By Maxim Mower
At Nashville's two-day Billboard Country Live event, Ernest presented the 2023 Breakthrough Artist of the Year award to his friend and ‘Son of a Sinner’ collaborator, Jelly Roll.
Few artists have enjoyed the year that Jelly Roll has, with the genre-blending Tennessee native having picked up three 2023 CMT Awards during his debut appearance at the ceremony, as well as earning a Platinum plaque for his first Country Radio No. 1 single, ‘Son of a Sinner’.
During his speech, Ernest, who co-wrote the introspective anthem, recalled how the two had first met through a mutual friend years ago, before reconnecting later on and striking up a friendship over their shared appreciation of both rap and country music.
Ernest went on to pay tribute to the Whitsitt Chapel singer-songwriter, “He's changed the lives of millions of people with his testimony, which is unbelievable. If you haven't seen the [Jelly Roll] documentary, watch it, and if you have, you still only can probably grasp [very little] of what this man has gone through and overcome and the lives he's changed and affected on the way”.
In the movingly personal and heartfelt message, Ernest underlined how much their friendship means to him, “When I tell you I'm your brother - and I know you say it back to me - bro, I mean it. This is deeper than music...I got you for life, I love you. It's incredible what you've been able to do and the example you set for young kids and grown adults who feel like they ain't got shit worth living for”.
Jelly Roll gave Ernest a tremendous hug, before thanking Billboard profusely for the accolade and for their open-mindedness when deciding to feature him on their front-page, “I want to thank Billboard for never being afraid to go and paint outside of the lines, never being afraid to colour in a different area than they were told to, and I think they prove that time and time again”, Jelly Roll then joked, “I even look skinny on the cover!”
After expressing his gratitude, Jelly Roll echoed Ernest's sentiments regarding their unique bond, “I couldn't have wanted anybody more to do this than you, brother, I love you in every way. You have helped me so much, you were the only friend I had in country music to begin with. Lucky for me, your two best friends were HARDY and Morgan [Wallen] - so I fell right into the best group in Nashville by just straight accident”.
Jelly Roll has become known for the inspirational message of redemption he repeatedly conveys through his music, as well as the incredible amount of work he has carried out helping those who have become incarcerated at a young age, just like he was.
He once again reminded audience-members why he has become such a popular figure by sharing some advice his father passed on to him, “There's a story my daddy used to tell, that you can work harder than everybody, you can put in more hours than everybody, you can be more talented than everybody, you can be nicer than everybody, you can care more than everybody. But if a little luck don't show up with you, you are screwed in this world. And I can tell you that God blessed me to be lucky to have friends like Ernest and HARDY and Ashley [McBryde] and these people that have...helped me put out my debut country album”.
Jelly Roll also thanked Jennifer Vessio, his publicist, for supporting him when everyone else had refused to take a risk on him, before giving shout-outs to some fellow up-and-comers in attendance at Nashville's Music Marathon Works, Bailey Zimmerman and Breland.
The ‘Need A Favor’ hitmaker then triumphantly held his award aloft and declared, “I accept this on behalf of the underdogs”.
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