The True Meaning Behind Jelly Roll's Many Tattoos

Jelly Roll's troubled past is charted by his numerous tattoos, and there was a time when they threatened his music career. He didn't have to worry about them back when he was an underground rapper dropping tracks with titles such as "Smoke & Get High" and "Welcome to the Trap House." But when he decided to transition to country music, both his body art and his stage name made some people uncomfortable. "They said there's no way that country radio would play an artist with face tattoos. They said I should go by Jason DeFord, as though the town needs another Jason," he told the Los Angeles Times.

Jelly Roll proved the naysayers wrong by refusing to perform under his given name and continuing to grow his body art collection. The ink is even the centerpiece of Jelly Roll's 2024 Super Bowl commercial for Uber Eats. As a testament to how big of a star he's become, he appears alongside Jennifer Aniston and Usher, albeit in a different segment. The ad imagines how Jelly Roll would react if he woke up and forgot that he had a smattering of tattoos on his mug. "Did someone doodle on my face?" he says upon seeing his reflection in the mirror.

Jelly Roll has major regrets about his tattoos, which explains why he's cool with poking fun at them. But there are a handful of pieces that have deep significance for him.

The tattoos that mean the most to him

Jelly Roll told GQ he has very few tattoos he's pleased with today. One piece that the "Save Me" singer is satisfied with is the large cross underneath his right eye. "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," he explained. It also suits him because his life story is one of redemption, which is something else a cross can represent. "Outside of religion, the idea of being able to be redeemed is just a great idea. The idea that who we were is not who we are is so powerful," Jelly Roll told

Jelly Roll's wife, Bunnie Xo, has a matching cross tattoo. The couple filmed a vlog documenting their visit to the New Orleans tattoo parlor where they got their ink in 2018. Jelly Roll tried to convince Bunnie to have her cross etched below her eye as well, but she refused. Instead, she opted to get her rib cage inked. The words "Music Man" inscribed on Jelly Roll's forehead also have ties to Bunnie. "My wife has 'married a music man' tattooed on her leg from the Elton John lyric," he explained to GQ. He also feels like the tattoo is a more accurate representation of him than most of the others in his eclectic assortment.

His first tattoo is a sad tribute to someone special

Jelly Roll told Inked that he and his brother both became fascinated with tattoos before they were old enough to legally get them, explaining, "I think it was like a white trash cultural thing." The siblings lived in Antioch, Tennessee, which apparently had a lot of amateur tattoo artists among its population. They used young partygoers as willing canvases to practice their art on, so it wasn't too difficult for unsupervised minors to get inked if they didn't care about the quality of the finished product.

After falling in love with his brother's Tupac-inspired cross tattoo, Jelly Roll decided to get a cross tattoo of his own when he mustered up the courage to go under the needle for the first time as an underage teen. It's located on his right shoulder and includes the words, "RIP Momma V." He explained that it was a tribute to a woman who was a mother figure to the children in his neighborhood until she tragically died of AIDS. His actual mother, who gave Jelly Roll his unique stage name, struggled with substance use and had mental health issues. The singer told Billboard he felt like he had to become her caretaker at age 13 after his parents split up, so it's easy to see why someone who took care of him became such a cherished figure.

The meaning of his teardrop tattoos

Jelly Roll was 14 years old when he entered the penal system. Drug and theft charges led to multiple stints in prison, where he became intimately acquainted with the resident resourceful tattoo artists. On "Bertcast," Jelly Roll said that some inmates fashioned makeshift tattoo guns out of cassette or CD player parts and guitar strings. As inventive as they were, he only trusted them to give him some small face tats at first. On "The Bobby Bones Show," he revealed that he got the tiny cross tattoo and teardrop beside his right eye while he was in the clink. He also said the blue tear doesn't have the fabled connection to murder, explaining that it represents "the tears we never forget we shed."

Jelly Roll called the tear tattoo that begins as a long slash mark over his left eye "the clown." In a 2021 Facebook post, he explained why he's drawn to depictions of "sad clowns." Interestingly, the archetype appealed to him long before he became a jocular performer with a dark past. "When I was a child, my father had [sad clown] paintings hung up everywhere. I always felt like they represented the sad souls that do all they can to entertain and make people happy," he wrote. His tattoo looked like part of his makeup job when he dressed up like one of the tragic figures for Halloween that year.

