Skip to main content
Got a Tip?

DJ D-Nice Helped Us Survive The Pandemic’s Shutdown And His Life Leveled Up In The Process

The world's party DJ took his new fame to greater heights in 2021, trust the party ain't stoppin' no time soon. Photography: Karl Ferguson Jr. | Styling: Calyann Barnett | BTS: Laetitia Rumford

In his artistically decorated modern styled home in Los Angeles, Derrick “DJ D-Nice” Jones is a neat freak. Everything is in it’s proper place. He greets this sunny morning with a warm smile but serious, “everyone can leave their shoes at the door.” The busiest music spinner is coming off of one of his frequent, yet random Club Quarantine Instagram live late night four or five hours long sets. These sets are his way of still thanking those that helped elevate his status during the shutdown days of 2020.

It’s mid-May 2021 and he is in a great mood, you would be as well if you got the phone call he just received. He turns to the room and exclaims, “Woooooooo!!! It’s officially a go! We are taking Club Quarantine on the road!!” To be in the room when that announcement is made after knowing the origin of how the CQ brand began, is an honor to witness. “The tour is hitting New York, Atlanta and L.A. We going big with this!” Jones is in rare excitable form, even with this photoshoot to do and a media run right after, he’s on cloud 99 (yes, ninety-nine). Rightfully so, this is major. Taking a crowd that was formed in the low days of our collective lives to now enjoying the reward of good energy, love and being able to party in person with supporters is the paramount of “God’s grace.”

DJ D-Nice VIBE cover
Karl Ferguson, Jr.

——————-

When we were all wondering what the future may hold at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic that caused a worldwide shutdown in early March of 2020, the celebrity mixmaster was forced to sit his jet-setting-criss-crossing-the-country-daily, self down. But he had to stay occupied, so he fired up his laptop and started playing music to calm his sheltering alone nerves in Los Angeles. More than just for himself, he reached out to a text group chat worthy of the entertainment industry’s top tier and close homies alike. He told them to check out his IG and he went live on Instagram and had a few hundred folks rocking out to his playlist vibes.

That first session went for a few hours, but then Jones decided to actually DJ a few days later. A few hundred more people checked in and by the third day of that same week, VIBE published one of the first stories on Jones’ epic nine hours of straight grooves from all soul genres. As the scrolling comments on IG live gave him big props from all over the world, Jones would show love back by shouting out his fans, friends and celebrities (the defacto host for the digital affairs has been New Kids On The Block member, Donnie Wahlberg) as their names would jet up the screen. The scene would be like, “I see you @seedpopular…What’s up @iesha_irene? Longtime @jossieharris! @deiwest let’s go! @fatjoe my BX brother!” But something incredible happened on March 22nd, 2020. After close to two weeks of shut down, Jones was a few hours in on a set and the biggest names in the world started filtering in by word of mouth (or shares) from music (Quincy Jones to Rihanna), media (Oprah), film (Halle Berry), and even politics (shout out Joe Biden) all virtually partied with over 100,000 followers (a landmark record on IG at the time) on the social media platform. That night was historic as Jones was just overwhelmed in his same condo kitchen that housed what was then called the “Homeschool” party, with all these celebs joining the “biggest global dance party.”

The name of the social gathering switched to “Club Quarantine,” as we were all quarantining, dancing in the comfort of our homes to Jones’ ever cool mixes of 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s Hip-Hop and R&B. Of course Disco, Soul, Funk and those mainstay backyard barbeque hits rocked us die-hard hours long listeners to sleep. With new found fame upping his already celebrity DJ status, what Jones created was a “VIBE.” Yes, the pandemic birthed a score of DJs that were now forced to spin for digital audiences on IG Live, but they didn’t have the esthetics that made D’s set sing. First was the mood, Jones would have a bottle of wine on deck, sippin’ ever so often while mixing the jams. Some of those jams turned to slow jams and those wee hours of spinning classic love songs turned the sessions into “CQ After Dark,” this was grown folks business. Them Teddy Pendergrass, Prince, Sade, Anita Baker and Isley Brothers baby making tunes. Those other DJs just didn’t have the “it” factor to take their sets to the next level. Jones was effortless in presentation, there was the switching of the wide brim hats that have become his signature style staple. Whenever he would need a vibe change, he would go to his vast collection of headwear and put on another top piece. It would garner hat emojis in the streaming comments. This type of connection with his audience lead to big brand deals in 2020, with the likes of Ford trucks, Bandaid Brand, political promotion gigs for the 2020 presidential race, and gigs spinning for MTV, the Emmys and super secret private events.

DJ D-Nice standing
Karl Ferguson, Jr. Karl Ferguson, Jr.

