Jelly Roll Reveals How Time as Independent Rapper Was Catalyst for Country Music Success


Before Jelly Roll was one of the biggest names in country music, he was an independent hip-hop artist. Some may think he had to leave his past behind before transitioning to country music. However, that’s not the case. In fact, he says his time as an independent artist helped him navigate the waters of Nashville when the time came to sign a record deal.

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Earlier this week, the “Save Me” singer appeared on the New York Times’ Popcast (Deluxe) podcast to talk about his life and career. During the conversation, he detailed how the lessons he learned as an independent artist helped him strike a favorable deal in Nashville.

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Jelly Roll said he took inspiration from independent Southern hip-hop artists like J Prince, Tony Draper, Master P, and Birdman. “I feel like Southern hip-hop was my saving grace going into country music,” he said. “Because I had built a business already, I had built a YouTube channel that had a billion views before I signed a record deal. I had a couple Platinum songs, I had a couple Gold songs.”

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From those billion views grew a solid following of fans who bought tickets and came to shows. “I was selling 3,000 tickets—[4,000] or 5,000 tickets in some markets—everywhere I went,” he recalled. He was selling even more tickets in the larger markets in the South where people truly understood where he was coming from.

Jelly Roll Doesn’t Have a Traditional Record Deal

However, his time as an independent rapper didn’t just give him a fanbase. It also taught him how to do business differently than most artists. He said the most important things he brought with him were “That hip-hop hustle and ownership.”

“Just walking into a building and going, ‘Hey man, I don’t want anybody’s money in this building. Nobody has to give me a check, I’m totally fine. What I want out of this building is resources and this is all I’m willing to give for it,’” he explained. “It was just a different mentality. I had a different negotiating power. And I really understood the importance of ownership.”

[RELATED: Jelly Roll Keeps It Real About Past Drug Struggles: “I Had To Learn That You Could Drink Alcohol Without Doing Cocaine”]

“I own every song I’ve ever released—ever,” he continued. “I don’t have a traditional record deal. I’m still 100% in ownership of my masters, I still get the lion’s share of the money on every single facet. Dude, I didn’t sign a publishing deal.”

Jelly Roll emphasized he wasn’t bragging about his situation. Instead, he said he is proud of himself. He revealed that he technically only has an eighth-grade education and didn’t get his GED until he was 24. However, he still was able to negotiate a deal he said benefits him.

Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

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