If it hasn’t already, cabin fever will set in for all of us dealing with social distancing in the age of COVID-19. But it won’t be DJ D-Nice’s fault.
The Bronx, New York-born Derrick Jones is a hip-hop renaissance man. He’s a DJ, rapper, producer, a photographer and, now, social media’s most recognizable virtual party starter with his Homeschoolin: Social Distancing Dance Party series on Instagram Live that has attracted tens of thousands viewers since Wednesday.
Yet, it was on Saturday night when the parties ceased being just parties. With a handful of America’s biggest cities such as Chicago, New York and all of California on lockdown, Homeschoolin’ took on a form of musical therapy sessions for a community needing mental and spiritual restoration for more than 100,000 viewers.
His parties have become safe spaces, and given his history as one of the genre’s ultimate party starters, he is inadvertently becoming one of the creative faces during the coronavirus pandemic and it makes sense.
To understand the appeal of D-Nice’s endeavor is to embrace an undeniable truth. Black creativity, throughout history, has so often been manufactured through time of peril. There’s boxer Joe Louis’ dominance throughout the Great Depression. Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddamn” in response to the assassination of civil rights activist Medgar Evers and the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. Or Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” channeling the frustrations of an America in strife at home and aboard. Or how TV host Don Cornelius’ Soul Train became a safe haven for black expression. Or, in recent times, Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” or Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” and their roles in soundtracking an exasperated young black America.
This isn’t to say D-Nice is the next Louis, Simone, Gaye or Kendrick or that what he’s dubbed “Club Quarantine” virtual dance parties are the next coming of Soul Train. But what they have in common is the ability to rally black folks during unprecedented times. D-Nice’s ability to dig through the crates for an array of classics spanning generations seems effortless. A who’s who list of black Hollywood, presumably themselves social distancing, have joined the fun: Rihanna, Stevie Wonder, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Halle Berry, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, Usher, Alicia Keys, Gabrielle Union, Lauren London, Big Daddy Kane, Earth, Wind & Fire, Mary J. Blige, Dave Chappelle, Biggs Burke, Bun B, Spice Adams joined for a dance break routine from his house, Naomi Campbell, Oprah Winfrey, Fat Joe, Tiffany Haddish and more.
He shouted-out the late Kobe Bryant and Nipsey Hussle. Shortly before 10 p.m. Saturday, former first lady Michelle Obama joined the party. Despite DJing at the Obama White House in the past, the hip-hop veteran couldn’t contain his excitement.
“I don’t know why I’m nervous,” he said upon the former first lady’s digital arrival.
However far D-Nice takes these digital parties remains to be seen. Because it’s unclear how long American life will be suspended. What’s clear is that D-Nice has done something rare in a world where mostly anything can be seen at any time. The soil that sprouts creativity isn’t monolithic. Creativity, at its essence and throughout history, was the first and still the most urgent communication with God. There’s a cultural significance in his “Club Quarantine.”
You have to be there in the moment. To dance in a time of uncertainty. To feel free when so much of life has been shackled. And to be happy during a year that has produced a surplus of heartbreak.