D-Nice is best known as a DJ having spun for President Obama during his inaugural ball – and as the creator of the phenomenon, Club Quarantine, a livestream dance party that lifted us up and brought joy to the masses during the height of the pandemic, when we needed it most.
In this episode, which is a replay of a conversation from the 2022 Pennsylvania Conference for Women, Target’s EVP and chief external engagement officer Laysha Ward talks with D-Nice about his career, reinvention, mental wellness, music and allyship. Together they explore his gift for creating community and ways you can do the same.
Our Guest: D-Nice
D-Nice is not only a pillar of hip-hop but is continuing to steer pop culture with his journey taking him from the streets of Harlem all the way to The White House. The legendary artist, DJ, and photographer has moved millions on wax, on stage, and now online with his revolutionary virtual Club Quarantine. The latter paved the way for numerous Instagram Live series. More importantly, Club Quarantine raised millions for first responders, HBCU’s, and more. D-Nice’s global influence has been acknowledged time and again including the NAACP Image Awards naming him Entertainer Of The Year, TIME magazine nominating him for 2020 Person of the Year, and EBONY magazine including him on the 2021 Power 100 list. After spreading hope online, he is back to making records and rocking stages. D-Nice kicked off 2021 co-curating the Official Playlist of the Biden + Harris inauguration. Soon after, he performed at the official in-stadium Super Bowl LV pre-show. D-Nice continued the year taking his talent from his sold out Club Quarantine Live at the Hollywood Bowl to the iconic Met and Kennedy Center Honors Galas. After bringing in 2022 on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, he opened at the NBA All-Star Game and helped provide the soundtrack for the 94th Academy Awards. Most recently, D-Nice headlined and co-produced a special sold out presentation of Club Quarantine Live at the legendary Carnegie Hall. D-Nice continues to innovate and inspire, leaving an indelible mark on the entertainment industry.
Guest Host: Laysha Ward
Laysha Ward is an accomplished C-suite executive with thirty years of leadership experience at Target. In 2017, Ward was named executive vice president, chief external engagement officer, overseeing Target’s enterprise-wide approach to engage and deepen relationships with cross-sector stakeholders to drive positive business and community impact. In 1991, Ward began her career with Target as a member of the store sales and management team of Marshall Fields in Chicago. In 2000, she was named director of community relations and promoted to vice president of community relations and Target Foundation in 2003. In 2008, President Bush nominated, and the U.S. Senate confirmed Ward would serve on the board of directors of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the nation’s largest grantmaker for volunteering and service, which she continued to serve as board chair under the Obama Administration. Later that year, she was promoted to president of community relations and the Target Foundation. She serves on the Aspen Institute Latinos and Society Advisory Board and the Stanford Center for Longevity Advisory Council, is a member of the Executive Leadership Council, the Economic Clubs of New York and Chicago, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, The Links, and serves on the boards of Greater MSP, the Minnesota Orchestra, and the Northside Achievement Zone, as well as United Airlines and Denny’s Corporation for-profit board of directors. She received a bachelor’s degree from Indiana University, master’s degree from the University of Chicago, and an honorary Doctorate of Laws from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. She and her husband, Bill, reside in Minneapolis, MN.
Women Amplified Host: Celeste Headlee
Celeste Headlee is a communication and human nature expert, and an award-winning journalist. She is a professional speaker, and also the author of Speaking of Race: Why Everybody Needs to Talk About Racism—and How to Do It, Do Nothing, Heard Mentality, and We Need to Talk. In her twenty-year career in public radio, she has been the executive producer of On Second Thought at Georgia Public Radio, and anchored programs including Tell Me More, Talk of the Nation, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. She also served as cohost of the national morning news show The Takeaway from PRI and WNYC, and anchored presidential coverage in 2012 for PBS World Channel. Headlee’s TEDx talk sharing ten ways to have a better conversation has over twenty million views.
- Learn more about D-Nice on his website, or follow him on Instagram @dnice
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- Join us as we welcome Tina Fey, Former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Olympic gold medalist Gail Devers, and more amazing women to the Pennsylvania Conference for Women this October 19th! Registration is now open and early bird pricing is in effect through May 20th.
