In an era of Black Power and Black Panthers, Derrick “D-Nice” Jones made his first appearance when he was born in New York’s own Harlem Hospital. While spending his first seven years in Harlem, Derrick experienced the love of being cared for by his grandmother. He also witnessed first hand, the struggle that came with ghetto life.
Admitting to being sheltered by women most of this time, Derrick still got a taste of what the older cats on the block had to offer. He says this is where he gained his confidence, and debonair. By age twelve, he was on his way to the Bronx. He moved in with his cousin V, and she showed him a new way of life. Derrick explains this time to be the defining years of his life. This is when music and the arts entered his blood, changing him forever.
Mashonda: Many people don’t know D-Nice, the multi-talented man. They know the rapper. Tell me about your other God-given gifts.
D-Nice: I'm a DJ, I produce, direct and edit films. Iʼm a web developer, and most significantly, I am a photographer. Everyday I strive for creativity.
How old were you when you started your music career?
I was seventeen years old when I signed to Jive Records. I was also producing tracks for Boogie Down Productions, but never received credit. I produced “Self Destruction” when I was 18. I slept under the mix board for weeks while producing that song. It went on to sell nearly a million copies.
What did you struggle with the most as an artist?
In the earlier days of my career, I did everything for the love of music, then one day, the love just ran out. I got tired of fighting with record companies and trying to prove myself. The label was ready for me to make my first album. Will Smith’s “Parents Just Don’t Understand” was out, and they wanted me to go in that direction. I’m not Will, I didnʼt grow up that way, so I couldnʼt make a record like that. By then, I had decided that we would do it my way, or not at all. After my second album, the label shelved me. I came from a very militant, black power er I was like, “Fuck it, I’m done.”
Do you regret leaving that way?
It probably wasnʼt the smartest thing to do, but it was gutsy. I don’t regret it. Part of me struggled with it at first, and part of me said “This is my decision, and I’m going to live with it.”
How did you deal with the dissolve of your rap career?
When the people stopped clapping, I decided to stay at home. I needed time to figure my life out. I asked myself “what do you do after the music stops?” People would always say I came from the golden era of hip-hop, but there was no golden money in those days. With the money that’s generated now, if the recording artist is smart, they wouldnʼt have to work for the rest of their life. There are artist that get $50,000 - $100,000 a night to perform. Back then we didn’t make that. When it stopped for me, my way of living stopped as well. It took me 5 years to get out of that rut of depression.
D-Nice's Photography: Mary J. Blige before a sold out crowd
Did you know your next move?
I’m not super religious, but I’m very spiritual. God works in crazy ways. I spent all that time in front of a computer. I couldnʼt afford a fresh haircut, so I became D-Nice in chat rooms, on America Online. Because of this experience, and my new found love of the web, I gained enough knowledge to start my own web development company, United Camps. It was like God was providing me a new service, that’s what got me out of that rut. I no longer cared about shopping a demo. I developed sites for artists like Annie Lennox and Aaliyah, and also provided online marketing services for Reebok. I had an amazing time with it. People began to call me the black Bill Gates. [Laughs.] I never thought I would be known for something other than music.
What happened in your life to get you back on a musical path?
I was doing online marketing for the G-Unit shoe with Reebok. We were in a meeting with nothing but executives at the conference table. This one guy walks in and says what’s up to everyone, when he got to me, he just stood there. Finally, I stood up and introduced myself as Derrick Jones, everyone laughed. This guy was the senior vice president for Reebok, and he knew exactly who I was. He smiled and said, “Ya know dude, I graduated from Harvard, I wrote my senior thesis on ‘A Few Dollar’s More’ from your first album.” At that moment, it hit me. I realized that for artist like you and I, maybe we didn’t sell millions of records, but the people we touched will never forget us. I spent years trying to be corporate, running away from D-Nice, but D-Nice was my biggest asset. I started to throw parties because of that meeting.