ERNEST and Jelly Roll in the studio
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‘I Went To College, He Went To Jail’ by ERNEST & Jelly Roll - Lyrics & Meaning

February 19, 2024 6:05 pm GMT
Last Edited March 15, 2024 10:36 am GMT

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ERNEST & Jelly Roll - ‘I Went To College, He Went To Jail’

Official Release Date: March 15th, 2024

Album: NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE

Producer: Joey Moi

Songwriters: Ernest Keith Smith, Luke Bryan, Rivers Rutherford & Chandler Paul Walters

The Background:

During a (hilarious) appearance on Theo Von's This Past Weekend podcast in early December, while delving into their longstanding friendship, Jelly Roll and ERNEST revealed they'd penned a song about their story so far, ‘I Went To College, He Went To Jail’.

ERNEST regaled Theo will the amusing tale of how the idea for the track came about during a somewhat drunken game of golf with Luke Bryan at the Troubadour in Tennessee. When Luke asked ERNEST about how he got to know Jelly, ERN shared how they'd first met, before musing off-handedly, “Then I went to college and he went to jail, and then we came back around all these years later”.

Luke promptly encouraged ERNEST to use that as a hook for a new song, with the two artists going back and forth during their game as they built out the idea for ‘I Went To College, He Went To Jail’, all while repeatedly FaceTiming Jelly Roll with their progress.

Soon after the interview, ERNEST shared a clip of the duet on his socials, which led fans to call for ‘I Went To College, He Went To Jail’ to be made available as soon as possible.

Thankfully, ERNEST decided to include it on his 2024 album, NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE as the opening track, making the duet available ahead of time on March 15th. The full project, featuring Morgan Wallen, Lainey Wilson and more is set to arrive on April 12th.

Despite co-writing Jelly Roll's first country No. 1, ‘Son of a Sinner’, and performing together on a number of occasions, ‘I Went To College, He Went To Jail’ surprisingly marks the first time ERNEST and Jelly have collaborated as lead vocalists.

The Sound:

‘I Went To College, He Went To Jail’ follows in the same neo-traditional style of country ERNEST has embraced for his 2024 project. Other newly unveiled tracks from NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE, such as ‘Why Dallas’ and ‘Ain't As Easy’, feel as though they've been plucked straight from the Dean Dillon and George Strait playbook.

The hook for ‘I Went To College, He Went To Jail’ opens with ERN and Jelly trading lyrics with sparse, subtle accompaniment, before a beautifully twangy, emphatic guitar enters the fray as ERNEST sets the scene throughout the opening verse.

The track is shaping up to become a modern-day country duet in the style of classic link-ups, such as Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett's ‘It's Five O’ Clock Somewhere’ and Willie and Waylon's ‘Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys’.

The key ingredient for all these iconic country collaborations is the unmistakable chemistry that radiates throughout - something ERNEST and Jelly Roll have in spades, as they highlight on ‘I Went To College, He Went To Jail’.

Given the joviality we always get from the duo when they do interviews together, it's unsurprising the new song features a healthy dose of playfulness and a plethora of tongue-in-cheek punchlines as they pay tribute to their friendship.

However, Jelly Roll also infuses a sense of solemnity and earnestness (no pun intended) into his delivery during his side of the story, particularly on the lyric, “I should've been dead”, where he takes a moment to appreciate how far he's come.

The final portion of ‘I Went To College / I Went To Jail’ revolves around a jubilant fiddle instrumental, and although the animated music video shows Jelly Roll playing it, it's not him on the track. Also, a little easter egg to keep an eye out for in the (brilliant) video - both the angry judge and the strict school-teacher bear a hilarious resemblance to Luke Bryan, who co-wrote the song.

The Meaning:

ERNEST: “I went to college

Jelly Roll: I went to jail

E: One was a dorm room

JR: And one was a cell

E: Who came out on top?

Both: Hell, it's hard to tell

E: I went to college

JR: And I went to jail”

The duo begin by recalling how, after they first became friends through their mutual love of rap - and marijuana - around 2010, they ended up heading down very different paths.