- Texans, save the date: 2023 Texas Conference for Women registration opens on Thursday, May 18th.
Hello, Dee, welcome. It is such a gift to have this opportunity to hear your thoughts on a wide range of subjects. So are you ready to jump into our first question?
I’m so, I’m so ready to jump in, and thank you for having me here.
Ah, fantastic. Okay. You’ve had many successful careers over the years, and you are a master of reinvention, and with so many people thinking about reinventing themselves these days, what are some strategies that you’ve learned along the way?
Wow. Some of the strategies I’ve, I’ve applied along the way has been well, lemme, I, I I just have to take it back to a lesson that I learned back in like the early two thousands. You know, like when my first record came out, it was like 1986. I was 15 years old, and I was considered old school by the time I was like 23 years old, <laugh>. And I, yeah, it’s crazy. So, and I, I spent like seven years trying to reinvent myself when like no other, no record company wanted to hire me or present me with a deal. So I had to figure out ways to be creative outside of what I thought I was supposed to do, which was making music. So I ended up getting involved in, like, in in a, what was then called New Media where we were, I was building websites and, and building websites for big clients, whether it was at and t or, or Reebok, vitamin Water, you know, all of these sites I was building and most of the record companies.
And and at the same time, I, I still had this desire to make music. And one of my buddies at the time was a huge manager in the business by the name of Chris Lighty. And I went to him and I said, Hey, bro, like I, I really want to, I I want you to listen to this demo. And he looked at me, and, and he wasn’t, he wasn’t being negative in any way. He just gave me the best advice. And he said he was like, you know, that’s who you used to be. You know, don’t be afraid of like becoming who you’re supposed to be. Like, don’t be afraid to, to just open up to more than just trying to shop demos. You know, maybe that’s not what you’re supposed to do at that point. And part of me was a, a little broken because he didn’t listen to it.
But when I thought about it, it actually, it, you know, it gave me the strength and the courage to want to explore all aspects of creativity. So reinventing myself was probably the easiest thing to do after that. It was like, Hey, well, why not try this? You know? So I ended up becoming a photographer and I, I, you know, was featured photographer on America’s, America’s Next Top Model. You know, I ended up shooting campaigns for Nike and, and like I said, building big websites from Alicia Keys to Annie Lennox to Aaliyah to, you know, and and none of that happens without that type of conversation that I had with him.
Wow. That is such powerful advice to have the courage to open up to who you’re supposed to be incredibly inspiring. You know, let’s continue with the idea of reinvention a bit longer. Reinventing yourself, I think also takes believing in yourself. So how have you managed to believe in yourself, even when others didn’t believe in you?
Well, when you come from, when, you know, from like the inner city, you know, I grew up in the Bronx, and, and you know, even back then, I had to make a choice, you know, like I, I could have been a hustler in the streets, you know, like that’s not the check the path that I, that I chose. You know, like I always you know, it was a television show I used to watch, you know, back in the day with a gentleman by the name of Robin Leach. It was called The Lifestyles of the Rich
And Famous. I remember it, I remember that
Show, that show, and that show, that show actually plays played a lot into like, my personal development, because I watched that show and I was like, man, like, you know, when you grow up in the inner city, you know, you, you don’t find many, we didn’t have many shows that, you know, kind of inspired us to want to see the world. And I think because I had like this kind of like global vision, even as a young man because of a show like that where I wanted to see the world, it just made me want to tap into different things and to be unafraid, you know? And, you know, I mean, there are people in my family who had never left the Bronx or never left Manhattan, you know? But because of a show like that and because of music, I always wanted to see more. And the more that I was able to see, the more that I wanted to either do greater things or I wanted to, you know, I became a photographer, not because I wanted to, you know, sh you know, take pictures of other people. It was because I wanted to have something tangible to show my family and friends when I returned from, like, being on the road, you know? So like being unafraid and, and, and to reinvent yourself has always been like, extremely important to me, even like I said since I was a kid.
Oh, I love that. And I’m intrigued by the fact that you watched this show Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, and yet you likely often didn’t see people on that show who looked like you, and yet you still felt like you could be inspired by what you were seeing, and it still motivated you to open up a world of possibilities.