All of the love he was getting from media coverage to pop culture connections, was overwhelming for the then approaching 50-year-old. In June of 2020 he ended up celebrating his half a century of living with, you guessed it, his Club Quarantine family on IG live. A great way to thank and rock out with his new fam that supported his rise to fame that has even been acknowledged by Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter. “You hot D, you hot right now,” Jay said on a now legendary celeb filled Zoom birthday party for Roc Nation executive Lenny Santiago. Jones replied with a quick, “Man, I’ve been hot.” Jay shot back, “Nah, not like this.” And Hov was right.

—————-

Fast forward to 2021 and you have DJ D-Nice as the world’s go-to music man that can’t go wrong. It’s August 29th, the first show in (with Brooklyn and Atlanta in the weeks following) the Club Quarantine tour that he is doing with Live Nation. The Los Angeles crowd at the massive open air Hollywood Bowl venue are primed with their BYOB aura. After over a year of being coup’d up looking at little phone and iPad screens in the CQ village, here the fans could truly bask in the soulful synergy of shared appreciation for the event that got them through tough times. The lineup is heavy, Common, Trey Songz, Deborah Cox, Erica Campbell, Isley Brothers, Kiana Lede, Sheila E. and surprise guest George Clinton. The night is one from the dream that Jones would often say during those marathon CQ sets when the end of the shutdown wasn’t in sight, “I can’t wait ’til we can do this as a family in person…that’s what I want for us.” Any other show would end with a mic drop of a DJ signing off, but this night? With fans and friends from all over the country, flying in for this legendary night were sent off with a fireworks display that rivaled the Macy’s Fourth of July parade in New York.

Jones is still one of the sharpest photographers, with high profile campaigns under his belt. There are accolades and awards from every organization from mainstream spots like The Kennedy Center to BET Networks to the Apollo honoring his efforts of spreading joy through music during a dark time in our civilization’s history. Seeing the extreme glow up from his early days as a Bronx, NY teen in the iconic hip-hop group (with grand imperial MC, KRS-One) Boogie Down Productions, to his own music career to losing everything in the ‘90s to regaining his career through photography to DJing comeback into his life, to now living a dream.

But it wasn’t always this rosey for Jones. It’s been a long hard road to these incredibly epic times. He has so many more monumental moments to create, like performing on the biggest shows in entertainment, especially tonight’s 50th annual Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve 2022 and a super secret mega spot on a major network, to be announced soon.

Time and talent, patience and prayer and a good dude nature has helped Jones plow through the toughest of his journey, but the great part about his future is he’s just getting started. This year he’s released music singles “No Time For Love” (ft. Ne-Yo & Kent Jones) and  The dude DJ’d fashion’s mecca event in the Met Gala this year! Brand Nice is on full throttle in all aspects of biz (media – TV shows, spirits – Maison Marcel wines, clothing – CQ, music – Hitco Ent.) so follow the flow like his trademark saying, “It’s a vibe.”

————
Believing When They Don’t
I’ve always been a part of situations where they didn’t fully believe in [me]. You know, I believed in myself, but they didn’t fully believe in me. And, that shit can be hurtful to anyone. And it was hurtful to me, but it was my motivation. So that’s when I look at my career, when I left [music] and I started doing web development, and I worked on all of these sites from Alicia Keys and Reebok and AT&T. I was doing that. Just behind the scenes. Now I became a photographer and shot all these campaigns and America’s Next Top Model and Hennessy campaigns, Nike campaigns. And then DJ…I have no regrets, man, and I don’t live in the shadow of anyone. Nope. I mean, [now] I’m very comfortable with myself. Yeah. And I love it. But I also know I respect what it took to get here.”

Losing It All In The ‘90s
I lost it all. I didn’t lose it all, cus of cars and such. I lost it all cus I had a couple hundred grand saved and I invested in trying to get out of my Jive [Records] deal and I lost it and that contributed to the slight depression that I had. Depression is serious and I don’t want to make light of it…but I was fucking sad, bro. But it’s where I was supposed to be, cus being with my ex was an important moment of freedom. I was young, 24, 25, trying to figure out what was next in life. I didn’t have to worry about the overhead, cus I was living with her family. I lost everything. That’s what makes all of this beautiful cus it is a true story of like, multiple things…I really do believe what’s yours is yours. Your path. I also believe that all of those lessons that I learned back then on how to be self-sufficient, treating people with respect and being kind…and that’s not always an easy thing to do, I’m not gon’ lie, I have my moments. I have my moments with family, you know? But for the most part, I try to be kind to people.