Back then, ERNEST was an aspiring Hip Hop artist - releasing fiery songs such as ‘Dopeman’ on Soundcloud - while Jelly Roll was an up-and-coming rapper himself.

As the song outlines, ERNEST packed his bags and went off to college before becoming an esteemed Nashville songwriter, while Jelly Roll spent time in prison and juvenile centres for charges such as aggravated robbery and possession with intent to sell, before establishing himself as a popular and celebrated rapper.

Over the last couple of years, Jelly Roll has transitioned into country music with the help of his good buddy, ERNEST, with Jelly now being one of the most successful and exciting new artists to have stormed into the genre. Jelly received two Grammy nominations, for instance, as well as picking up the 2023 CMA Award for New Artist of the Year and the 2024 People's Choice Award for Male Country Artist.

ERNEST, on the other hand, has earned a double-Platinum single - the Morgan Wallen-assisted ‘Flower Shops’ - as well as an embarrassment of riches when it comes to hits he's penned for other artists, such as Morgan's ‘You Proof’ and ‘More Than My Hometown’, Chris Lane's ‘Big, Big Plans’ and Kane Brown's ‘One Mississippi’.

With both Jelly and ERNEST having made a name for themselves in Music City since their first meeting all those years ago, they light-heartedly joke it's ‘hard to tell’ which one of them fared best, despite the starkly different journeys they took to get to this point.

In doing so, beneath the jocular teasing and wordplay, they make the endearing and powerful point Jelly Roll underlines in his acceptance speeches: regardless of how many mistakes you've made so far, there's always hope for a brighter, happier future.

ERNEST: “We both grew up

In the 615

Both sides of the train tracks

Had two different lives

Both sons of sinners

Needing set free

We met at a party

Over big bags of weed”

When ERNEST explains that he and Jelly both grew up in ‘the 615’, he's referring to the commonly used nickname for the north-central part of Tennessee.

‘615’ is the area-code for the neck of the woods where they both got their starts in life, and they frequently use this as a title for their group of friends, in the same way that the ‘305’ is often cited as the name for Miami, Florida by Drake, Pitbull and more.

ERNEST goes on to reference the hit song he wrote with Jelly Roll, ‘Son of a Sinner’, which ended up becoming Jelly's first ever country chart-topper and paving the way for his widely acclaimed 2023 debut country album, Whitsitt Chapel.

ERNEST then emphasises how the duo both needed to be ‘saved’ in their own ways, with Jelly Roll spending the next few years in and out of prison, while ERN has spoken about his own struggles during that period, which seemingly led to issues linked to alcohol and drug use. ERNEST recalls how their first encounter was at a party, with the implication being - although this is never explicitly stated - that ERNEST initially got to know Jelly Roll when ERN would buy weed from him.

E: “Well, I was supposed to go four years, and quit after one

JR: I was sentenced to seven, but after four I was done

E: Well, I burned all my books

JR: I stayed up and read

E: I could've been a doctor

JR: I should've been dead”

The duo continue the clever mirroring between their respective stories, with ERNEST outlining how he dropped out of college 12 months into his four-year course, while Jelly Roll finished his stint in jail - which was supposed to last seven years - after four.

We then get a more pertinent juxtaposition between ERNEST's aversion to studying and how he'd subsequently burn his books in protest, while Jelly Roll leaned on the few books he'd be able to find while in jail, staying up late to read as much as he could.

As the verse progresses towards Jelly Roll's striking final line, the poignant contrast intensifies when ERNEST flippantly croons, ‘I could've been a doctor’, while Jelly reflects, ‘I should've been dead’. This captures the underlying sense that, despite the surface-level levity of ‘I Went To College / I Went To Jail’, there's the feeling that ERNEST perhaps took his privilege for granted while in college.

It shows, once again, that the old adage that ‘comparison is the thief of joy’ rings true when looking towards those better off, and that if ERNEST had instead been comparing his life to that of Jelly's, he probably would've felt much more appreciative.

E: “Well, who could've figured?

And who could've known?