Well, one of the things about the show you know, not to make this just solely about that show, but one of the things about that experience was because I didn’t see people like me, it always made me challenge myself to want to be someone to say, no, I, I should be there. And even in terms of like DJing, like, you know you fast forward to where my career is now. Like, I didn’t see many DJs on the kind of level that I’m on right now. They’re a handful of them, but for the most part, there were non-African-American DJs that were kind of like leading the DJ culture globally, you know? But I wanted to, I always saw myself as one of tho one of those people, like, no, well, why shouldn’t I play that stage? You know? Like when people would try to put me in like a club, I’m like, no.
Well, why shouldn’t I be here? You know, why, what do you mean I can’t play Carnegie Hall? Or it’s something like that, you know? So I know that my, like, my career, I know ultimately with everything that I’ve been doing throughout this journey, my one goal was to al always be a source of inspiration for people that look like me, you know, to say, you, you can make it there too. You know? So whether it’s like selling out a bowl or Hollywood bowl or, or a Carnegie, like, we never saw that. And like, I will always wanted to be that person to say, Hey, you can be there too. And, and it’s always about, like, it’s never about, you know, excluding anyone. It is just about seeing someone like myself on that stage and, and bringing in just, just people globally from all over the world. And to, to be that person that’s making it happen right now is, I always saw that in myself. I’m glad I never gave up. I’m glad I stuck with my journey when people didn’t believe. I’m glad I believed in myself.
Ah, so inspiring. I’m super inspired hearing you share that story. And the words of motivation and encouragement for our community, those listening to this, who will be inspired to have a vision and work towards their dreams as well, by hearing your story is, is really impactful. You know, sometimes you have to bet on yourself before others bet on you. And ideally, we all have a collection of relationships, mentors, sponsors, and others who invest in our potential as well.
There was one thing that my tour manager said to me recently, we’re on the phone, and we were talking about an upcoming show that we’re working on, and I was like, Hey, look, if we get no sponsors, it’s okay. Like, I’ll, I’ll take care of it myself. Not that I’m like sitting on this huge, like, you know, pile of cash to just throw away. No, I just believe in myself, and I believe that, you know, the, the bigger picture is to, to inspire, you know, people, not even just to, I mean, you just thinking about the way I grew up listening to music, and I’m only using music because that’s where I am in my career right now. In the eighties, the reason why I know so much music is because in the eighties, you know, when you would watch like an M t v, you, we didn’t have like rap shows or there were no black shows on M T V. So whoever the popular black artists were, and we wanted to see people that looked like us, we had to watch every video to wait for a Run DMC video. Oh,
Yeah, that was me. I was watching all of those videos, for
Sure. Yes. So when I started DJing, and I remember being bored just playing one specific genre of music, and then one day I just, I threw on a Bette Midler record in the middle of a party, and, and it flowed with like, I mean, not a Jay-Z record, but whoever was hot at the time when I started playing, it just made sense to me, like to play music the way that I grew up listening to it, you know? And not to just say like, oh, I’m a hip hop dj. Like, no, I’m an artist. I love all genres of music, and you should be able to blend these records together. And luckily for me, unfortunately, for me, rather, I was able to do it and, and do it in such a great way through multiple phases of my career. You know, it just so happened, like the CQ phase kind of like opened the world up because what I’m doing right now, I was already doing for like the last 15 years, but I was doing it more on the private event side, you know, whether it was the inaugural balls or Super Bowl, or the Oscars, I was very, it was very kind of like a elite crowd.
And to now be able to play the way that I do for everyone is such a freeing feeling. And it feels, it just, it, it just feels like inspiration, you know, to be able to like show people how, or, you know, the music, the way I listened to it growing up. So it’s like one of my best one, one of my favorite experiences in life.
Oh, I love that. You know, you started to talk about cq that you’ve been doing it in many ways for a long time. And so I thought maybe we’d pivot a bit and, you know, talk about that portion of your life and career. You know, the pandemic happened in 2020 and much of the world stopped, but you didn’t, right? You took the isolation and the uncertainty that came in those early days of the lockdown, and you created club quarantine, right? This virtual music and dance party on Instagram, and it turned into an overnight sensation, right? Like with notables such as Rihanna and Carrie Washington and others popping up to jam with you myself included. So I’m curious, what sparked the idea of club quarantine, which you called cq, which I love, and how did you bring that to life?
