As an independent artist, Jermaine Dolly went from a viral social media sensation to #1 on the Billboard charts. His new album The Dolly Express, has released a fresh new sound –turning the heads of those in gospel and secular music arenas. He’s a worshiper with an incomparable swag who presents music for the soul.
In many ways, Dolly is not concerned with entertaining preconceptions about what makes a gospel music artist successful—he’s being himself and his unique style is expanding the sonic imagination of gospel music listeners.
His journey started from a mix tape, entitled Dollyology which was a groundbreaking yet underground music project. In 2015, Dolly released the single “You,” which awarded him over 300 invitations to perform at various venues.
As a result, his latest hit “Come and Knock On My Door,” was a top ten hit on Billboard this year. Prior to this success, his first single “You” made it to #1 on the Billboard’s Gospel charts.
Yet what is the secret to his career? Listening to Dolly speak, it is clear that he has an unwavering and driven quest to make his Christian faith known to as many people as possible. In the past two years, he has garnered praise, accolades, and success he will quickly tell you he didn’t ask for.
He’s also a super comedian and many have enjoyed his skits on Instagram and his contributions to The Quincy Harris Morning Show w/K. Foxx. He’s a proud South Philadelphia native who is affectionately known as the “Jesus guy” in his hood who takes pride in just being himself.
Gospel Mix Radio had a chance to speak with Jermaine Dolly about his album The Dolly Express and the reasons why he is leaving an indelible mark on gospel music.
GOSPEL MIX RADIO: You have a new radio show on Praise 107.9 FM in Philly! How do you like being on the radio, how did that opportunity come about?
JERMAINE DOLLY: I love it. In Indianapolis Indiana, I went out there to do a meet and greet for a radio station. I met a lady out there who worked for the radio station. There were like 5 people out there. There were like 5 people out there who wanted to ask questions, and I treated the event like there were 500 people. I said if they wanted to ask some questions I am going to give them some answers. She loved it. A year later she moved to Philadelphia and asked me if I wanted to my own radio show. Another cool thing, is I’m learning how to work the board. It’s another thing I can put under my belt. And I think it’s dope.
GOSPEL MIX RADIO: Congratulations on your new album, The Dolly Express. You have captured our ears and hearts with your unique sound and message. Some may think that you are an overnight success, but this album comes after your Dollyology mix tape, the chart topping hit “You,” and years of being in church music ministry. Could you tell us about this project and why did you decided to name it The Dolly Express?
JERMAINE DOLLY: The Dolly Express comes from the idea that everybody is on a train, and I am asking them to follow me as I follow Christ. But I also wanted to do an album of feel good music. I know my album features gospel music that doesn’t sound like your ‘typical’ Gospel music that you hear on the radio today. However, this album is way more than Gospel music because I really push the idea to put Jesus Christ first in your life, then I want people to see what happens to them after they do that. As I have followed Christ, so many doors have opened for me.
GOSPEL MIX RADIO: Awesome.
JERMAINE DOLLY: For example, I live a life in the Word. So my life and the album comes from scriptures like Matthew 6:33 which states “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all of these things will be added unto to you.” Or Proverbs 3: 5-7 which says, “Trust in the lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding, in all thy ways acknowledge Him and he will direct your paths.”
I stand on Phillipians 4:13 which states, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. In Phillipians 4:13, the key word is ‘through.’ In order to go ‘through’ something–something has to be in front of you. That is all the album does, which is, pushes Jesus first. That is the main message I want to get across, is just put Jesus Christ first.
GOSPEL MIX RADIO: Love those passages.
JERMAINE DOLLY: Even in my own journey, whatever success people see in me is the work of Jesus Christ. Jesus did all of that. It wasn’t because of a business plan or my business team. The business team came from me putting Jesus Christ first. Everything goes back to me putting Jesus Christ first. I can’t get away from that. That’s why I named it The Dolly Express.
GOSPEL MIX RADIO: Also, I have heard you say at another time, that The Dolly Express is a movement? Tell us what you mean.
JERMAINE DOLLY: Again, it’s a movement about putting Jesus Christ first. You know gospel music is just a door to open up for everything else. You know gospel artists are called to serve, I think the “industry” side of gospel music makes things complicated because you want to go out there and sell albums, give books, shows, and tour.
