Jelly Roll is going to be a big part of country music’s biggest night.
The ascending country and hip-hop artist, whose real name is Jason DeFord, received five nominations for the 2023 CMA Awards on Thursday—more than any male artist and the second-most overall behind Lainey Wilson’s nine. Jelly Roll is in the running for Single of the Year for “Need a Favor,” as well as New Artist of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year.
“Just being recognized by my peers and by the industry for the work we put in is amazing, especially for my people, this is a win for all the underdogs and forgotten,” he said in a statement on social media. “These are the moments I hope my people are the most proud of, that I have taken our message to the masses without compromise and have been embraced.”
Whether or not Jelly Roll takes home trophies from the ceremony on November 8, he’s already a big winner in the country scene. Earlier this year, he claimed three CMT Music Awards thanks to his song “Son of a Sinner.” He was also featured in the ABC News Studios documentary Jelly Roll: Save Me—now streaming on Hulu—and is in the middle of his 44-city Backroad Baptism Tour that runs through October 14.
However, his path from the Antioch neighborhood of Nashville, Tennessee, to country stardom hasn’t been easy. Here are some facts you might not know about one of music’s breakout artists.
He received his nickname from his mother.
DeFord, who was born on December 4, 1984 in Nashville, has said his stage name came from his mother. She gave it to him when he was a young and “chubby kid,” according to DailyMail.com, and it has stuck ever since.
He has served prison time.
Before making it big as a musician, Jelly Roll was in and out of prison. According to Billboard, he was convicted of robbery as a teenager and possession with intent to distribute at age 21.
He has been open about his struggles with addiction—he has admitted to using cough syrup, Xanax, and cocaine—and anxiety.
He loves Waffle House.
In a 2013 interview with Gawker, Jelly Roll claimed he had eaten at least hundreds—but more likely thousands—of times at the popular restaurant chain. He always orders the same meal: scrambled eggs with cheese and wheat toast, hash browns, a side of sausage, and a chocolate chip waffle.
He used the company’s name and logo for his 2013 mixtape “Whiskey, Weed & Waffle House,” but the chain didn’t find it humorous and sent him a cease and desist letter.
Johnny Cash and Jim Croce are among his influences.
In a May 2022 interview with Taste of Country, Jelly Roll cited Johnny Cash (pictured), Jim Croce, James Taylor, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and even Three 6 Mafia as some of his musical influences. “[I] love the old outlaw stuff,” he said. “Those are probably the guys who really molded my style and sound.”
He was engaged and married on the same night.
Jelly Roll proposed to his wife, Bunnie Xo, at a Yelawolf and Deftones concert in Las Vegas on August 31, 2016. In a 2020 Facebook post, he explained how he walked onstage during Yelawolf’s performance to pop the question.
The lovebirds—who were both drunk, according to the same post—decided to get married at a nearby courthouse the same night. Luckily, the two are still together more than seven years later. Bunnie, 43, is the host of the popular Dumb Blonde podcast.
He has both a rock and country No. 1 song.
“Son of a Sinner” reached No. 1 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart in January, but it wasn’t Jelly Roll’s first chart-topper. His single “Dead Man Walking” topped the Mainstream Rock chart in 2021.
He’s performed a duet with his daughter.
One of Jelly Roll’s most popular songs, “Tears Could Talk,” has more than 18 million views on YouTube and features his daughter, Bailee Ann DeFord. This past October, the two surprised an audience in Houston with a live performance.
Bailee Ann, 15, is Jelly Roll’s child from his relationship with ex Felicia. He learned of her birth while in prison, a moment he says helped turn his life around. His wife, Bunnie, helped him get custody of Bailee Ann in 2016.
He has one other child, a 6-year-old son named Noah Buddy DeFord, whose mother is named Melisa.
He set a Billboard record for emerging artists.
Jelly Roll landed at No. 1 on Billboard’s Emerging Artists chart on February 11—his 25th week atop the ranking. That set a record for the chart’s seven-year history, surpassing NLE Choppa’s 24-week run across 2019 and 2020.
The list ranks the most popular developing artists each week with a formula that includes performance across multiple Billboard charts.
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