So, so the idea of club quarantine, which initially it was called Homeschool.
Oh, really? What? So, so let’s stop there for a second. It was originally called Homeschool called. Tell me a bit about that. Tell me a bit about that.
So what ended up happening was, it’s so funny how, how life works, man, like 2019, I had a fantastic year, you know, in terms of like DJing and, and you know, I, I had opened up for Jill Scott in Philly and
Love her. Love Jill Scott. Love
Jill Scott. Yes. And it was the, the experience of opening up for her was great. Now, I’ve played many shows for everyone. You know, I’ve toured, I’ve done everything from Mary to, to Kid Rock to Puff, like I’ve toured everyone. But it was something about 2019 that, you know, you know, I mean, obviously ageism exists in this world, you know, I, I, I knew that I was turning 50 in 2020, and I was like, man, like, I don’t know how much long I really want to do this. And when I opened for Jill, I, I remember this having this feeling of, I want to do this for one more year, and I, and then I’m done. But I want to do it in the way of like, becoming someone’s opening act. So the goal was to be Jill’s opening act, and I, and I received a call from, from one of the promoters of the her tour, and they presented me with this deal, 10 Cities with Jill for 2020.
And I was excited. We played one show, we played Radio City Music Hall, it was beautiful. I was like, yes, this is the, this is my year of like, I’m going to do this run and obviously do my other gigs, and I’m gonna phase this part of my life out. Then I’m gonna move in, move into like movie production. Like, that was the only reason why I was in LA was because I wanted to move into like, film and television production. That’s it. Two weeks later, the world shut down, and I was at home. I was by myself, no family out here. Everyone was quarantined with their families. And I was, I was extremely frustrated, you know, like, wow, like, I can’t get to my kids. You, we couldn’t fly out. And the only thing that I knew how, that I love was to play music. And when I woke up that morning, you know, this, I just had this feeling where I wanted to play music for people. I’d never used Instagram Live. I’d used Facebook Live, and I was, you know, never used IG Live. You
Hadn’t used IC Live before this moment. That was, this was your, this was your test, this
Was your test. This was like, oh, let me, because I knew you couldn’t play, you know, music on social media, you know, because of copyright issues. But I just decided like, Hey, I’m gonna call it homeschool. And I, I knew you can play like, snippets of songs. So I was like, Hey, I’m gonna play some snippets of like, music that I’d either produced back in the day, or certain songs that reminded me of a feeling, or of a club that I went to, went into when I was younger. And I would tell the story, that’s why it was called Homeschool. I would just tell the story. And I remember at the end of that first session, you know, had roughly like 200, 200, 280 people in there. And my attorney called, and she was like, man, everyone’s calling me about this. Like, I think you got something cool.
And I was like, I’m good. Like you know? And when I got up the next day, once again, it’s about serving people. I knew what I was feeling, and I, I was like, how do I, how do I continue giving people some love? And I, and one of my buddies went live at the same time John Legend, and I, and I, you know, we were all figuring this out at the same time. And I hit him up and, and asked him if he would go live with me, because that was a new part. That was a new feature. No one was really going live with each other. And John agreed, big Daddy Kane agreed, Al be sure, agreed. And it was like this, we are just k trying to keep 280 people happy.
Once we did that, amazing. Yeah, it was, it was great. It was great. Once we went live and, and we did it you know, I went live with a couple of them, but when I went live with John Legend, that was the moment that I realized like, wow, like, people are really into what’s happening. And I just, throughout the rest of that week, I wanted to do something that was going to inspire this group. I didn’t think the group was gonna continue to grow. I was just calling friends, you know, like, so I was calling like Michelle Obama’s assistant. I was calling everyone. I was like, there’s this, it was kind of a weird experience. I was like, man, there’s this, there’s, you know, I was like, this is gonna sound weird, but I have this party <laugh>, but it’s on your phone, but it really feels like a party. And I, you know, I thought everyone was gonna, you know, think I was crazy, but you know what? They, they came in and, and and they started to share it with their friends.
Oh, that’s great. So you, you had a network that you used to make a, a pitch and begin to build the community and, and just continue to grow and expand. So how did it pivot from the initial concept into CQ Club quarantine?
