Last month, the Antioch native, who in recent years has found huge success singing country rock songs, performed to a crowd of more than 15,000 people at a sold-out headline show at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. “I’m still kinda wrapping my head around it,” Jelly Roll admitted, speaking to HipHopDX. “I’ve lived here a long time and I’ve never felt the arena quite like that.”
“It felt different this time around because I’ve never been in the middle of the arena when it was like that,” he continued. “There were people everywhere. There were people in the building who didn’t even have a ticket, they were in the aisles, in the halls. It was insane.”
The hometown show was the cherry on top of a triumphant year for Jelly Roll (real name Jason DeFord) which saw him become the first act this decade to top the Rock charts while simultaneously having a Top 30 song on Country radio thanks to the tracks “Dead Man Walking” and “Son of a Sinner” respectively. The latter, which along with the former is taken from his deeply introspective new album Ballads of the Broken, topped Billboard’s Country Radio and Airplay charts earlier this month.
“No matter how much success we’ve had this year, even playing Red Rocks, none of it settled on me until we were at home, until that arena was just wall to fucking wall,” he explained. “It was a moment for me.”
Proceeds from the December show went to the local non-profit Impact Youth Outreach, which serves at-risk, disadvantaged youth in the Nashville area. Jelly Roll also donated $250,000 to the program and revealed plans to build a recording studio and music programs at the Davidson County Juvenile Detention Center.
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Jelly Roll brought out several special guests at the gig including Kansas City rap veteran and Strange Music co-founder Tech N9ne, who performed alongside his longtime friend and collaborator Krizz Kaliko.
“Having Tech and Krizz Kaliko there that night was special for me,” Jelly told DX. “Tech’s energy is so pure and he gives the best advice.”
Jelly Roll then went on to explain how he and Tech met, recalling how the Anghellic rapper had reached out to him for a collaboration — which was the first time an artist more popular than him had made such a request.
“Tech was the first major artist to reach out to me for a feature,” he explained. “So when I did ‘EF U (Easier For You)’ for him in 2019, I had never had an artist bigger than me ask me for a feature. That was a real landmark moment in my journey and it started our friendship.”
It also led to Jelly Roll putting out a couple of albums via Strange Music’s distribution company, It Goes Up Entertainment. “I did Self Medicated and A Beautiful Disaster there,” he explained. “I actually wrote A Beautiful Disaster at my house in Nashville but went and recorded it in Kansas City.”
Speaking of A Beautiful Disaster, Tech N9ne appears on the album’s sixth track, “Creature,” along with Krizz Kaliko. But according to Jelly Roll, Tech almost didn’t make it onto the platinum-selling single because he’d started writing to a different track on the album.
“I originally wanted Tech on ‘The Bottom,’” he said, referring to the album’s opening track. “I remember thinking it was perfect for Tech as it’s real choppy.
“Tech was halfway through writing his verse and I was writing the second verse to ‘Creature’ — the way I write is, I write hook, verse, and then I write the rest of the song later. I know it’s a weird process but that way I don’t waste a bunch of time writing a song I might not use.”
He continued: “So I was writing the second verse for ‘Creature’ and I called Tech and said: ‘How far into that verse are you?’ He was like, ‘About halfway.’ Tech still hand writes his lyrics. So he sent me a picture from his phone right there and then.
I said: ‘You don’t have to, man, but I think I’ve got a song that’s a better fit for us.’ He was like, ‘Send it over and let me hear it. It’s gonna be hard. though, man, because this song’s awesome.’ But once I sent it to him, he was like, ‘This is it.’ It’s a platinum song now and we were almost this close to that song not having Tech N9ne on it.”
Meanwhile, in other Jelly Roll news, the Tennessee titan announced a special concert at a nursing home last month for his mother, who missed out on his Bridgestone Arena show after suffering an injury.
“My mother fell and broke her ankle right before the nashville show,” Jelly Roll tweeted days after his hometown gig. “She’s been sad she missed the show. So this week I’m going to the nursing home with the guitar and putting on a show.”