“South of the Dirty South” Brantley Gilbert and Jelly Roll Changed the Game

            We are the #1 outlaw page in country music. We just made Whiskey Riff cry themselves to sleep, and now I am declaring this page #1. We don’t yet have the numbers, but we have the attitude. As a result of the events from the past few days, we are being heavily watched. Every day I look and see another page, or another “country influencer” is viewing my shit. People I used to dream of doing content with now have eyes on me. It’s too bad because most of them hate me now, they think I’m a wild card. This truth of the matter is I’m really not. I called out some bullshit and the people who made an entire brand around calling out other people’s bullshit couldn’t handle it. They blocked me, sent me a very rude message that quickly got unsent, and told all their buddies that I’m a terrible person.

I don’t care if any of these aforementioned “influencers” want to work with me anymore. They are more than welcome to reach out, but there are only two groups of people in this “country music page war:” either your on my side or your in my way. This article isn’t about that though, and as far as I’m concerned, the war is over and I’ve won it. This article is about another outlaw, one with a much bigger following and cultural relevancy than I am right now. On the day that my war started, Brantley Gilbert did something I never imagined I would ever see a mainstream country artist do.

First if you haven’t yet, go listen to “Son of the Dirty South” by Brantley Gilbert. Don’t even leave the page, just click play below.

 It’s a fucking jam. If you don’t know who the other guy is in the video, and if you’re reading this you probably do, but let me introduce you to Jelly Roll. For those of you who don’t know the story of Jelly Roll, its fucking insane. If you have time watch this video, or go listen to the podcast, I promise you it’s worth it. If you don’t have time, skip to the next paragraph and I’ll give you a very brief and undetailed summary.

Jelly Roll was born in Antioch, a Nashville suburb known for being rough. A lot of people are products of where they grow up, and for a long time Jelly Roll was no exception. Heavy drugs, and jail time were a common theme for him growing up. However, Jelly Roll knew he wanted better for himself. He began rapping, and through collaborations with other Tennessee rappers, he grew his following into millions of people. Since then, he has been able to straighten out his life, now has a family, and wants to use his well-earned fame and fortune to show kids in prison they can make it in this world. He is proud of where he is from and instead of turning his back on it, he is embracing it and trying to make a difference.

            It really is an amazing story, but that’s not what this article is about either. This is about how he grinded his way onto a song with Brantley Gilbert. Brantley Gilbert has always been an outlaw with a bit of a soft side. His discography bounces between rebellious party songs like “Kick it in the Sticks” to softer more emotional songs like “Bad Boy.” He very rarely sings songs that the average radio listener will appreciate because he isn’t pop country. His music probably belongs on heavy rock/metal radio than anything. Yet his themes relate to those who did grow up in the country. Think of him as of a better version of Jason Aldean who didn’t sell out.

            Brantley is at a fork in his career it feels like. He hasn’t had a successful radio hit since “What Happens in a Small Town” back in 2019. His song “Hard Days” which felt like a monster to me, stalled out in the high 20s. His last album “Fire and Brimstone” was ok but compared to his other music it felt like a miss. I think Brantley might be at the end of his country music radio days. But does he need country radio? Until recently, an artist named Eric Church didn’t have much radio success, and he is one of the biggest names in the genre. Brantley has a monster following of very loyal fans. He sells out the biggest venues in the country still, I’m not sure compiling more #1 songs need to be his priority anymore.

            Instead, he should do exactly what he is doing. Gilbert has put out 5 songs over the past year. “The Worst Country Song of All Time,” “Gone But Not Forgotten,” “How to Talk to Girls,” “Rolex on a Redneck” and “Son of the Dirty South.” Each song speaks to a different part of his audience. None of the songs have gone viral or anything, but they each serve a purpose. At this point Gilbert should just drop an entire album including these songs and call it the “Redneck Tapes.” They don’t have to serve as radio singles, just let the fans have them on their playlists and jam to them.

This approach has done something, likely unintentional, but it still has given Country Rap legitimateness. It no longer is just a underground subgenre that Music Row can ignore. The world has produced its first mainstream star in Jelly Roll. Does Adam Calhoun follow and hop on a Jason Aldean song? Probably not… but all the sudden its possible. Honestly a song of Jason Aldean and Calhoun rapping about gun rights would be insane, but it will NEVER happen. Does Upchurch come out and rap on a Justin Moore song? Again, not likely, but it feels possible now. Big Machine Records released a song with Jelly Roll on it. Maybe I’m making more of a deal of this situation than it is, but it feels like a genre changer.