So, the thing about it was like, even when you said earlier about, you know, like, kind of like overnight sensation, I wouldn’t say that the, the reason why the people were in there, it was a, it was, it was more so about decades of, of being of service to people. You know, like I played, I’ve played events for everyone, whether it was the Clintons to, but it was mainly like these private events that I’d done throughout, you know, you know, the last 15 years, 20 years of my career. So Rihanna was in there because she was familiar with me, obviously, because I played events with her, you know, or Beyonce or whomever. Like, I’ve done events with people, and when you’re kind to people when you need them, they want to be there for
You. That’s a great lesson right there, right? Let, let’s just sit in that lesson. Like, when you’re kind to people, they’ll continue to be there for you. Like, that is brilliant.
So that to me is the biggest, the most beautiful part of the journey is that you could look, you know, when you look at this, this long career that I’ve had, it was seeing everyone from an old school artist that I’d worked with back in like the late eighties to, to Drake, you know, who I opened up for at like the Super Bowl event. You know, like to see like three decades of like, relationships come during a time when the world was dark, and to inspire people was beautiful. So it’s definitely not overnight. It’s definitely, you know, took some time to nurture these relationships.
You’ve paid your dues and you’ve built these great relationships that have continued to pay dividends. And, you know, I really also believe in the healing power of music and the way that it brings people together and creates community. And you once said in an interview that we can change the world with music when people were really struggling to feel connected, and you created this incredible experience. I think in many ways it helped many of us navigate mental health challenges as well. So what role did music play in helping you unite a socially isolated world?
So, I won’t say it was just music. It was music and also the power of social media. You know, if we didn’t have as much flack as like, you know, these social media apps get, because obviously people are trying to show the best part of their lives, but if we didn’t have, like, these apps, we, and, and by the way, I’m, I’m not being an advocate for like, social media apps. I’m saying what the reality is, and what I’ve seen, if we didn’t have these apps, I would not have been able to directly like pipe this kind of music that I felt directly into someone’s home, you know? So it was about using the tools and the resources that we had about using them the right way. You know, like the music, even the music that I curated, the music was actually secondary to the conversation that the conversations that were happening in the chat, oh,
I love that. And people weren’t
Just there. The
Flow, the flow of the conversations during CQ was just so dope. And I, again, participated in so many of them, and I just love seeing the community that was being built, the stories that were being shared, and the way that you engaged, quite frankly, too, welcoming us into the conversation was, was really beautiful.
If we, if we weren’t able to connect that way during this time, I, I really believe that you know, depression would’ve been extremely higher. I mean, depression was high anyway, because of what we were experiencing. I think suicide rates would’ve been higher, you know, for a lot of people and for a lot of women or, or even men in abusive relationships that time in that, not just to say my particular cq live, but, but like, you know, you know, just kind of like, you know, apps or shows or whatever like that, those types of communities that were being formed during such a dark time, truly save lives. You know, people just imagine like, a lot of people were home for the first time. You know, when you, when you’re, you have a family, you know, you work a nine to five, the kids are in school, you come home after work, cook dinner, you, you’re spending two hours with your family, everyone’s off the bed, wake up, repeat that every day. Now, in the pandemic, people were stuck at home, you know, with 24 7, right? 24 7, 24 7 with sometimes people that you really didn’t know, you know? And that
Was my husband and I, by the way, both of us historically had traveled every week for our careers, and all of a sudden we found ourselves together seven days a week you know, 365. It was quite a journey, quite frankly, to reconnect. It was a blessing ultimately. But we were in that position. And, and again, club quarantine among other things, was a part of what we used as well, to connect with each other and to connect with a broader community. And I, I also couldn’t agree more with your point around kind of mental health and the role that not only music, but some of these other you know, channels played and bringing us together. So I, I, I’d love to kind of build on that and ask you, how is music or perhaps, you know, some of the other kind of ex creative expressions that you talked about helped you work through the challenges that you’ve experienced, whether that was pre pandemic or during the pandemic?
