D-Nice’s Club Quarantine Is What You Need
From the New Yorker By Jelani Cobb
The odd irony of the current plague is that we are experiencing it at once collectively and entirely by ourselves. The governors and mayors who oversee various swaths of the country have ordered their residents to stay indoors, and we have bristled and mostly complied. But it took Derrick Jones, professionally known as DJ D-Nice, to give us a reason to want to. Read the FULL ARTICLE HERE.
For nine hours on Saturday night, D-Nice oversaw a spectacle that was part dance party, part social-media therapy, and a health-policy initiative cleverer than anything the government has put together. Chaka Khan showed up. Lenny Kravitz was there. So were Diddy, Timbaland, Alicia Keys, Ava DuVernay, MC Lyte, Halle Berry, Rihanna, Jamie Foxx, and Kerry Washington. Michelle Obama popped in for a minute and caused a record skip as D-Nice froze, trying to decide what to play for the former flotus—he went with a Beyoncé set. The virtual party, broadcast over Instagram Live, featured a simple Webcam shot of D-Nice—bopping in a white T-shirt, wire-framed glasses, and a rotating array of wide-brimmed hats—standing at his digital d.j. setup in Los Angeles and curating sets of classic R. & B., soul, old-school hip-hop, dance music, nineties pop, and the occasional salsa or Afrobeat offering. Somewhere in the fifth hour, Mark Zuckerberg dropped in like a club owner swinging by to check out the revenues before heading home for the night. Like any great impresario, Jones made sure his audience knew why it wanted to be there: hyping his next set, shouting out friends and new celebrity arrivals. In between, he offered the occasional public-health gem of the corona era: “Wash your hands!” and “We’re in Club Quarantine, but we ain’t gonna let corona stop us!”
The night was the latest step in an artistic journey for Jones, who is forty-nine and started out in the late eighties as a minor member of the hip-hop group Boogie Down Productions. (His 1990 single, “Call Me D-Nice,” is a semi-obscure gem of rap’s golden era.) In the wake of his career as a rapper, he reinvented himself as a photographer and gained enough of a following to become a brand ambassador for Leica, only to then generate even more acclaim as a d.j. He played for Barack Obama’s farewell party at the White House, on October 26, 2016—a little more than a week before Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. So there was a symmetry to what he did on Saturday night, offering music as a balm, this time in the midst of calamity, not as preface to it. And there was an overlapping guest list: Michelle Obama, Naomi Campbell, and Usher had been at the White House that night and were in the virtual room on Saturday evening.
Typically, d.j.s feed off the energy of the crowd, and that’s part of what made D-Nice’s performance exceptional: he stood, in all likelihood, in an otherwise empty room, and became the architect of a vibe washing over thousands of people around the world whom he could not see. On the first night of Club Quarantine, on Wednesday, he had about two hundred listeners. By 7 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturday, the crowd was hovering around nineteen thousand. The audience size was all the more impressive because Instagram ended D-Nice’s live stream after sixty minutes, meaning he had to start again from scratch each hour. What could have been an impediment instead became an hourly affirmation that the crowd wanted more. At the peak, around 10:30 p.m. Eastern Time, he hit a hundred and five thousand listeners. There were other forms of endorsement. People sent liquor to his hotel room—by the end of the night, he could’ve stocked a wet bar with donations alone. Others searched for him on Venmo, trying to pay a “cover charge” as tribute.
The set at Club Quarantine followed the arc of all good things that become a little too popular: first, a small number of people intimately connected to the cause and familiar with the references, people who know exactly why he’d play Meli’sa Morgan’s “Fool’s Paradise” early on and Frankie Beverly’s “Before I Let Go” late in the game. Then a bigger, more diverse set of folk show up, drawn by word of mouth—the scroll of A-listers popping into the room tends to have that effect. Finally, comes the list of people—Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, a Kardashian—who might not know where exactly they are, just that there’s some cachet to being there. And some of these people were certainly represented by social-media managers who had tuned in on their behalf. (Still, it was fun to imagine that Sanders might actually be out there with a casual slouch in his bearing, one hand grasping a Guinness stout and the other thrown in the air as salute during the Buju Banton dancehall set.)
D-Nice ended around two in the morning on the East Coast, and there was a sense that people who joined the live stream had witnessed a thing, that they might talk about his set on Club Quarantine the way older partygoers reminisce about nights spent at the Paradise Garage in the eighties. In the currency of social media, D-Nice took in a haul—six hundred thousand new Instagram followers—but, more significantly, he took people’s minds off the invisible peril that surrounds us. If our physical worlds have contracted, our virtual ones, D-Nice seemed to be pointing out, retain far broader horizons. As the set wound down, the digital crowd drifted away, back to their bottles of hand sanitizer and stockpiles of toilet paper, back to monitoring every sneeze as an omen of ill health. The virus is still around, but so is Club Quarantine. Before D-Nice signed off, he told his stragglers that he’d be spinning again at 6 p.m. on Sunday.
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