            Now don’t misread what I’m saying, Brantley isn’t the first mainstream country artists to work with a country rapper. Clay Walker and Upchurch did “For a Little While” together in 2020. Craig Campbell and Demun Jones did “Take Me Back” in 2019. The difference though is Craig wasn’t on a major label, and Clay’s peak was the 90’s. In my opinion neither moved the needle as much as “Son of the Dirty South” will. This song put Music Row in Nashville on notice that Country Rap has finally arrived.

            Jelly Roll is having himself a year. Not only is he on this song, but his song “Son of a Sinner” is rapidly moving up the country charts. In just 16 weeks (at the time of writing this article) the song sits at 23 on the country charts. That’s a pace faster than established artists like Gabby Barrett, Lee Brice, and Zac Brown Band. What is the secret to this rapid rise into country? Simple, “Son of a Sinner” is simply the BEST country song that has come out in a long ass time. It’s very raw, its painful, its truthful. This isn’t a song that can get written in a writer’s room. This is a song that your soul truly has to be hurt to write. It makes other country songs sound manufactured because you can hear Jelly’s past pain in his singing.

If that isn’t enough to prove his talents, it doesn’t stop there. He just topped the rock charts with his song “Dead Man Walking” in early 2022. I’m not sure if an artist has ever had 2 different songs that both go #1 in 2 different genres off the same album before. If it has, I’ve never heard of it. If you’re the type of person whose idea of country is listening to Walker Hayes while drinking an overpriced fruity drink at the club, you probably don’t know Jelly Roll. But he’s about to change country music forever.

            I started this article out talking about outlaws. People who act all tough but can’t take pushback. The truth of the matter is that only history can tell us who the outlaws are. Will Beats Beer Bonfires actually go down as the #1 outlaw country music page ever? You never know I guess. Does Brantley Gilbert releasing a song with Jelly Roll truly make him an outlaw when Jelly Roll is already closing in on the top of the country radio chart? Clearly in my mind it does, but we won’t know until we see what happens next. But outlaws are having a moment. Adam Calhoun, and Upchurch, my eyes are on you next, because a movement is happening, and I’ll be watching every second of it.

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Rap Artist of the Year 2022

The Beats Beer Bonfires Rapper of the Year Award is truly a first of its kind. No one has ever given a shit about this group of artists. No one gives a shit about Ryan Upchurch, Adam Calhoun, Struggle Jennings, Demun Jones, or anyone like that… right? Well, Church has 642K followers, on his backup account. Adam Calhoun has 733K, Struggle is sitting there with 357k. So again, I ask, does anyone care about rappers like this? This group is a little bit harder to identify. It used to be country rap, but it has evolved beyond that. Nashville rap? Doesn’t work. Southern rap? That could work. I’m not sure what to call it, but these guys deserve to get recognition. Did they ask for it? Absolutely not. But they are a major underground industry, and it deserves to shine.

I also completely fucked something up. Shoutout to Rick Lynn for making the semifinals for rapper of the year. Unfortunately, he isn’t a rapper. Again, my fuck up, so I won’t DQ him. I felt like it was best to leave this up to a top 3 to avoid further confusion about calling him a rapper. He’s very talented and you should go check him out though.

Now, we are down to our top three. Two of them are Nashville natives that didn’t want to just take the country music route. The third is from Chicago but runs in the circles of these Nashvillians. All three of them are also going down different future paths. One is giving up rap to go country, one is continuing to rap but also includes rock and country music on his albums. One releases different genre albums whenever the fuck he wants with no rhyme or reason. Who are these men? Let’s break it down.

Adam Calhoun

Adam Calhoun is an absolute freight train. His music is polarizing because it is often very political. Some people love the symbolism of the state of politics in his music, others don’t. Regardless of where you stand on his music, there’s no denying his talent. He has teased two new projects this year. The first, “The Brave,” is a project he did with Tom MacDonald and is coming out in March. His final rap album will be out later in 2022. Both projects should be massive hits for Calhoun before he moves to country music. His latest video for the song “New World Order” has over 4 million views in 11 days. If you like Calhoun check out some of his older stuff like “Country” and “Die Tonight.”

Calhoun isn’t only a musician; he is a popular as a YouTube personality. His video about Carhartt got 442K views in 12 days. He is super outspoken about his political views and how he sees the world. I very much enjoy these videos, especially because of videos like the Carhartt one. I own about 90% Carhartt and I can’t afford to get rid of all my clothes, but Calhoun can, and he did. He also challenges lots of common themes in the world. He’s attacked racism, white privilege, and the double standards of free speech on social media. He isn’t crazy though; he’s calculated and uses a real-life example of things. I would very much enjoy seeing him in a debate with a lib because he would be very impressive and well-spoken.