Violator Management’s Chris Lighty & Q-Tip Inspiration
Chris actually told me not to get back into this. One night I went to hear Q-Tip (of A Tribe Called Quest) spin, and I called Chris. I was still building websites. “Hey Chris. I think I want to get back into music.” His words back to me were, “You sure you want to get back in this business? These ni**as is animals now.” [Laughs] But there was something that was just drawing me to the music. I can’t even lie. In ways I never felt before. I was drawn to the turntables, not even as a producer. I wanted to DJ. I grew up in the ‘80s, so as big as Hip-Hop is, back then you had to be able to cross all music genres and people. I saw Q-Tip doing that. He resonated with everyone. It didn’t matter what race you were, he was just playing music. Before it was called “open format,” but a very soulful open format. It wasn’t like just playing whatever was out. He was digging and I was like, “Oh my gosh.”

D-Nice BTS 1
Laetitia Rumford

First Parties That Set Up The Comeback In Early 2000s
It was a club in New York called The Canal Room. A Friday night party with then promoter, Kenny Mac and them. I was just playing all types of soul shit. It was a vibe in there. Then they hired me at a spot called Cane. It was my night. It was called “Bunny Child Tuesdays.” That’s when I felt the freedom where I could play House music, Hip-Hop…that’s where I did open format, cus it still didn’t have a name.

Most Memorable Sets
Really just the White House/BET party. They are all private events. The [now President of RCA Records] Mark Pitts BET after party. Prince was alive. It was a place in LA called My House. All I know is when I showed up, Pitts people were like, “Yo, Prince is coming.” I was like word! That place was rocking! Prince had a table. Jeezy had a table. Fab had a table. Miguel had a table. Mary J. Blige, Usher, Jermaine Dupri…everybody! I’m rockin’, Jermaine Dupri walks into the DJ booth and I threw on “Money Ain’t A Thang.” JD started doing his verse. Usher steps into the booth and I threw on “You Don’t Have To Call,” the place is going crazy! I threw on “Bad Girl,” everybody losing it! Usher took the mic and threw it across the room to Jeezy. Then I dropped, “And Then What.” This is all happening [right behind each other]. Then Jeezy threw the mic across the room to Fab…they are literally throwing the mic like, “Yo, I got it!” Then I threw on “Make You Better,” cus that joint was on fire at that point. [Does the horns sounds from the record]The place was just nuts, man! That…yo, that right there! That was special.

Performing Through Fatigue
It could be that one time that someone never seen you perform before. You want to leave a great impression. I just live it. [Former business partner, Tony Rahsaan] told me, “Treat every performance like it’s your last.” That’s important man.

Origin of DJ Crew ‘The Originals
The Originals came together cus of DJ Stretch Armstrong. When Hurricane Sandy hit New York they had a Sandy Relief party, Stretch put together all five of us (DJ Clark Kent, Tony Touch, Rich Medina), plus Q-Tip. He didn’t rock with us again, but we had so much fun we said, “We should do this again.” Then it just became like a thing. Every month we did The Originals, at first at Santos Party House, then moved it to Cello, then moved it to Brooklyn at a spot called Output. From there we moved it to Chelsea Music Hall [in Manhattan]. Then we moved it to [Club Quarantine] We push each other with music. Clark Kent is Hip-Hop and R&B, the swagginess. Rich Media is super soulful, Afrobeat. Tony is the Latin music, Hip-Hop, Freestyle and Stretch on the Reggae and Pop Music. Me, I was always about the ‘80s. Me and Teena Marie are like best friends in my head, ya know? Stevie Wonder and all that…and Hip-Hop. It makes me happy. That’s my thing when I’m on.

Club Quarantine
Being home alone and not with family, I was just trying to find ways to stay connected to people. I woke up one morning and decided to open my laptop up and play music and share stories. It wasn’t about DJ’n. It was really about, “You know, I was 17 when I worked on this track…and when I was in the studio I sampled this blah, blah, blah…” Initially, it was called “Homeschool.” I was watching the numbers, then I did it the next day and the numbers were growing. I did it the third day and that’s when you wrote about it. Then on the fourth day, I called Clark Kent up and said, “Man, this feels really good.” He said, “You should actually DJ now.” I kept trying to use the gear I had at home, but none of the gear worked. It was old gear. Serato didn’t work with the old gear. The night you wrote about the 9 hours, I was just playing music. Trying to mix it through Serato! I woke up the next morning and the full quarantine was about to be in effect, so everything was shutting down early. I arrived at Guitar Center like 30mins before they were closing at Noon. I was scheduled to go online, cus I put a flyer out to promote. I got the controller that I used just before they closed. This is all divine bro…when I got back home, that’s when I started DJ’n. Before that, I wasn’t DJ’n.

The Apartment Was A VIBE
I miss that apartment. I was living in Downtown LA, across from the Staples Center. When I started doing it, it was bright, it was early. LA sunshine, who can be mad at that? No matter where you are from, the darkest time we experienced, a little bit of sunshine just looks cool. I also didn’t have anything in my house! I didn’t have any records, they were back in NY. Everything was set up…my laptop and speakers were all being propped up with my coffee table books. My phone was being held up on a bottle of wine. I used everything in my apartment to create this whole vibe man.

