The Story Behind the Greatest Quarantine Party of 2020

Over 100,000 people attended Derrick ‘D-Nice’ Jones’ Instagram Live fete on Saturday. LEVEL tracked down some notable folks to relive the monumental jam.

His name is D-Nice. Taking out you suckers and you don’t know how he did it.

In 1990, Derrick Jones, Bronx native, dropped “Call Me D-Nice.” While the song was appreciated, lyricism would not prove to be his calling. Instead, over the past three decades, he’s become a hip-hop Renaissance man — photography, production and now Contagion-era party starter.

His IG Live party, aptly named Homeschool, premiered Tuesday night (March 17), entertaining just over 200 guests. But word spread like the dreaded Covid-19.

The energy grew organically, with a typically generous D-Nice set chock-full of Black and Brown music — from Atlantic Starr to Tito Puente to Burna Boy to Nate Dogg — that mutated into a rare strain of happiness that reverberated throughout the following day until the next Homeschool.

By Friday night’s conclusion, Club Quarantine amassed nearly 6,000 people looking for a virtual escape from social distancing. Although superstars like Black Thought and Dave Chappelle decorated the initial nights, the wattage on Saturday’s constellation hit different.

Music legends like Nile Rodgers, Chaka Khan, Patti LaBelle, and Janet Jackson fell through to receive emoji roses while they’re still here. Steph Curry, Ava DuVernay, J-Lo (and A-Rod), Drake, Marisa Tomei, Magic Johnson, and Ellen DeGeneres all logged in to D-Nice’s condo kitchen. At one point during a Michael Jackson set, Tiffany Haddish, at a loss for words, posted a row of eggplant emojis. Hours later she commented “Dnice [sic] I’m taking you on tour with me!” Then, around 11 p.m., with D hitting the six-hour mark of uninterrupted and unrepeated classic play, his life changed.

Rihanna entered the party.

Then Oprah and Michelle Obama shut everything down. This brought Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Joe Biden to the dance. Stevie Wonder and Mark Zuckerberg’s presence managed to be afterthoughts.

By Sunday night, Derrick had one million Instagram followers. I decided to call him. As expected, he didn’t pick up. I hoped he was resting. He wasn’t. He immediately texted back: “What up B. Doing a pre interview for Oprah.” He was prepping for this morning’s interview with Gayle King. I was extremely happy to wait. After all, I just wanted to tell him that when I wasn’t spinning a glass of Hennessy XO or D’USSE or Basil Hayden around my living room during my weekend quarantine, I was asking my famous friends and famous clients of friends about their Homeschool experience. I also wanted to ask him what it felt like to be the biggest Black DJ on the planet. He finally got back.

Derrick “D-Nice” Jones, DJ and creator of Homeschool: Homeschool was a simple idea that was me doing what I always love to do: play music and connect with people. Starting this, I didn’t have a set expectation or goal. It was just an opportunity for people to engage and listen to music. By day two, I saw that there was something special happening when certain songs began to resonate, and people began to use their imagination as if this was a real club event.

Lenny Santiago, Roc Nation Management (DJ Khaled, Fabolous): I felt like the day the party hit 5–6K made it like, “Oh shit.” That’s a lot from a guy who only had one hundred and something [thousand] followers. It’s not like he’s Diplo doing festivals for like 50,000 people.

Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott, multiplatinum music artist/songwriter/producer: I heard about D-Nice’s party because my phone started getting back-to-back text messages. I got scared, thinking something crazy must have happened. When I looked at my phone, there were so many texts saying, “You’re wanted at #ClubQuarantine! They’re asking for you!”

“At first, I’m like who out at a club during this virus? I’m not leaving my house! But then someone said, ‘Go to D-Nice’s Instagram Live. Everyone is there!’” — Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott

Lenny Santiago: I was just pulling people in. I don’t work for Derrick, but I was getting excited, hitting people like, ‘Jump on this shit!’ I’m hitting up Khaled, Michael B. Jordan… Fab will tell you. It’s the same way I thought Jay-Z would be big but had no idea he would be this big. The 6K day had me like, “I don’t know where this bus is going, but I think y’all wanna get on this now.”

Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott: At first, I’m like who out at a club during this virus? I’m not leaving my house! But then someone said, “Go to D-Nice’s Instagram Live. Everyone is there!” I didn’t have to look for an outfit; I was in my night clothes, hair all over my head looking crazy, but it didn’t matter. The music was snapping. I felt like I was really at the club!

Yvette Noel-Schure, power publicist (Beyoncé, Buju Banton): We were all scared before this virtual party. D-Nice united a bunch of people who were aware of him, knew where he came from (Boogie Down Productions etcetera), but then people’s happiness started spreading like wildflower, and they couldn’t keep it to themselves. I had two phones and I was listening while telling other people to log on. My mentee Courtney Lowery told me to get on because he knew I would love it.