But we forget that we are actually called to draw sinners to repentance and to serve. The album just puts that back into perspective. It puts the idea of serving and drawing sinners to repentance. Not just being a gospel artist, the first call is to be a Christian first and draw sinners to repentance.
GOSPEL MIX RADIO: That is a very important statement.
JERMAINE DOLLY: The Movement may not mean doing anything in gospel music. It could be serving in your church home, or your community, or simply doing whatever God tells you to do— making that the main focal point and having everything come after that. That’s the movement! It is the idea that you can put Jesus Christ first and be successful. Not only that, but you can put Jesus first and be successful in pop culture and mainstream.
GOSPEL MIX RADIO: A lot of people don’t believe that.
JERMAINE DOLLY: People think that if you take Jesus name out of my music, you can appeal to a broader audience. Huh? Hold up. If you study the life of Jesus Christ he went into the highway and hedges—it was a movement in the hood. Jerusalem wasn’t like Hollywood or Beverly Hills. The ministry of Jesus evolved in what we would call today the “projects” and He touched people.
GOSPEL MIX RADIO: Many people don’t make the effort to explain the cultural context of Jesus ministry.
JERMAINE DOLLY: We all have heard the story where he fed thousands of people with 2 fish and five loaves of bread. He only fed them because they followed that man for three days WITHOUT EATING! I mean thousands of people followed Jesus without eating for 3 days because they wanted to be around him! He didn’t dumb down His name. He didn’t say, “Oh, I’m not the Son of Man” because he didn’t want to offend people. So I don’t understand where we have gotten this logic of saying if we take the term “gospel” or “Jesus” out of our songs or ministries and by saying His name less, we can reach a broader audience because that turns people off. What? That’s dumb. That is so dumb to me.
GOSPEL MIX RADIO: Wow, that’s truth, and it needs to be said.
JERMAINE DOLLY: I’m one of the most realist people in gospel music right now, I’ll say that now. I am still in Southwest Philadelphia, and I can touch anyone in the hood. They all know that I’m saved and I gave my life to Jesus Christ. I’m actually referred to as the “Jesus guy” in the hood. People such as drug dealers come to me asking for prayer. I’m dead serious. And initially, it put me off guard. But I told God that I want to reach the streets and I want to make Jesus cool. I asked Him to give me what he wanted me to say to reach those people. So God, said, “Cool, I got you.” One day, I am driving in the car and a drug dealer came to me and said, “Yo,” and I said, “Are you talking to me?” And he responded, “Yeah, Yeah.” He stopped me in the busiest street in Philly. Whatever is the busiest street where you live at, imagine that being taken up by a crowd right?
GOSPEL MIX RADIO: I can imagine that.
JERMAINE DOLLY: The drug dealer came up to me on this crowded and busy street and said, “I am a Christian, and I need prayer.” I thought to myself, “Huh?” So this is when God tested me right. The man said, “Can you like, do that, right now?” I said to God, “I got you.” I got his hand, and I prayed for that man in the middle of the street. This was on the busiest street in Philadelphia and I prayed for that man right there. That’s what you’re called to do. We’re not really called to sell albums, but if that happens it happens.
GOSPEL MIX RADIO: That’s a wonderful and passionate way of walking with Jesus. You do see some artists, not all, who are singing a lot but you don’t really see them doing a lot of work in the community anymore. Their music ministry is great, but they seem celebrity like.
JERMAINE DOLLY: Right, Right. It’s terrible. People got bodyguards at church. Church? I live in the real world. I have real life problems and I have no time to act like a celebrity– I have no time for that.. This country is going down. But the church is supposed to be the safe haven of the community, not city hall, not the police station, but the church is.
GOSPEL MIX RADIO: Absolutely.
JERMAINE DOLLY: We are all called to be ministers, and you are so passionate about the Gospel? Do you see yourself becoming a pastor?
I didn’t even want to be an artist, and look where I am at now. Naw, I don’t want that personally. That’s a whole other level. That’s a whole other ball game. People are so hyped to become pastors. That’s a lot of work. You’re the shepherd, God has given you a flock, but do you know how hard it is to make sheep go in one line. I’m talking about in the natural sense. Do you know how hard it is to train sheep?
