Jelly Roll Explains His Tattoos

“I realized that almost all of my tattoos represent who I was. None of them represent who I am,” Jelly Roll explained in an exclusive video with GQ.

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Melinda Lorge

Melinda Lorge is a Nashville-based freelance writer who specializes in covering country music. Along with Music Mayhem, her work has appeared in publications, including Rare Country, Rolling Stone Country, Nashville Lifestyles Magazine, Wide Open Country and more. After joining Rare Country in early 2016, Lorge was presented with the opportunity to lead coverage on late-night television programs, including “The Voice” and “American Idol,” which helped her to sharpen her writing skills even more. Lorge earned her degree at Middle Tennessee State University, following the completion of five internships within the country music industry. She has an undeniable love for music and entertainment. When she isn’t living and breathing country music, she can be found enjoying time outdoors with family and friends.

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Posted on March 13, 2024

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Jelly Roll, Photo Courtesy of GQ

Getting a tattoo is a big life decision, and Jelly Roll knows that to be true. The rapper-turned-country music superstar has ink in places all over his body, but even he can recall having learned the lesson that, at times, he may have jumped in too quickly.

Jelly Roll Offers Tattoo Advice

“My advice for first tattoos [is], don’t just think about what you’re tattooing on your body. Think about who is tattooing on your body. Pick one artist. Spend as much money as you can on the greatest artist you can afford,” Jelly Roll told GQ in a brand-new video. “If you can’t afford the artist you want right now, start putting money in a coffee can until you can. Do not cheap yourself.”

Jelly Roll, whose real name is Jason DeFord, spent years in and out of the jail system before becoming famous. He says he went for a bargain while doing time in jail to get some ink done because he didn’t have the money to select an artist of his choice.

“I got tons of [tattoos] when I was locked up,” the Antioch, Tenn., native admitted. “There are some really good tattoo artists in jail. I could never afford one. I had to get the cheap tattoo artists when I was in jail. I couldn’t even afford them then. When they were two packs of cigarettes, I only had a can of coffee.”

Jelly Roll, Photo Courtesy of GQ
Jelly Roll, Photo Courtesy of GQ

What Do Jelly Roll’s Tattoos Mean?

While speaking to the outlet, the 39-year-old “Save Me” singer gave a tour of the body art he has collected through the years. Some images remain close to his heart, while others have evolved into new designs to cover old tattoos.

What Is His Most Meaningful Tattoo?

The most personal one to date, according to Jelly Roll, is the giant cross, which appears on his cheek.

He says, “Probably my most meaningful tattoo, as cliché as it is, is probably the big cross. It was symbolic of a change in me. It was symbolic of a kind of a new beginning, understanding that I need to bear my own cross. I need to carry my own cross, as the Good Book says, so that was a constant reminder.”

Another meaningful tattoo is the words Music Man written across his forehead. Jelly Roll tells GQ that the ink is “really important to me, believe it or not. So my wife has married a music man, tattooed on her leg from the Elton John lyric.”

YouTube video

He adds, “I realized that almost all of my tattoos represent who I was. None of them represent who I am. And quite a few years ago, I looked at my wife, and I was like, ‘I don’t wanna be bound to these old tattoos anymore. I want them to be reflective of who I am.’ And I was like, ‘I think I’m gonna put Music Man on my forehead.’ And my wife is just the perfect kind of person in my life to be like, ‘go.’”

He Regrets 97% Of His Tattoos

Admittedly, Jelly Roll says he regrets most of his tattoos and shares that he has had to go back and cover several of them because “I regret 98% of these tattoos, 97%, almost all of them…. I don’t know, I don’t like, I mean, I hate ’em all.”

The worst of them, the award-winning singer points out, are the baby smoking the blunt, which he calls “a little excessive” and the “pick and poke” he received in jail.

“They just pick and poke it, and it’s Jesus on a cross,” Jelly Roll shares. “And let me tell you how bad it is that the first time my wife saw me without a shirt, she asked me if I had Elvis tattooed on my back. And I had to let her know, ‘Close, but not Elvis. It’s Jesus, very close, Jesus.”

