Derrick “D-Nice” Jones' livestreamed DJ sets in the early weeks of the pandemic quickly evolved into Club Quarantine, a beloved virtual dance party on Instagram Live that had viewers from all over the world listening to new, old, underground and mainstream music in the comfort of their homes.
An artist, photographer, and DJ who began his career with the crucial NYC hip-hop group Boogie Down Productions, D-Nice never intended his virtual hang to become a worldwide sensation — he didn’t even name the sessions Club Quarantine at first — but it became one anyway. As word about his musical exploration spread through the social media app, hundreds of thousands of people tuned in. Big names like Michelle Obama, Rihanna, and dancehall artist Buju Banton watched D-Nice create a cultural moment in real time. The former first lady even collaborated with D-Nice on a virtual party aimed at voter registration in November 2020. While volunteers reached out via text to sign up future voters, D-Nice kept everyone entertained with a more than 10-hour DJ set.
Along the way, the New York native picked up a variety of awards, including a Webby Artist of the Year accolade, BET’s "Shine a Light" honor and a NAACP Image statue. And now that the world is opening up again, Club Quarantine is still going strong. D-Nice has performed his sets in New York City venues like Prospect Park Bandshell, and now he’s set to make his Carnegie Hall debut Thursday night, joined by special guests including Ashanti, Jadakiss, Big Daddy Kane, and Slick Rick.
Anna Weber, general manager of artistic planning and operations at Carnegie Hall, told Gothamist the concert is a part of an ongoing move to expand the hall's work with contemporary Black artists. “We are very interested in staying culturally relevant, building relationships with artists who are contemporary pop artists,” Weber said. “And D-Nice is really the best of the best.”
In a recent interview with Gothamist, D-Nice reflected on all the successes of the past two years and what it means for him to perform at Carnegie Hall.
The following has been edited for length and clarity.
You created Club Quarantine to get through the early days of the pandemic, and it's literally taken off. How does it feel to be two years into something and still performing?
I don't take any of this lightly. I feel like we've all been here to support each other for the last couple of years for music and entertainment. There was a period for me, where it was kind of hard to fathom that something that I did out of love and didn't want anything from anyone – and I started playing music, which is what I would normally do anyway – that it resonated with so many people, and resonated with the world.
Now that we're able to do this in real life, it's probably the best experience that I've ever had in my life outside of being a dad. The outpouring of love, the love of music, the way we shift the music. When I go to clubs, I no longer have to hear old-school songs at the end of the night. People are, like, blending them into the set. It's beautiful to see the type of impact that CQ had on the world, the music business, and people in general.
You've also won some big awards. Were you expecting that?
I was told that I was receiving the highest honor from the National Urban League, which is the President's Award. And that means so much, because when I started as a recording artist, the very first record that I produced as a kid was this record about stopping the violence. That record sold nearly a million copies, and we donated all of the proceeds to the National Urban League. So here we are, decades later, with them honoring me for all of the things that I've been able to accomplish throughout the decades in this business is extremely special.
Accolades mean nothing to me. I just want to know at the end of my life if I did something that mattered to people. But there's something magical about receiving this particular award, and I appreciate all the acknowledgement.
You mentioned you've been doing this for decades. What’s kept you DJing all these years?
I actually love what I do. My reason for staying involved is because I don't want to have a regret. I don't ever want to regret a decision that I've made to, like, play music, or to DJ in clubs, or to DJ events. I truly love what I do. And at the end of my life, when this is all said and done, I know that I lived a life with no regrets. And that advice came from my uncle: Never live a life with regrets.
Your sets on Instagram Live can last for hours. Now that you’ve taken your show on the road, what's the major difference between being inside versus outside? Which do you prefer?
I love a combination of both. There was something magical about doing it from home, where I couldn't see anyone and I knew people were there listening to me, because they truly enjoyed the music that I was playing. I can still go on right now and at the end of my set, it's 70,000 people that were in there for, like, that hour set. And it's because they love the music that I play.
Now, being like in real life, the difference is you start to feel that energy. There’s a confidence I feel when I see people dancing to the music that I enjoyed playing when I was home alone.
I did an event last night where I was playing new records and everybody's going crazy. I was done and about to run to another gig. But my tour manager said, “Hey, you never played reggae tonight.” When she said that I was like, wait, I didn't; I played soca, I played Afrobeat, I did not play reggae. And I started playing reggae music, and people went nuts in there. And like that feeling, you can't replicate that. And it was just beautiful to see.
You have this upcoming debut at Carnegie Hall. What does that mean to you?
I was born in Harlem. I was raised in the Bronx. I lived in Brooklyn. I lived in Queens. I lived in Manhattan. I had never been to Carnegie Hall until I did the venue walkthrough. I was always intimidated by Carnegie Hall, because it was so prestigious. You have the idea of the type of person that goes there to hear classical music. It wasn’t until I saw videos of Jay-Z performing in that venue that I knew one day I wanted an event like that, where people want to feel sexy, they want to come in and feel good. They want to hear a DJ, and they want music on top of it.
There's so much history there – but not history from a DJ's perspective, and definitely not history from a Black DJ's perspective. So playing that venue, it's really like a dream come true. And I know it's going to inspire the next generation.
Speaking of the next generation, New York is filled with people who want to be DJs. What’s some advice you can give them?
One: understanding body language. You can actually tell when someone's tired of hearing a song or particular vibe by just looking at your crowd. Pay attention to your audience.
Great song selection. Don’t be all over the place with a tempo. Don't slam records too much. When you look at, like, all of the big DJs that are making noise, it's usually DJs that understand how to mix records – not just slam them, meaning just throwing them on without paying attention to tempo or the vibe. Stay consistent with it.
D-Nice brings Club Quarantine to Carnegie Hall on Thursday, August 4th at 8 p.m.