So, o one, it it, you know, remember early in the conversation I mentioned that I, I was trying to figure out ways to phase that part of my life out, because I had done it for so long that it, it, it just started to become routine, or it was, it had already become routine. And I was like, all right, I need new challenges because I’m, I was tired of playing the same songs. You know, when you go into a club or you, you know, people who typically want to hear whatever the, or you think that they just want to hear whatever the hot songs are, what, what club quarantine and that virtual experience did for me was allowed me to fall in love with music all over again and all music, and not just like, not just r and b or hip hop, not just rock and roll, but just all music, you know, like this virtual space was, was responsible for like, kind of like rein, invigorating, like careers.
You know, there are a lot of old school artists that weren’t doing shows, and like now people, you hear these songs that I, that I played, which I didn’t play just because they were old school songs. And, and, you know, I played those, that particular style because the music was touching the soul. You know, like a lot of music that’s created nowadays is so kind of like, y you know, there’s no soul to it. And not, not to be disrespectful to anyone’s art in, in their craft, but there’s a big difference between playing a new record and then playing like a Bowie record, you know, to play a fame and the feeling that you get from it, or to play a Stevie Wonder record, you know, to, to, to play a Tina Marie record and, and blend that in. See,
Now, now, now you’re speaking to me, Tina Marie, fire and Desire with Little Rick James. Rick
James, yes. Those, those songs, when you listen to them, not just because they’re nostalgic, but like the spirit of the records is something that you would want to dance with your families, you know, with, and, and you know, not everyone can dance to trap music all day when you’re feeling depressed, that that music is not gonna uplift your soul. Now, when you’re in a party and you getting lit, and you wanna have some fun, like those records feel good, but when you’re at home and you were facing, you know, your bills were due, and you didn’t know how were you gonna pay them, the last thing you wanted to do was hear a record about someone saying how much they’re jumping on private planes and going here. That’s, that’s not moving your spirit. You know, like when you, when you were at, when we were all at home and we were listening to, you know, a sister slash thinking of you, or we were listening to these songs, those songs reminded us of, of what love and community was supposed to feel like and what it felt like back then.
You know? And those songs were, especially for like African American people, you know, when you listen to, you know, the, the Stevie Wonder records where, which were made not too long after, like the civil rights era. It was like those songs kind of like brought us together and reminded us of what our community was supposed to look and feel like. And then here we are, you know, decades later, and you know, people, some people have gotten over that time. When you started to listen to those music, to that type of music again, when the world stopped and we were all trying to figure out what to do and celebrate love, the only thing you could do was go back to those records, you know, and to go back to the feeling and the spirit of those records. And there were some new records that were made recently that had that spirit, whether it was the Bruno Mars skate record, you know silk Sonic record or whatever. Like, those records felt good. But when you really listen to the lyrics and the spirit of those songs from like the seventies and eighties, those are the songs that we actually needed, right?
They spoke to us, right? It was the words, the stories, the messages, and to the point you made earlier, how they made you feel. And for me, music has been a way to channel a variety of things, right? Joy and struggle, hope and progress. And, you know, I think in fact, club quarantine became this cultural movement that really allowed many of us to channel our emotions and to get something that we needed from those songs that you were sharing and, and for many reintroducing to us at a time when we needed it most.
And, and I too got something out of it, you know, like I was sitting there alone, you know, I was quarantined alone for months, you know, like, I wasn’t leaving, especially when you have friends that are, that are in the industry, you know? You know, not to name Drop, but I’m gonna name drop this one person because the conversations were funny because she was so serious about this. And it was Naomi Campbell, like, she would call me or send me a text every day, like, don’t open your door. If someone brings a package, make sure you spray it down, because we didn’t know what was happening. She was like, make sure you spray it down and leave it out there for a day. Eat something. I had never felt so much love, like I did during the quarantine from people, not even just like my friends in the industry, but just from people.
And that love is still happening when I walk down the street now. You know? Like it’s, you know, people felt like that that time was so important to them, and the music and the community that was built, that all they do is show gratitude. And, and I show gratitude as well, because it reminded me of, of who I am. Like I, I, I’ve always wanted to just be in a position to share with people. And when the world stopped, I was able to share my love of music, but only because they also poured into me. So the same amount of love, which is why I would go on for 19 hours and play music. I did it because people were pouring into me as well. And, and also because I love the music. Mm-Hmm.