“A lot of these are coverups. The ones that were really bad have already been covered up,” Jelly Roll says before pointing out the Nashville skyline, which he got to cover what were supposed to be the words “surviving the struggle.”

“We had forgotten to put the T in it, so it said, ‘surviving the struggle,’” he explains.

First Tattoo He Received As A Teenager

Jelly Roll has too many tattoos to count, and he says he doesn’t remember the first tattoo he got on his face (he believes it might be the pairing of the two crosses of the teardrop), but he does recall the very first tattoo he ever received as a teenager.

“It’s this cross right here. This lady named Mama V was in my neighborhood. Her name was Veda Newcomb, and she passed away of AIDS when I was like 14, and I got this tattoo when I was 14,” he shares of the tattoo on his arm, admitting he was too young to identify what he held as value at such an age.

“Like core philosophies, I rooted my life in when I was 17, and now I’m 40. I’m like, what the fu** was I thinking?” He says.

Limited Tattooing And Tour Tattoos

These days, Jelly Roll says he won’t venture out too much when considering getting more work done.

“My tattooing now is limited to coverups or tour tattoos. I’m a sucker for a tour tattoo or a group tattoo because I’ve got so many. If we’re all in this room right now, like, we’re gonna get a camera tattooed on us. Then, I’m in,” he shares. “We’re doing it as a tribal moment. Me and a bunch of camera dudes, y’all call me. I’m in. I’m down. I’m a homie, and I’ll throw a little camera on me somewhere. You know what I mean? So I love that.”

“Like, I got a quokka, me and like ten people got drunk on the beach in Miami and Fort Lauderdale once. Get this Quokka camera, man. I wanna remind people, in life, this is the happiest animal on the planet. It’s native to one island. It has no predators there. It lives off eucalyptus leaves, and it has a constant smile,” Jelly Roll says. “Because it lives off eucalyptus leaves, it is stoned. They’re always high. And when life starts throwing me curveballs, I look down at my little quokka, and I go be a quokka. Be a quokka. That’s my quokka.”

Jelly Roll, Photo Courtesy of Andy Pollitt
Jelly Roll, Photo Courtesy of Andy Pollitt

READ: Jelly Roll Gets Tattoo In Honor Of His Wife Bunnie XO

Bad Apple Tattoo Serves As A Dedication To His Fans

Due to the many imprints he possesses, Jelly Roll couldn’t fit all of his tattoos into his showcase in the clip. Of note, he has a skull and roses, the number 14, his son, Noah’s name above his brow, and an apple core on his cheek. The latter is a dedication to some of his most hardcore fans, dubbed the “bad apples.”

The nickname was created by an unofficial group who started a fan page via Facebook where they refer to themselves as the “bad apples,” taking the idea from Jelly Roll’s 2014 song of the same name.

Jelly Roll; Photo by Andrew Wendowski
Jelly Roll; Photo by Andrew Wendowski

Late last year, Jelly Roll told Audacy Check-In that he would remove most of his tattoos if he had the opportunity.

“Oh, 96% of them. I have more tattoo regrets than I do, ‘Man. I’m glad I got this,’” Jelly Roll told the show’s host Jason Bailey. “The tour tattoos I would keep because they do have a cool story, but the rest of these are like, ‘Yeah dude, I can’t believe I thought like that.”

“I tell people I regret my tattoos, but I would not get tattoos,” he shares. “If I could do it all over again, I’d have gone from the tip of my finger to the back of my head, but I’d have gotten with the best artist on earth and taken my time.”

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Melinda Lorge is a Nashville-based freelance writer who specializes in covering country music. Along with Music Mayhem, her work has appeared in publications, including Rare Country, Rolling Stone Country, Nashville Lifestyles Magazine, Wide Open Country and more. After joining Rare Country in early 2016, Lorge was presented with the opportunity to lead coverage on late-night television programs, including “The Voice” and “American Idol,” which helped her to sharpen her writing skills even more. Lorge earned her degree at Middle Tennessee State University, following the completion of five internships within the country music industry. She has an undeniable love for music and entertainment. When she isn’t living and breathing country music, she can be found enjoying time outdoors with family and friends.

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