Rapper and country music star Jelly Roll gave powerful testimony to members of Congress Thursday, urging them to be proactive about a fentanyl crisis that kills nearly a plane full’s worth of people every day.
Jelly Roll, whose real name is Jason DeFord, addressed the Senate Banking Committee at a hearing on "stopping the flow of fentanyl." He told the committee that 190 people die from drug overdoses daily in the U.S., and 72% of them are fentanyl-related.
"It is important to establish earlier that I am a musician and that I have no political alliance," DeFord began. "I am neither Democrat nor Republican. In fact, because of my past, my right to vote has been restricted. Thus far, I have never paid attention to a political race in my life. Ironically, I think that makes me the perfect person to speak about this."
American singer and songwriter Jelly Roll gets ready to testify before the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs committee on January 11, 2024 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kent Nishimura/Getty Images)
DeFord, who was named Best New Artist by the Country Music Association in 2023, has been open about his past criminal convictions, including possession with intent to distribute narcotics and aggravated robbery. He served time in prison, and the charges remain on his record in Tennessee. Jelly Roll is banned from voting, volunteering at most nonprofits and owning a firearm.
"I'm not here to defend the use of illegal drugs, and I also understand the paradox of my history as a drug dealer standing in front of this committee," he said. "But equally, I think that's what makes me perfect to talk about this. I was a part of the problem. I am here now standing as a man that wants to be a part of the solution.
"I brought my community down. I hurt people," he continued. "I believed when I sold drugs genuinely that selling drugs was a victimless crime. I truly believed that."
DeFord shared that the mother of his 15-year-old daughter is a drug addict.
"Every single day I have to wonder … if today will be the day that I have to tell my daughter that her mother became a part of a national statistic," he said.
Jelly Roll, winner of the Male Video of the Year Award for "Son Of A Sinner," poses in the Winner's Circle during the 2023 CMT Music Awards at Moody Center on April 02, 2023 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for CMT)
DeFord urged Congress to pass a bipartisan bill, the Fentanyl Eradication and Narcotics Deterrence (FEND) Off Fentanyl Act, which would direct the Treasury Department to sanction and block financial assets of international criminal enterprises linked to opioid trafficking, Cleveland.com reports.
It passed in the Senate but hasn’t yet been taken up by the House.
"Almost every person in this room has lost a friend, family member or colleague to the disease known as addiction," Jelly Roll said Thursday. "I stand here as a regular member of society. I am a stupid songwriter y'all, but I have first-hand witnessed this in a way most people have not. I encourage y'all to not only pass this bill, but I encourage you to bring it up where it matters: at the kitchen table."