The Tragedy Of Jelly Roll Is So Sad

The Tragedy Of Jelly Roll Is So Sad

Struggling through youth, suffering addiction, and even missing his daughter’s birth — yet Jelly Roll’s story is as inspirational as it is tragic. It’s a sad fact that some people’s early lives set them up for success, while others deal with barriers that make it difficult to even lead a stable life.

A rough start

Jelly Roll didn’t grow up with the privileges many Americans take for granted, and because of his upbringing, he felt he had few options as a youngster.

The singer was raised in Antioch, a rural part of Tennessee outside of the Nashville area, where opportunities were limited. In an interview with GQ, Jelly recalled his mother’s struggle with drug addiction.

He added: “I just remember everybody doing drugs. I was in my 20s before I realized that having a drug addict in your family wasn’t normal.” Jelly’s father sold meat and ran a bookie business on the side, but the income wasn’t enough to provide him and his three older half-siblings with their needs. In recent interviews, he has admitted that he didn’t realize how poor he was until later, even referring to his childhood home as a “shack.” Seeing those around him scrambling to make ends meet, and bending the law to do so, made Jelly feel like his only means of survival was criminality. As he later told CBS News: “I knew my father booked bets. I knew my mother struggled with drugs. So, to me, this was just what you did.”

Family man

Jelly Roll’s dad had been married a number of times, so his parents divorcing when he was 13 likely came as little shock. Jelly remained with his mom, and he was quickly forced to take on the role of provider. He later told Billboard: “I felt this need to take care of my mother back then. When he left, I was like, ‘Somebody’s got to do what he was doing, at least trying to figure out some money.'” This is what first led Jelly into a life of crime, which began with dealing drugs. Drugs were an ever-present factor in the singer’s life, as he witnessed his mother’s drug usage and mental health conditions as a young child.

When she did emerge from her room, Jelly’s mom would put on a record and draw in a crowd — and this is what first made Jelly love music.

Fighting the law

It wasn’t long after his parents’ divorce that Jelly Roll landed himself in handcuffs. His first arrest came when he was only 14, and he was in and out of juvenile detention for the next handful of years.

During this period, Jelly only spent a total of 60 or 70 days in high school; during these years, he was convinced that he was, in his own words, “learning disabled.”

In an interview with People magazine, he said: “The darkest moments of my life still were being that 15-year-old scared kid spending Thanksgiving away from his family.” Due to his own experiences, Jelly has since been committed to making life better for those who are incarcerated.

In 2022, he even donated a recording studio to the Davidson County Juvenile Detention Center, the same detention center he was in as a teen.

Though he started making music at 9 or 10, it was in juvenile detention that Jelly honed his writing skills and developed a passion for rapping. Jelly Roll’s first arrest did little to curb his lawless activity, and he went on to be arrested about 40 more times over the next decade.

The big mistake

His list of crimes included drug possession, drug dealing, and violations of his probation. He was also convicted on charges of aggravated robbery, for which he was tried as an adult despite being 16 at the time of the crime.

He later told Billboard: “I never want to overlook the fact that it was a heinous crime. This is a grown man looking back at a 16-year-old kid that made the worst decision that he could have made in life and people could have got hurt and, by the grace of God, thankfully, nobody did.” Still, Jelly has questioned the way he was handled in court.

He was sentenced to 18 months for the offense, but, at one point, prosecutors were threatening up to 20 years behind bars. He added: “I hadn’t hit my last growth spurt. I was charged as an adult years before I could buy a beer, lease an apartment, get a pack of cigarettes.

I feel like the justice system at that point kind of parked me on my only set path.” Because of this felony conviction, Jelly’s right to vote was taken from him before he even reached voting age. He also cannot possess a firearm, volunteer at most nonprofit organizations, or enter some countries.

The birth of Bailee Ann

Jelly Roll was 23 years old and serving time for dealing crack cocaine when a previous girlfriend gave birth to his daughter, Bailee Ann, in 2008.

Becoming a parent was a turning point for Jelly; after Bailee was born, Jelly transferred to the education unit in his jail and earned his GED. The singer met 2-year-old Bailee upon his release and has not returned to jail since. In a 2023 interview with People magazine, he said: “Being a father is so important to me.

The single most impactful event of my entire life was having my daughter. It changed everything.” Because Bailee’s mother has gone through her own sobriety journey, Jelly Roll’s first child has lived with him full-time since 2016. Eight years after having his daughter, Jelly welcomed his son with another girlfriend, Noah Buddy. That same month, the singer married podcast host Bunnie Xo, whom he met at one of his shows in Las Vegas.

A lot less is known about Noah, as Jelly generally works around him appearing in photos and videos to respect his mother’s wishes. He told Taste of Country: “I never want to step on her toes, with what she’s doing with him […] I want to just respect that boundary.”