His tattoo tributes to Bunnie Xo

Jelly Roll's whirlwind romance with Bunnie Xo began long before he became a country music sensation. When the pair started getting couple's tattoos, he wasn't yet a multi-platinum artist with two Grammy nominations. In their 2018 tattoo vlog, Bunnie revealed that they have matching "II Die IV" tattoos beside one ear and their first initials beside the other. "Are we married or f***ing what?" Jelly Roll asked Bunnie after she pointed at each piece. "I don't know anymore," she laughingly replied.

When the couple got their matching cross tattoos, Jelly Roll also had Bunnie sign one of the few empty spaces on his right wrist, and he had the signature inked in immediately afterward. It's located right next to the large rose tattoo on the back of his hand, which is almost identical to the one Bunnie has in the same spot. However, Jelly Roll's blossom has a tiny bunny with fluttery eyelashes and a bow on one ear hiding among its petals. The lovebirds got the pieces done by tattoo artist Big Mike in 2017. Jelly Roll added one more tribute to his wife on his crowded right arm in 2019. Bunnie shared a TikTok showing off her rabbit-eared logo overlapping some other artwork and captioned the video, "Tat my name on ya if it's real."

The Nashville homage that hides an embarrassing error

Jelly Roll has a lot of pride in his Nashville roots. "I love Nashville because it molded me," he told The Tennessean in 2022. It is, after all, where he grew up and where he was able to successfully genre-jump. But when he got the city's iconic AT&T building tattooed on the right side of his neck, it wasn't just a tribute to the country music capital of the world — he also needed something large enough to cover up an embarrassing error that he had to live with for years.

The "Need a Favor" singer told "Good Morning America" that he once tried to get the words "surviving the struggle" inked on that same spot, but his tattoo artist didn't bother using spell check for the simple phrase and forgot the "t" in "struggle." Jelly Roll recalled his first attempt at fixing the mistake, saying, "We put this little bitty baby 't' in it that looked super-off and awkward." You might say that the "sruggle" is real when it comes to making tattoos gone wrong look all right.

He's covered up a few pieces

Jelly Roll told GQ that many of his more recent tattoos are coverups. One example is the ornate, heart-shaped locket on his face. It now hides the Bible verse John 15:13, which reads, "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends."

Bunnie Xo celebrated when Jelly Roll got his collar tattoo covered up in 2018. It used to read "Penelope," which was the name of one of his exes. In 2016, he told Vice he got the ink at age 17, said that getting the tat was painful, and called Penelope the c-word. In a tweet, Jelly Roll admitted that it took him two years to fulfill his promise to Bunnie to conceal the offending name. He also shared before-and-after photos showing that it had been replaced by a bleeding heart pierced with a dagger. Bunnie shared a screenshot of Jelly Roll's tweet on Facebook and captioned her post, "Later Penelope." The words "White Trash" underneath the coverup remained untouched.

When Big Mike inked the rose on Jelly Roll's right hand, his work hid the number 74 and a cross. The number had some YouTubers questioning whether Jelly Roll had joined the Gangster Disciples gang at some point. Supposedly, the gang uses the number as code for its initials, "GD." This is because "G" and "D" are the seventh and fourth letters of the alphabet.

The body art regret he hasn't covered up yet

Jelly Roll is living proof that you should always think before you ink. "I regret 98% of these tattoos," he told GQ. The singer explained that he got most of them when he was much younger, and his mindset has changed dramatically since then. But there was one piece that immediately came to mind when he was discussing his tattoo regrets. "Maybe the baby smoking the blunt was a little excessive," he said. Jelly Roll mentioned that particular work of art again in an interview for "Audacy Check In." He revealed that the toking tot is supposed to be the Gerber baby, although it is more gnome-like than cherubic. "I don't know who authorized this in my life or who was around me at this moment," he said.

Jelly Roll explained to GQ that some of his tattoos that seem random are pieces he got while on tour. From the sounds of it, he and the members of his crew get tattoos as a bonding experience and to commemorate each tour. He also had an explanation for why some of the ink seemingly has no connection to his music, such as the orange juice bottle on his right arm. "Everybody got drunk and was like, 'We should all get orange juice bottles on us,' and then everybody goes and gets an orange juice bottle on 'em because we tripped acid, but that was the theme," he told Inked.

His kids' names are inked on his face and head

Jelly Roll's kids mean a lot to him, so he obviously had to make sure that their names were prominently displayed when he decided to get some permanent reminders of his role as a father. The name of his rarely-seen son, Noah, is etched above his right eyebrow.