The Shout Outs During The Sets
The shout outs became apart of it. The shout out is everything, the music is secondary. It’s the vibe of the conversation that goes on that’s more important to me. That’s what I’ve always felt about it. We all have the same records. When someone saw my formula, yeah you could play Stevie Wonder too now…but it’s the shout outs. I’m just shocked that people haven’t mastered it. I would see my friends, it became harder to see my friends. Man it was going, cus once everyone is in there…When you really think about it, Club Quarantine is the reason why an app changed an algorithm. You couldn’t even see the comments, they adjusted the entire app cus of what happened. That’s some dope shit.

Personal Impact of Club Quarantine
When it was actually happening, I didn’t realize it. Donnie Wahlberg would say everyday, “Yo bro, you’re saving lives. You don’t even understand.” I really didn’t. The music and the people were saving my life as well. So, I wasn’t living in the moment of like, “What I’m doing for you.” It was just me still feeling connected to people that kept me from being depressed. It was very selfish in the beginning. It was about me. The very first day. The other days it was, “Oh shit, this is really cool. There’s a community here.” I was just in my apartment. I didn’t feel what everyone else felt. You were dancing with your family and friends…I wasn’t. So, I was just playing music and reading comments and seeing hearts. I was like, “This is dope.” It made me want to keep doing it. Those 10-hour marathon sets were cool cus I was feeding off the energy. The conversation with thousands and thousands of people still in there.

But it was one conversation, it was Lenny S.’s birthday party on Zoom. It’s Jay-Z and Puff and Tiffany Haddish, Damson Idris (he had his shirt off). The whole time Jay kept going back to my screen making me mad uncomfortable, I think Jay made everybody uncomfortable, cus he was just sitting in this beautiful ass kitchen and talking mad shit. But it’s just Jay! He kept going back like, “How’s it feel?” I’m like, “what you talking about?” He’s like, “Maaan, don’t front like you been this hot before!” I’m like, “Jay, I been hot.” He said, “Naaah, not like this.” I didn’t understand how different it was. I really didn’t until he said that.

100K On Instagram Live
That 100 thousand night was everything. For me, it was the first time that I felt like people came to something that I was doing. Every other party I was doing was for someone else. Yeah, I was a bonus, but that night it was all eyes on me. I’m there for you and that was a beautiful feeling man. I didn’t feel like my book, my story was there until that. It’s no longer about DJ’n, it’s about someone that brought so many communities together all over the world. I hope to be remembered for that, not just for Club Quarantine, but someone that during that time that brought so many people together.

D-Nice BTS 2
Laetitia Rumford

Mary J. Blige Tour
Technically, [it wasn’t] a full tour. Just some dates, it’s been actually awesome. Coming off of my own tour, The CQ Tour, a lot of people thought I was kinda crazy for doing the Mary tour. Cus I was coming off of my own situation, but when you love someone and a fan of someone and someone that has contributed to music and had actually been supporting me since I started DJing in the clubs, to have an opportunity to be on a bill with her, to see my name next to hers, was an honor. No ego, strictly about wanting to seeing my name next to Mary J. Blige…it was powerful. [The tour’s audience] were partying.

Being A Girl Dad
To my youngest daughter, this is all she knew anyway. We been traveling this way. We already had homes, my oldest daughter is the one that really pays attention to like what’s happening. She was the one that was helping me out in the beginning. I was using an iPhone, I didn’t think to use my iPad to stream so I could actually see the comments. I really didn’t see the comments, I didn’t see the names popping in [that night]. She was texting me like, “Alright Dad, this person and that person is in there. I was DJ’n reading it on the iPad. I switched it and haven’t looked back.

Being a Dad is everything. The source of my motivation is my kids. To be able to get up everyday and go to work, do what I do. But a lot of that stems from not having a father. I knew that…it’s crazy, one day I had to flip how I thought about it. I used to put to much emphasis on not being the type of father like mine. Then one day I switched it, “I just want to be a great Dad.” I didn’t want to do something cus that person didn’t do it for me. You should just be a great parent period. I love the relationship I have with my kids.

Brand Nice’s Future
I feel really good about it. I feel like I’ve established a good brand with myself and my business, but I want to use this opportunity to shine a little light on other people as well. My Originals brothers, DJ Sophie…even outside of the DJ part. I really have a huge merch business right now. Will Smith is the reason why I have a merch business. They sent me a one of one t-shirt as a gift to say thank you. I looked at it and said, “Oh my gosh, we should do this together.” We did that and raised money for charity. Then I was like, “I gotta do this now on my own.” With Amazon Music, I have my clothing deal with them for CQ. Now I have Brand Nice. It’s a fun thing bro!

DJ D-Nice standing in color
Karl Ferguson, Jr. Karl Ferguson, Jr.