Lance Gross, actor (Hawaii 5.0, The Bobby Brown Story): I’ve been following [his parties] for years. I happened to see him posting about the IG party, so I had to support. My favorite was watching the party numbers grow. It was the most star-studded party I’ve ever been to.

Ursula Stephen, hairstylist (Rihanna, Zendaya): I loved when people were actually acting like they were in the club. They were saying shit like I’m in the VIP. I’m standing on the couch because [dudes] are stepping on my fresh shoes. So I played along like, “I’m playing the bar. I see some prospects.” I also loved when D-Nice held up that Ciroc bottle Diddy “virtually” sent him. Too funny.

Jonathan Mannion, legendary photographer: Saturday was the night that will stand forever as that singular moment. When it’s pure, it’s undeniable. People know what feels authentic and genuine. Luther Vandross’s “Never Too Much” was my absolute favorite song played that night. It’s a pure classic. I always associate that song with a D-Nice set.

Mashonda, singer/songwriter/author: With D being such a humble, good human being, I feel like he’s the only person who could’ve genuinely pulled this off without it feeling like something insincere. I witnessed his transition from being a rapper to going into the digital world and then photography. So when he started DJing I knew he had it. Everyone knew he had it. This was around 2009, when he used to do these industry hotel lounges for the record execs. I remember thinking his set was so sexy. He has this way of creating a vibe for ladies.

La La” Anthony, actor (Power): The parties have been so good. They helped me feel connected again — like we are all in this together — and get my dance on. The power of music is just crazy. Best thing that could’ve happened during this time.

Mashonda: Never in my life have I had an experience like that. It was unreal. I saw all my friends from Angelique Miles to Bevy Smith, other DJs. I’m texting D like “Play ‘Got A Man.’” And Eve is in the room. Sure ‘nuff like two seconds later he plays it. I’m like this is really on some club stuff where you make a DJ request. He has mastered his technique so much that he can engage with everyone on the screen and still do his work. Most DJs can’t do that. But he’s talking to you, making you feel like you’re right there in his kitchen.

Lance Gross: Music just heals and he is doing an amazing job of taking our worries away. My family treated it like a real event. We got dressed up and danced. I loved every Fela Kuti song he played. For a bit, I forgot we were quarantined. [Black people] sure know how to make the best out of a tough situation.

“No one was a celebrity in there. Oprah Winfrey in that virtual party was a woman in her home who had the same questions and concerns.” — Yvette Noel-Schure, power publicist

Nick Storm, spirits brand and marketing pioneer (Ciroc, Marcel): My family and I danced in the backyard — 10 feet from each other, of course — like all day to where my feet hurt. And I was wearing sneakers! I swear this type of party really shows the younger generation about dancing more and not just standing on couches. Let’s go back to real dance parties.

Jonathan Mannion: Derrick Jones has moved the crowd through his love of music for over three decades. He’s so deserving of this unforgettable experience. The moment showed the strength of a culture that rallies around each other all the time but, before now, not on this massive scale at once. Friday night, we showed how powerful we really are when we unite. I am honored to have snapped the photo at 100K when he requested, “Somebody get this shot.” I wanted him to remember this moment forever.

Yvette Noel-Schure: It brought us all to one level playing field. No one was a celebrity in there. Oprah Winfrey in that virtual party was a woman in her home who had the same questions and concerns. It was really a room! One beautiful party space. I have never before partied with Naomi Campbell. It really teaches a lesson about solidarity. I just hope we don’t have short-term memory, that when we get through this, we remember what D did for us. Because he’s doing a therapist’s job, a psychiatrist’s job. We’re getting the medicine we can’t get from anyone else. Music is really an incredible medicine.

Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott: D-Nice brought back so many memories you couldn’t help but dance wherever you were. From the ’90s on back, he played so many timeless records; records you sing all the way until the record is fading out. D-Nice needs to go down in music history for what he did during this crazy time. The experience really helped me in this quarantine.”

Lenny Santiago: It was fun. I saw my friends. The celebrities were just the icing on the cake. There was not a person, executive, corporation, brand, celebrity that wasn’t on that shit. The boss man [Jay-Z] hit me like, “Book him now!”

Derrick “D-Nice” Jones: It was life-changing for me because something as simple as me playing music from my kitchen brought people so much hope, joy, and happiness in trying times. This coronavirus crisis has impacted everyone regardless of race, socioeconomics, health, etc. Life as we know it has changed drastically. All this uncertainty has our stress and anxiety levels heightened. Music is a vibration and has the ability to unite people. I just decided to do this from the heart.

Bonsu Thompson is a writer, producer, Brooklynite and 2019 Sundance Screenwriters Lab fellow.

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