JR: We'd both wind up working

Down on Music Row

E: With ten years hard labor

We've both paid our dues

I'm singing that country

JR: I'm singing them blues”

Although Jelly Roll's journey is undoubtedly portrayed as the tougher of the two routes, ERNEST toasts how they've both done the hard yards on their way to country stardom. ERNEST has spent years honing his pen while writing for other artists around Nashville, while Jelly Roll quite literally did his time and released a plethora of albums before he struck country gold with ‘Son of a Sinner’ in 2021.

The two good pals celebrate the fact that their paths ultimately intertwined again, despite being separated during their stints in college and jail, with both ERNEST and Jelly now writing songs on Music Row in Nashville. ERNEST concludes by depicting himself as singing ‘country’, while Jelly leans towards ‘the blues’.

E: I went to college

JR: And I went 448 2nd Avenue, North of Criminal Justice Center, to jail

In the already deeply personal song, Jelly Roll shares the address of the jail he served time in. Jelly has since become a leading figure campaigning to improve the judicial system, testifying in court hearings about the anti-fentanyl bill and helping those that are either at-risk or that already find themselves in the position he was in.

What have ERNEST and Jelly Roll said about ‘I Went To College, He Went To Jail’?

During their time on Theo Von's podcast, Jelly Roll teased the new duet, sharing that they have a track on ERNEST's new album delving into their longstanding friendship.

ERNEST then touched on the unexpected origins of ‘I Went To College, He Went To Jail’, “Me and Luke Bryan were playing golf out at the Troubadour, and we're listening to some rap and we start talking about Jelly Roll, and he was like, ‘Y'all have known each other for a while’, and I was like, ‘Yeah, we go back...I used to go by his house and acquire some things and we'd freestyle rap. This is back in like 2010’. I was like, ‘Then I went to college, and he went to jail, and then we came back around all these years later’. And Luke was like, ‘Hold up motherfucker, you better write that fucking song right now!’ So I start freestyling in the golf cart, ‘I went to college / He went to jail / One was a dorm room / One was a cell / Who came out on top? / Hell, it's hard to tell / I went to college / He went to jail’”.

Jelly Roll elaborated, “So imagine this, I'm getting a FaceTime or a phone call every 16 minutes from a drunk ERNEST and a drunk Luke Bryan - day-drunk too, sun beating on them, they're sweating, and they're just like, ‘Check this one out!’

Jelly explained that he'd offer “a little input here and there”, with ERNEST then laughing about how they basically wrote the whole song on the golf course “with no guitars”.

For the full lyrics so far to ERNEST & Jelly Roll's ‘I Went To College, He Went To Jail’, see below:

ERNEST: “I went to college

Jelly Roll: I went to jail

E: One was a dorm room

JR: And one was a cell

E: Who came out on top?

Both: Hell, it's hard to tell

E: I went to college

JR: And I went to jail

E: We both grew up

In the 615

Both sides of the train tracks

Had two different lives

Both sons of sinners

Needing set free

We met at a party

Over big bags of weed

E: I went to college

JR: I went to jail

E: One was a dorm room

JR: And one was a cell

E: Who came out on top?

Both: Hell, it's hard to tell

E: I went to college

JR: And I went to jail

E: Well, I was supposed to go four years, and quit after one

JR: I was sentenced to seven, but after four I was done

E: Well, I burned all my books

JR: I stayed up and read

E: I could've been a doctor

JR: I should've been dead

E: I went to college

JR: I went to jail

E: One was a dorm room

JR: And one was a cell

E: Who came out on top?

Both: Hell, it's hard to tell

E: I went to college

JR: And I went to jail

E: Well, who could've figured?

And who could've known?

JR: We'd both wind up working

Down on Music Row

E: With ten years hard labor

We've both paid our dues

I'm singing that country

JR: I'm singing them blues

E: I went to college

JR: I went to jail

E: One was a dorm room

JR: And one was a cell

E: Who came out on top?

Both: Hell, it's hard to tell

E: I went to college

JR: And I went to jail

E: I went to college

JR: And I went 448 2nd Avenue, North of Criminal Justice Center, to jail

For more on ERNEST, see below:

Written by Maxim Mower
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