My Top 5 Club Quarantine DJs of 2020 (Pt.1)

The Tears and Fears Behind D-Nice’s Epic 2020

Over the weekend, Derrick “D-Nice” Jones entered a Clubhouse room to be honored as the #1 DJ of this pandemic-challenged year. While accepting his flowers, Derrick captivated listeners by articulating the confusion, frustration and tears that preceded his 2020 triumphs. Here are those powerful words.

Photo by Josie Bruno

“I moved to L.A. at the beginning of 2019. During that time, I never made L.A home because I was constantly on the go. So when we were sitting at home forced to quarantine, I was frustrated. Like, “Damn. What am I going to do?” I didn’t even have toilet paper or paper towels. I went to the store and everything was sold out. People had broken into Whole Foods; they had broken into Ralph’s and I was just extremely sad that out of all the things I’ve done in my life, during this unprecedented moment in our generation, I wasn’t prepared. I remember going out the night before the stay-at-home [order] was sanctioned. I said I’m just going to go out and have a fantastic dinner. I had dinner at Avra. I remember seeing one of the bathroom doors open and was like I need some toilet paper. My buddy owns the restaurant. He can’t be mad at this. I’ll share the story with him one day [Laughs].

The very next day when I woke up, I had this feeling of extreme frustration and loneliness because that’s when I started to receive emails that gigs were cancelled. They were being cancelled back to back. All I could imagine is that I’m an artist and I take care of my family; I take care of my kids. My daughter is in law school. I pay for her housing, her car, my mom. I was like, “Man, what is the world going to look like?” At this point, I knew this wasn’t going to be a two to three week thing. Looking at the market, my investments were down. I woke up that morning and I’m sitting on the edge of my bed in complete tears of frustration. I had worked so hard all these years I’ve been dedicated to music and doing the right thing. I saved and invested right, but now we’re looking at the world changing. How long can the finances last? I had to send all of my deposits back. That’s the one thing people don’t realize: as artists we get deposits, but when those gigs were canceled, I had to give everything back.

The only thing that stopped the tears was this voice. I’m not crazy, but I am very spiritual. I heard this voice say, “Maybe you should be still.” The tears stopped flowing. I got up off of my bed and I walked into my living room. I sat at the kitchen counter. I opened up my laptop and I started playing music on Instagram Live for 200 people. It felt good. It was 200 of my friends. It was my first time on IG Live. I remember the next day I played for a very long time. I think it was like nine hours. On day three I started getting phone calls from people talking about how this actually feels good. I’ll never forget this: I got a call from Will Packer and he said, “Bro, everyone’s talking about your club.” I didn’t know what he was talking about. I was like, “Club?! What are you talking about?” He said, “Yo, you’re club on Instagram. People are talking about it. I’m coming in to party with you tonight.” That was a moment for me where I was like wow this thing is really resonating with people. And the numbers just kept growing. The very first 200 to the next day where it was 2000 people to the third day when it was 4000 people. I started this on a Tuesday. By the time Friday hit it was something that I felt like I was supposed to protect.

“I heard this voice say, ‘Maybe you should be still.’ The tears stopped flowing. I got up off of my bed and I walked into my living room. I sat at the kitchen counter, opened up my laptop and I started playing music on Instagram Live for 200 people. It was my first time on IG Live.”

Obviously record companies were calling and brands wanted to sponsor, but I didn’t feel it was appropriate to take money from anyone [for this]. I felt like what I was doing was supposed to be for the people. All of these messages I was receiving from fans like, “Hey this music is saving me.” Donnie Wahlberg kept me inspired to play. Every time I signed on he would be in there talking to the people for nine hours. When I woke up that Friday morning, although I agreed to do something with a record company, I stopped it. [I said] “I don’t wanna do this. I just wanna play for people.” That Friday night was a really big night of like 20,000 people in there. Swizz [Beatz] and Timbaland now own these [Instagram Live] records — they crushed everything — but at the time, to have 20,000 people in an IG live listening to someone play music was new and different. It was a moment. Drake popped in. Drake isn’t my homie like that. Met him a couple times, but he popped into my IG live and started following. Then J-Lo popped in. I know J-Lo, but didn’t invite her. Nile Rodgers was in there sharing these stories and it felt like we were all together.

I remember seeing a comment where someone said, “Damn. D-Nice got all these people in here. The only people missing are the Obamas.” I thought about that all night. I woke up Saturday morning and all I could think about was how to get [an Obama] in there. I didn’t think we’d get the big guy in there, but someone named Obama. I didn’t care if it was Sasha’s cousin [Laughs]. I just felt like people wanted to be inspired and this was a great opportunity to do so. So I made my calls. I’ve DJ’d a lot for the Obamas and did the second inaugural ball, but I still couldn’t get that confirmation. So I called my friend who worked with the Biden campaign. See now it’s normal, but back then in March to call someone and say, “Hey, I have a party going on my phone and I want you to join in” is crazy. Then I called one of my friends who worked with Bernie [Sanders]. No one gave me a confirmation. So I just went on that day and in like ten minutes it was like 20,000 in there. That was the [high] number the night before. I’m like, “This is crazy.” We just watched these numbers rise from 30,000 to 40,000 in a couple hours. Then all of a sudden I get a text message that [Michelle Obama is] going to come in. That was the first time in my entire career in music where I felt like somebody was coming to something that was strictly for me. Usually, I’m doing an event for someone.

Oprah was there. I’m not friends with Oprah, but I am friends with Gayle [King]. Gayle reached out to her and said you need to see this. My friend Corey is best friend’s with Ellen DeGeneres. He hit her up like, “You need to be in here. It’s a real party going on. When we reached that 100,000 for the first time — the first time an artist reached 100,000 people in one room — it was a proud moment for me. Swizz touched on it before — ageism exists in all of these industries, especially music. So to be an artist that was turning 50 in 2020, I felt like I wasn’t going to be relevant anymore. These are the things I was dealing with the entire time during the pandemic. And knowing that the music I was playing…I was very specific with the music that I was playing. I didn’t want to play music that offended anyone. I didn’t want to play music that had explicit language because in my mind I saw someone listening with their sisters or families or kids. So I didn’t want to do anything that wouldn’t make a parent proud. I wanted people comfortable so that everyone could feel good. Something that started with 200 people that significantly changed the way we listen to music is heartwarming. I feel nothing but gratitude. Nothing but humility.”

This piece was edited and condensed for publishing

Bonsu Thompson is a writer, producer, Brooklynite and 2019 Sundance Screenwriters Lab fellow.

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