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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.