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How DJ D-Nice’s endless spinning journey grew to legendary status


“Ballet this way and D-Nice this way,” an usher announces the tuxedos and ball gowns crowding the Kennedy Center red carpet.

No shade to the people moving to the right, but the place to be on a recent Saturday night was on the left, where DJ D-Nice, the turntablist who has made a new name for himself in every decade since the 1980s, the historic theater turned into a swag-surfing dance party accompanied by a twerking orchestra.

“My name is D-Nice,” the 52-year-old rapped as he stepped onto the Opera House stage (the first hip-hop artist to do so) as the sold-out crowd rose from their velvet seats and rarely sat down again. This is “Club Quarantine Live” – ​​part karaoke night and part comeback.

To understand how far Derrick “DJ D-Nice” Jones has come since 2020 (or 1990 or 2000), scroll through his call log two weeks before the most infamous Academy Awards ceremony in recent memory.

“Oscar night 2022 was life-changing for me,” says 52-year-old Jones, whose pandemic-era Instagram dance party affectionately dubbed Club Quarantine catapulted the hip-hop pioneer from celebrity DJ to celebrity (no qualification).

Sure, he’d played at the Obama White House and velvet rope parties around the world, “but they didn’t come to see me,” he explained. As covid-19 spread, the world stopped, the music stopped, and Jones managed to do what DJs should be famous for: saving lives, track by track.

The first call came from Christine Simmons, then the chief operating officer of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Simmons, the first African American and first woman to hold her title, wanted Jones to play the Governors Ball. “The Oscars after party? The official? Deal done!” said Jones.

Two days later, Will Packer, the Hollywood heavyweight who produced the ceremony, called Jones from his car.

“Yo, you’re playing the Oscars,” Packer announced.

“I was like ‘Yeah I know, I’m playing the Governors Ball.'”

Governor’s ball? No, I want you to play the Oscars. There isn’t a DJ as important to the world as you are right now,” Packer said. During the first hour of the live broadcast, Jones commanded the Ones and Twos in a dazzling tuxedo. But his night was far from over.

Jones had also received a call from Guy Oseary, the legendary talent manager, who, along with his client Madonna, organizes an annual VVIP afterset referred to only as ‘the party’. Oseary wanted DJ D-Nice to play for the A-listers at his Beverly Hills mansion, which he assured Jones would fit into his busy schedule because “our party is running late”.

With three gigs on his plate, it’s not surprising he gets another call. This time from Vanity Fair. He was the one who played “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” when Oscar winner Will Smith walked into the magazine’s legendary after-party with his entourage, hours after the infamous blow.

“That was next level,” Jones said of his work that night. “And what was great about it was that I didn’t have to change. I could just be myself and play the exact same music that I love.”

Just two years earlier, Derrick Jones had finished DJing. Well almost. The Year of Our Lord 2020 should have been the hip-hop head’s last hurray on the turntables. He had spent years trying to prove that mixmasters like him – black, with eclectic tastes ranging from hip-hop to rock ‘n’ roll – deserved to be on the same global stages as the one-name EDM DJs. He got somewhere (hello, White House) but not where he wanted to be.

“I felt exhausted,” said Jones. By 50, with 30 years in the game to his name (started as a member of legendary hip-hop group Boogie Down Productions in 1986), he was ready for a change. So Jones moved to Los Angeles to try producing television and film projects. Then the pandemic hit and another “life-changing moment” happened.

Initially on Instagram Live, he wasn’t even DJing in the traditional sense. He just told stories – the man has been a rapper, producer and photographer – and played records in between. Then a thousand people showed up, then 10,000, then 100,000. When the world opened up again, Jones took the vibe offline. His first Club Quarantine Live was the Hollywood Bowl in August 2021. The event sold out in less than two weeks, which was a relief to Jones, who feared his moment was over.

During the height of his online party, Jones was scrolling through the comments, mostly virtual high-fives from his celebrity friends, when a comment nearly stopped the music.

“There was a person who said, ‘Yo, you think you’re hot right now, but when the world opens up, nobody’s going to care about you,'” he recalled word for word. That touched him. Sends him back to a moment in 1994 on the streets of New York when a fan didn’t recognize him because his fade wasn’t sharp enough. And again in 2000 when he couldn’t get into the Manhattan clubs despite the bouncers knowing who he was. Was Club Quarantine just an outlier? The question remained. Do I Matter?

When the Hollywood Bowl sold out, Jones relaxed. “Wow, this is really real.”

Back at the Opera House, there was nothing more realistic than blasting Atlanta rap group Crime Mob’s “Knuck If You Buck” with a live orchestra and 2,000 fans throwing bows.

Here’s what he tried to do before the pandemic, prove his style and musical taste translate. The world just had to shrink before it exploded. To think, he almost quit the turntables. “Three years later. And what am I now? I’m still a DJ,” he said. But the stages are a lot bigger.

“The location changes the experience everyone will have,” Jones said, but not who he is. “Because I play the same music: hip-hop, R&B, funk, rock-and-roll and jazz. But there’s something magical about it if you’ve never had an experience in a certain room.”

Jones was first introduced to that kind of magic in the White House – and how not to let the weight of a room influence which numbers he chooses.

As Barack Obama’s second term drew to a close, Jones played at one of the president’s farewell parties at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. The DJ walked into the East Room and the “energy” of the place shook him a bit. He took in the portraits of Very Important People on the walls, and it almost felt disrespectful to play anything other than Michael Jackson and Madonna. Everyone danced, but it didn’t pop.

It was Naomi Campbell who got him all together.

“You’re not yourself,” said the supermodel, who instructed Jones to play what he’d played the week before, when they were both in Ohio with comedian Dave Chappelle.

“She was right, though,” he said. “Don’t let that room intimidate you. It shouldn’t change who you are. You’re just in a different building, but the music shouldn’t actually change.”

For his next record, Jones took his friend’s advice and started playing one of the hardest hip-hop songs in the genre’s arsenal: MOP’s “Ante Up.”

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