How Country Star Jelly Roll Really Got His Unique Stage Name

Newcomer Jelly Roll, aka Jason DeFord, has taken country music by storm. Looking more like Post Malone than Jason Aldean and sounding like a combination of country, R&B, rock, and rap, Jelly Roll offered something fans craved — something different. Per The New York Times, Jelly Roll's debut album "Whitsitt Chapel" hit number three on the Billboard all-genre chart when it premiered. 

Jelly Roll isn't totally new to the scene; despite his debut album status in 2023, he's been operating in indie circles for a while. In speaking to the Times, Jelly Roll reflected on his long journey from drug dealer and addict to rising star, and how his music mirrors those changes. 

"I'm never letting what's happening with the blessing of this thing working for me take me away from who I know I'm actually speaking to," he said. "As jovial as I am in real life, the music is a reflection of a very, very dark hallway between my ears. It's the scariest place on Earth for me. I dread going to sleep every night. The ghosts are there."

Of course, comment like this raise one particular question: How exactly does someone with such depth of musical character take on a moniker as saccharine sweet as Jelly Roll?

Childhood nicknames can stick like jelly

One can safely assume when an artist has a name like Jelly Roll that they weren't born with it. But for the man born Jason DeFord, sometimes nicknames stick. During an interview on The Bobby Bones Show, Jelly Roll said that his mom started calling him Jelly Roll when he was a little kid. He added that, physically speaking, he's been gradually growing into that nickname ever since. 

Interestingly enough, Jelly Roll's mom wasn't the only one who gave him the nickname. Without knowing his mom already called him that, a childhood friend of his also glommed on to the name, the musician told the outlet. "One Arm Clay was like, 'We should call you Jelly Roll. I'm One Arm Clay and you'll be Jelly Roll,'" the singer explained. "I was like, 'My mama calls me Jelly Roll.' Then once the high school starts calling you something, that's the kit and caboodle."

While the nickname has become widely known thanks to his success after debuting in the mainstream, back in 2014, Jelly Roll wasn't so sure about keeping it. According to a Facebook post, he reflected on it and said he thought maybe his nickname was holding him back. But he also said that anyone who listens to him because they're intrigued by his name will come to appreciate it. As he wrote, "You'll find out my name represents my size and demeanor in life at times but not my music and what I stand for."

Jelly Roll is making a name for himself outside of music

Before making it as a musician, Jelly Roll was a drug dealer who even went to prison for a time. Because of this, he's using his influence in an effort to impact the fight against fentanyl. He lobbied Congress to pass stricter laws against the distribution of fentanyl, using his experience to build the case, per The Guardian

"I've attended more funerals than I care to share with y'all," he told the Senate banking, housing, and urban affairs committee. "I could sit here and cry for days about the caskets I've carried of people I love dearly, deeply in my soul ... Uncles, friends, cousins, normal people." He also urged the lawmakers to be "proactive" instead of "reactive" to the current opioid crisis (via BBC News). According to the CDC, fentanyl is a leading contributor to both fatal and nonfatal overdoses in the United States.