Jelly Roll told Inked that he's been referred to as "Post Malone's drunk uncle" because Post Malone also has several face tattoos. However, Jelly Roll's reason for embracing the lifelong commitment of getting his face inked differs from that of the "Better Now" singer. "It was like, 'I'm either going to be in and out of the penal system or making music the rest of my life,'" he said. Jelly Roll was in prison when he learned he had become a first-time father, which inspired him to get his act together. "I was like, 'I want to be a good father.' That was the moment for me," he told The Tennessean. The guard who broke the news to Jelly Roll couldn't tell him his daughter's name when he asked what it was, and now her moniker, Bailee, is tattooed in large letters above the singer's right ear. It's not a piece fans see as often because his hair covers it up when he doesn't have the sides of his head shaved.

The animal that's high on life

In 2021, Bunnie Xo shared a TikTok of Jelly Roll showing off his freshly inked line tattoo of a quokka on his left wrist. "Quokka gang, b****! Don't worry, be happy ... fight against depression," he said. The singer told GQ the quokka design was a group tat that he and around 10 of his friends got while intoxicated in Florida, and he explained why he's so fond of the adorable Australian marsupial. "This is the happiest animal on the planet. It's native to one island. It has no predators there," he said.

However, his belief that the quokka is so cheerful because it gets high from eating nothing but eucalyptus leaves is inaccurate — its diet is more varied. Jelly Roll apparently confused the cute critter with the koala. However, they also don't get stoned from munching on their favorite plant. This is just an urban legend about the lethargic animal.

Still, the quokka does look pretty content. "When life starts throwing me curve balls, I look down at my little quokka, and I go, 'Be a quokka," Jelly Roll shared.

The bad ink he almost always keeps hidden

Jelly Roll told GQ that some inmates who do tattoo work during their incarcerations are talented artists. However, they don't practice their art on their fellow prisoners for free, which is how Jelly Roll ended up with many of the tattoos that he regrets. "I even had to get the cheap tattoo artists when I was in jail, couldn't even afford 'em then," he said. "When they were two packs of cigarettes, I only had a can of coffee."

However, one of Jelly Roll's prison tattoos was an ambitious undertaking. The artist he employed began using the "stick-and-poke" method to create a depiction of Jesus' crucifixion on his back. The tattooing style involves poking a single needle dipped in ink into the skin by hand, and it takes a great deal longer to complete pieces this way than it does with a tattoo gun. "It was brutal, and I just couldn't take it, and I gave up on it really fast," Jelly Roll told Inked. However, the tattoo artist completed enough of the piece for Bunnie Xo to mistake Jesus for Elvis Presley when she first saw it. Other people rarely see the tattoo because Jelly Roll doesn't go shirtless often.

Why there's an apple core on his face

In a 2016 Facebook post, Jelly Roll revealed that he had covered a teardrop tattoo on the left side of his face with a tiny apple core. According to Billboard, this is a reference to the Jelly Roll disciples who have adopted the fandom name "the bad apples." Apparently, they decided that his song "Bad Apple" perfectly embodies who he is: an apple that has retained its sweetness despite having a few bruises. Knowing the words to the 2014 track is also indicative of being a fan who supported Jelly Roll well before he took the world of country music by storm.

While an apple core could be seen as the end of something good, this is not how Jelly Roll views his tattoo. (One man's trash is another man's treasure, right?) He informed his Facebook followers that he was ready to take a big bite out of life, writing, "I assure yall the scumbag you see today is a way better version of myself than when I was still playing hide and go seek with the police! ... This tattoo symbolizes the dawn of a new era!!!"

The song title he got inked before its release

When Jelly Roll shared a throwback photo of his "The Hate Goes On" tattoo on Facebook in 2015, he still had ample real estate on his right arm; the only other visible tattoo read, "Shed blood before tears." Jelly Roll dropped his mix tape "The Hate Goes On" in 2009 and apparently found the title so nice that he decided to use it twice; he released a rap song with the same name in 2017. It's about shrugging off his haters as they refuse to recognize his talent. Jelly Roll filmed the track's music video in Antioch, so it's fitting that there's a street sign tribute to the Nashville neighborhood right beside the song's title on his arm.

Of his former approach to getting tattooed, Jelly Roll told Inked, "My tattoo plan was sticky note style." This resulted in a lot of tattoos that he'd rather not share the stories behind, so their meanings may forever remain a mystery. "That period of my life wasn't great ones because I was making horrible decisions every day outside of just tattoos," he said. Unfortunately, he was running out of space by the time he started making better body art decisions.