Jelly Roll

Jelly Roll is going in a different direction than Calhoun. I would argue that he has done the most for his brand in the past few years and has come into his own. Jelly Roll came up as more of a rapper but lives in Nashville and often writes with country industry people. He also currently has a rock song “Dead Man Walking” climbing the charts. Unlike Upchurch though, he doesn’t release different albums for different genres. His album is a huge melting pot, a sign of genres dying. Jelly Roll has been a recurring guest on “Bussin’ with the Boys” and the “Just Being Ernest” podcasts. This has helped him reach new audiences. He is super raw and unfiltered, he doesn’t hide his inner struggles and on the mic, he talks effortlessly.

Back to the music, Jelly released “Ballads of the Broken” in 2021. The album has some smashes on it, “Walking” “Son of a Sinner” and “Over You” included. This album is becoming a game-changer for him, as it has taken him to the radio, the Grand Ole Opry, and on a major tour. Jelly Roll is coming, and if he doesn’t win this year, he should be in contention for years to come.

Upchurch

Ryan Upchurch is a force like Calhoun but for different reasons. Like Calhoun, he is a YouTube figure. Unlike Calhoun, he only dabbles in politics from time to time. Instead, he often talks about the music industry. He recognizes that the industry fucks over young artists and is on a mission to bring it down. Will he? Maybe, but either way, he has at least brought light to it. He is a little more of a personal blogger than Calhoun, so his other videos talk about some of the bullshit in his life he deals with.

As for the music, he crushed it last year. He released “Mud to Gold” in early 2021. The album had the songs “Mud to Gold,” “My Yard,” and “Gas” on it. He then released a very hyped country album in the summer. “Same Ol,” “Real Country,” and “Trade Gettin Drunk” are the biggest songs on that album. To finish off the year he released a remixed video for the song “Broadway Girls” with Chase Matthews. The song got released by Lil Durk and Morgan Wallen the week before. Upchurch was going to release the song anyway, but Wallen ignored Church one night on the town, so he released it sooner as a fuck you. The video has over 6 million views on it in about a month. At first, I wasn’t a huge fan. But after listening to it a few times, it might be better than the Wallen version.

Winner

Congratulations to Ryan Upchurch for winning the first-ever Beats Beer Bonfires rapper of the year award! Church is the first big name in country rap. Despite Calhoun and Jelly Roll coming on hot the past few years, they still haven’t surpassed Ryan. The coolest part of this award is the three guys are all friends. They all support each other, have much with each other, and won’t give a fuck that I even wrote this article. But I did anyway, and we are happy to announce Ryan Upchurch as the first-ever rapper of the year!

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Jelly Roll is Ryman Auditorium Bound

Jelly Roll is a pretty badass dude. While I am no expert on the man’s history, I did listen to this episode of “Bussin with The Boys” where he dives deep into his past.

For those who don’t know Jelly Roll’s music, it’s in a similar lane to that of Adam Calhoun, Struggle Jennings, and Upchurch. Some of his most popular songs are “Save Me,” “Creature” and “Fall in the Fall.” He has never really given a shit about fitting in or doing what will make him famous or rich, instead he has paved his own way. Interestingly enough however, that path he is paving has now taken him to the mother church of country music, the Ryman.

A few days ago, Jelly Roll at the Ryman. As a guy who grew up in Nashville, you could see during his set the emotions of performing at a place he grew up right down the road from. Most outlaw artists such as Jelly Roll hate record labels and mainstream country, but at the end of the day the Ryman is a different level. If an institution like that recognizes you, you’ve made it to a certain level. Jelly Roll might not be a household name, but the guy has 717k followers on Instagram and ten years of music behind him, so he’s very well established and ready to take the next step. Could that step be radio? He mentioned that he has radio friendly enough music that he might shoot his shot with.

Could Jelly Roll be the guy that pushes country rap to the next level? He just might be. With Adam Calhoun seemingly moving on from the game, Upchurch wanting to stay on the path he is on and doing it his way, Jelly Roll might be the guy that infiltrates mainstream country and flips it on its head. Now, if you’re like me, you don’t necessarily want country rap being the next phase on country radio. I would rather turn on the station and hear steel guitar and southern twang, BUT if we are acting like Dan + Shay are the biggest stars in country music, than country rappers deserve to be there just as much.

Country rap is on the up and up, and Jelly Roll’s latest accomplishment is noteworthy. The mother church of country music is recognizing Jelly Roll and his music. That’s massive, and it would be sick if he brought out the other boys that night. I haven’t seen any of these guys live in concert yet, but as the genre grows the tours will follow. I think it would be absolutely badass if they did a tour together, or even if Jelly Roll and Upchurch teamed up and Struggle Jennings and Adam Calhoun did it and went on tour. On social media, these guys are similar size or bigger than artists selling out arenas, why not give it a shot? Congratulations to Jelly Roll! Lets see whats next!

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