of lines, just tell people what you know. I've always tried to pride myself on being a guy that speaks only on what I know. If we're sitting around, and somebody's tinkering under a hood of a car, and says, "Hey Jelly, what do you think about this?" I go, "I don't really know enough about cars to have an opinion." I try to take that to my music, too.
I'm from Nashville. I grew up around country music. I grew up around old southern rock n roll. My Mother used to listen to old Motown, and oldies, so I felt like I was always inclined to take my music in a different direction one day, I just never thought this would be the direction, but I love it. I'm enjoying making music for the first time in a long time. I've been loving the spirit of it, too. I love what kind of crowd it brings, and how it touches people, and moves people. It's so much different than just traditional gangster rap.
AB: You mentioned the spirit, and the crowds. Musically, what does this genre blending allow you to do, and who does it allow you to reach, that you weren't able to before?
JR: I opened up for Uncle Kracker not too long ago. I got some dates coming up with Brantley Gilbert. This is shit I couldn't have done with just the traditional southern hip-hop I was doing. I'm touching a whole new lane of people, man. I'm touching so many different people now, and such a broader market, and I'm actually, for the first time in my life, really getting into music.
I learned the guitar in 2014. My goal for 2015 is to learn the piano. I'm just really learning music now. I'm really understanding it differently, and I'm going back to old music that I never really was on like I should have been that I'm inspired by now, and influenced by. I'm really becoming a music man, and that's awesome, because before I was just another rapper.
AB: It sounds like this could provide a longevity that you maybe didn't imagine you were gonna have before.
JR: Exactly, and at 30 years old I need it. Thirty years old and I hadn't really broke yet? Shit, I need all the extra time I can get now. I'm not like the young bucks out here.
AB: What's been going on in your life that's inspiring the content of your work?
JR: When I got out of jail in 2009 I came home to a daughter that was born while I was incarcerated. That changed my whole life. Like I said, my music has always been about truth, so the music I was making for years was a reflection of who I was and what I was doing. One day I was in the studio, I was cutting a record, it was some kind of drug song, or something, and I was thinking to myself, I don't do drugs no more, I don't sell drugs anymore, I'm just going in the studio and reliving a person I didn't really like being. I was having to go back and relive moments of my life I would like to forget about.
Rappers write songs about going to jail all the time, and the time they spent in jail, and they've been home for four, five, six, seven years. It's like, fuck dude, I hated jail. I don't even like telling jail stories. I don't like when people go, "Tell us some shit that happened in jail." That shit's not cool. When I go in corporate America, I'm around all these new magazines, and different people, and they're like, "Tell us about your experiences in jail." Man, who the fuck wants to talk about that? How about I didn't get fucked in the ass, and how about nobody beat me up, or took nothin from me. Let's just leave it at that. It was jail. It was awful.
Then I catch myself in the studio rapping about everything that took me to jail. I'm in the studio reliving every horrible tragedy in my life, writing records about dead friends. All that still has a place on my new record, but it's just not the main content. I grew out of it. I got older. Shit just changed in general. I kinda quit listening to rap music. Rap music started to kind of appall me. I think you can attest that the last five years it's pretty much sucked anyways.
AB: Over the last six or seven years, 90% of the stuff, I don't relate to it, but that's OK, I'm 30-something.
JR: Exactly. That's kind of my thing. I just don't get it. I don't know, man. I just got into a different plateau in my life where I just wanted to change, I wanted to be somebody, I wanted to be somebody different. I wanted to be a Big Fish. I wanted to have the Edward Bloom effect. I don't know if you've ever seen the movie Big Fish, I just saw it the other night for the first time. It was so inspiring.
What I realized more than anything is I have the pen to author my life. I control the pen that authors the destiny of me. I didn't realize that for years. I just kinda lived in a rut of who I was, and what I was, and (the idea that) what I was is what I'll always be, and that's who I am, and what I was is what made me who I am. That shit's not true. That's fuckin propaganda. I got this pen here. I want a ranch. I want some fuckin animals. I want some four wheelers. I got some shit here I want to do. I can do that. I can be that person. If I want to wake up today, and learn the guitar, and sing songs about being hungover, that's what I'll do. I have the right to do that, and once I figured that out it changed my whole life.
AB: Other than wanting to shed your past, what sparked that realization, and your desire to change your life?
JR: It was my daughter. Once I'd seen Bailey, and met her... cuz when you're in jail and they say, "Hey, your kid was born today," you say to yourself, "I got a kid when I go home," but it's just a thought. It's just something you see on a letter, on a sheet of paper. It wasn't real until I started getting around her, and starting realizing I am the example of men in her life. How I treat her is how she will expect to be treated in her marriage. What I do, and how I live my life is something that could be the biggest impact on her life ever. Not to mention the day to day lessons I teach her. Not to mention the conversations we have, and actually raising a kid, but just the example of who I am.
I never realized the biggest lessons my father taught me were not the ones he told me, they were the ones I watched.
So that was it. I was like, man, I gotta do something. I gotta make sure I don't go back to jail. I gotta make sure music works. Then I started thinking about the content of my music, and how I was living, and how I was still one foot in. I wasn't selling drugs, and I wasn't doing nothin wrong, but my music had me in constant bad situations because of the content. I was constantly in clubs where fights were breaking out, or somebody was getting shot. It was just constant negativity, (because) the music I was making was dark as fuck.
AB: How do you deal with the fans who've been following you for years requesting those older songs while you're on stage? Is it tough to rap them, or do you just tell them that's not your life anymore?
JR: There's a certain group of songs that I just stay away from now. A lot of that just has to do with letting go. I feel like a lot of artists make the mistake that they have a song that got them to a certain level, and they feel like they can never top that song, they can never do better, so they always revert back to that song, or those songs.
I just feel like the music I'm making now is so much better than the music I was making before.
Love me for who I am, not who I was. That's my biggest thing in life. Love me for who I am, not who I was, and more importantly, believe in who I'm trying to be.
Continue to part two of our interview with Jelly Roll,
where he talks about some extremely wild moments from his 2014 tour with Insane Clown Posse,
and crazy times on the set of the music video for "Rock This Trailer Park," which is the theme song
he wrote for the TLC show Welcome to Myrtle Manor.