GOSPEL MIX RADIO: So you’re saying that’s a special call and you take it seriously? And you’re not trying to go after that title just because of the status that you have now. That’s real.
JERMAINE DOLLY: Yeah.
GOSPEL MIX RADIO: I wanted to talk really quickly about the imprint of Fred Jerkins on your album? He’s written for Whitney Houston, Brandy, and Michael Jackson and so many more. It seems like he pulled out the red carpet for you, treating just like the musical greats he’s worked with. Because it seems he saw something great. I’m curious how did y’all meet?
JERMAINE DOLLY: Fred put the pieces to the puzzle together. I met Fred years ago. “You” was a crazy underground hit and I became a viral sensation with that song. I put the song on Instagram, and I got like 300 gigs off of that. So I guess Fred caught wind of that, and he wanted me to sing for his mom. I sung for her, then we exchanged contact information and my management reached out to him. And from there it was organic.
GOSPEL MIX RADIO: Wow. That’s favor.
JERMAINE DOLLY: Fred told me he could write my songs, but I wanted to write my own. I really wanted to establish myself as a writer, producer, arranger, and composer on my first album and be known on those terms. So Fred said, “Let me hear what you got.” But you know it’s Fred Jerkins (laughs) —I had to be confident to say that to Fred Jerkins. (laughs) I mean, this guy wrote Destiny Child’s “Say My Name.” So who am I to tell him I want to write my own stuff, you know what I mean?
GOSPEL MIX RADIO: (Laughs) Right.
JERMAINE DOLLY: But I was really, really confident in that. All my songs are centered on Jesus anyway, so I don’t write anything without going to Jesus Christ first. I am the pen, Christ is the ink. So that’s what it is for me.
So Fred said, “Let me hear some stuff” and I let him hear demos of my song. His response was, “Wow.” He said, “All we need to do is to get you a vocal producer and you are good to go!” And that’s all he did.
GOSPEL MIX RADIO: Now, it’s amazing how one of the most powerful producers today took notice of your talent and was confident in your talent.
JERMAINE DOLLY: So I wrote and produced my album. I had two, I had a vocal producer. His name is M-bass and he is Fred Jerkins’ producer, and he is phenomenal. He had me singing and sounding like I was an angel, he was amazing. And I worked with Dilemma, who is a producer out of Philadelphia, Jazmine Sullivan and a lot of people. Dilemma and Bizzness co-produced “I Don’t want to be Moses,” which is a favorite in the hood. Another producer, Maurice Wilcher produced “Come and Knock on My Door,” “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah,” and co-produced “Testimony” with me.” And everything else—-I produced and wrote myself.
GOSPEL MIX RADIO: Brilliant, Brilliant.
JERMAINE DOLLY: I wrote everything but I produced several songs and two other songs. I produced 7.5 song and 2.5 songs came from those producers I named.
GOSPEL MIX RADIO: I want to go back really quickly to the IG page because it’s a place of sheer comedy that has blessed many. Before we knew about the music, everybody went to that page to just experience your ministry of comedy. I wanted to know— do you see yourself acting, directing, or making plays in the future. Because I see you on the big screen.
JERMAINE DOLLY: Yes. For me, I don’t go as hard as I used to with the comedy. But I am going to start going hard with it again. Comedy was just a way to draw people in. My thoughts were, “Once I got you in, you’re going to see something about Jesus Christ on my time line.” You can unfollow me or follow me, but you will see something on my page about Jesus Christ.
GOSPEL MIX RADIO: Aye, yeah.
JERMAINE DOLLY: The bible talks about before everyone dies they will have a chance to experience Jesus Christ once in their lifetime. For me, if comedy is my way of drawing you in, cool. Let’s talk about Christ now. Let’s get it. If you don’t like me talking about Jesus Christ, fine, that’s cool but you heard about Him—and now you can never say you didn’t hear anything about Jesus Christ. So that is really what the comedy is for–to draw people in. Will I be a stand-up comedian? Probably not. I’m just funny off the fly. However, I would love to do movies. I would love to do that type of entertainment. Why not? That’s an extra check. Why can’t I do it? Or even screen writing? Stuff like that, I love.