Saving himself

Jelly Roll began experimenting with weed at an early age. By the age of 15, the singer had tried a laundry list of drugs, including cocaine, prescription pills, acid, and meth.

This early usage, coupled with his mother’s addiction and the substance abuse issues that ran rampant in his community, led Jelly to develop his own dependency on drugs. Many of his songs, including his 2020 hit “Save Me,” detail this darkness in Jelly’s past.

Speaking about his 2023 album Whitsitt Chapel, he told The Guardian: “I see myself as a broken man that’s trying to put the pieces of the puzzle back together. I looked at the whole experience as a cry for help. And it was heard. The music represents so many people that haven’t felt heard.”

Though he references “smokin’ and drinkin'” in “Save Me,” Jelly has named cocaine, pain medication, and codeine as his main problem areas. He told Billboard that these drugs had control over his life. In an interview in 2023, for example, Jelly told People magazine that, for much of his life, he thought alcohol and cocaine always went hand-in-hand.

He said: “I had to learn that you could drink alcohol without doing cocaine. It took me a long time to learn that. There was a long time where I just assumed, when people told me they drank without doing cocaine, I was like, I thought we only drank to do cocaine.”

Today, however, he only drinks and smokes weed.

A new perspective

Though he has identified himself as a drug addict rather than an alcoholic, Jelly Roll has admitted that alcohol is something he has to be careful not to abuse.

The same goes for marijuana, which he not only uses but also sells by way of his company, Bad Apple Cannabis.

While Jelly has long been careful to make the distinction that he’s not completely sober, he worked hard to stop all other drug use, which he managed without attending rehab.

As he told The Guardian: “I had to get rid of the lean, the pills, the cocaine. I didn’t have a choice. It was me or them, and I had to learn to love myself.” While Jelly enjoys recreational drinking and smoking, he does so mindfully and purposefully, checking in with his emotions and reaching out for help when needed.

He explained to People magazine: “If I’m really struggling with thinking of my behavioral pattern, I’ll go to a meeting. I just […] don’t necessarily claim to be a part of the program, because I respect their work and I would never want to diminish it with some of my actions, but AA has done a lot for me.”

Bipolar disorder

Jelly Roll has been incredibly forthright about his mental health issues, and especially his experience with bipolar disorder.

In a 2021 Instagram post, he wrote: “When I was younger I was diagnosed with manic depression. I have moments of extreme productivity where I feel like nothing can stop me. I’m full of energy and confidence, then I have weeks on end where I won’t answer my phone or respond to a text message.”

His music, including his 2020 song, “Nothing Left At All,” has delved into the singer’s bouts of depression. His post continued: “Though I smile, joke and laugh a lot deep rooted in my is an unexplainable pain.” Because of the way he was raised, it took Jelly Roll a long time to learn how to cope with his issues in a healthier way, such as through writing songs and undergoing treatment.

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Surrounded by loss

Jelly Roll’s ability to be candid with his emotions is what makes him so relatable. This openness shines through in his music and his interactions with others. However, Jelly has said he did not cry at all in his youth — which might come as a shock, considering he so often sheds a tear in interviews, on stage, and even on TV. And yet, as he told The New York Times: “I didn’t cry until I was 34 years old. I can’t quit crying now. I’m an empath for people, period.” This empathy has helped Jelly better recall his difficult youth, too, and his poignant discussions of grief often hit hard. Having grown up in a place where dying young was not uncommon, Jelly has had much experience with death. He has spoken about burying many friends, and publicly mourned the murder of a young man he referred to as a “nephew.” But nothing has impacted Jelly as much as the death of his father, Buddy DeFord, in 2019. On American Idol, he described this as the most difficult thing he has ever had to deal with. In a tribute posted on Facebook, Jelly wrote: “Today my best friend of 34 years took his last breath. He taught me all men were created equal in the eyes of God.He taught me how to carry myself as a man.”

Though over 30 of his friends have died due to drug addiction,

Survivor’s guilt

many people Jelly Roll grew up with are still living difficult lives. This has been a source of conflict for Jelly, who feels a certain level of guilt for having gotten out of the lifestyle into which he was born.

He told The Guardian: “I have a phone full of sob stories; guys I knew from the past. And they want two grand, five grand, a car, a house. So you read them. And it just hurts. The guilt you feel creates a spiral of shame. But it also hurts to separate yourself from these people.”

Jelly eventually had to change his phone number, cutting off communication with many former friends who were living what he called “a certain life.” But Jelly has done a lot of good in the world, especially by advocating for at-risk people and communities.

For instance, he put $250,000 toward improving life for incarcerated and underserved Nashville youth in 2022. He also released the song “she” in partnership with Shatterproof, a non-profit devoted to addiction awareness and crisis support. His 2023 tour raised $590,000 for at-risk youth, and Jelly has even spoken to Congress about the fentanyl crisis.

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