<Affirmative>, I love that, you know, talking about pouring into others, being of service, the joy that came, the connection that we all felt the love, quite frankly, that we all needed and felt. How do you think that we can keep that love community and connection going as we move, you know, into this next phase of, of normal with the pandemic? I mean, it’s not like it’s completely over, but we’re not as isolated and locked down as we used to be. And so I think we all still need those feelings that you so beautifully articulated. Any advice on how we keep that connection in community going?
So, so that’s something that I’m actually struggling with with now. And, and it’s because I, my love of music and my love of community and, and my love of just being creative because of that, I can’t stop. It’s like, I will, will play music all day, or I, you know, I’ll take pictures. I, my camera’s right over here. Like, I can’t, I can’t stop being creative and wanting to share, like, experiences with people. Sometimes. It’s unfortunate that now that the world has reopened, people are kind of reverting back into their old ways, you know? Like, you know, like crime is up a little bit more, you know, people feel desperate. People forgot about the love that they were sharing with each other when the world, when the world stopped, you know? I mean, people complain about me being on Instagram live playing music. Like, oh, the world is open.
Why are you still doing that? And I, I go on, because it’s like, I just wanna continue sharing love with people. Like now I could go do my live shows and earn a check and go back home and be happy, but that’s, to me, that’s not enough. You know? Like, I want to continue doing things that will still inspire people to try to do right by each other. No, I love that. You know, like the, I love that, love. The, the, the easiest thing to do is to be kind to someone that’s easy, is to just be kind, you know, like, so if I could go home and, and I’ll sign on Instagram, and at the end of my set there’s a hundred thousand people that came in and listened to music, that’s, that’s a hundred thousand people that were still in need of whatever that community was sharing with them. And I happily like, will continue to do that for, for people, you know, I, I personally don’t want to go back into the way life was, you know, I kind of like this, this hybrid version of life, you know, whether it’s in real life or whether it’s touching people through, through these apps or, you know, virtually. I want to continue doing that. You know, I think that that’s my part that I, I should continue doing to inspire people. Well,
And we’re grateful for that. I’m grateful for that. And I still tune in, right? Like, this idea that hybrid is the new normal is something that I couldn’t agree with more, right? There’s this opportunity to be in person, but to still have these digital or social channels and to be able to leverage all of those tools to build connection in community is so important. And, and we’ve seen through your work, like cq, it’s a movement, and it was a movement with results is a movement with results. And so I’d love for you to also talk about how you were able to kind of use that platform to drive change and build awareness and to create a safe space for the black community, certainly, but for others as well.
Yeah. You know, so with, with with, with cq, with Club Quarantine when, when I started doing, doing it in the beginning that first week, and I noticed how many people were coming, I, you know, there were opportunities where I could have monetized it, and I, and I didn’t have to go on as much as I did. I could have done this every week. I could have switched to another platform and being able to charge people to come and listen, but I didn’t think that that’s what my purpose was. My purpose was to be, you know, just this source of inspiration for people and for them to be able to find kind of this safe space with music as, as your background while you were able to communicate with your friends, you know, and your family remotely. You know, because of that, I just decided that I was gonna use the platform to do, to do some good for people and for myself, because mentally I needed it too.
You know, like I said, I was home alone and I felt the love, and I would read the comments while they were flooring, and while I was selecting songs and shouting people out, it made me feel like I was really there with them. You know, there are people that I’ve met recently where I’m like, wait, I’ve actually never met you in person. I only know you because of social media. As a matter of fact, I only know your screen name. I don’t even know your real name, <laugh>, you know? But I, you know, I just chose,
And yet you still felt connected to them, right? Like you felt like I still,
You started a relationship, started a
Relationship, I mean, in, in a very, I don’t wanna say a strange way, but in this beautiful way. Like we used that time to actually get to know each other and not care about what we were wearing. We didn’t care about what kind of car you were driving, you know, we didn’t care if you were sitting in first class or in coach, it didn’t matter. All of that was stripped down.
It’s sort of democratized. It democratized the experience. It was come as you are Absolutely. And get what you need and get what
You need. Absolutely. And, and, and because of like that, I, I decided to use the platform to do some good and, and you know, so, you know, with Michelle Obama, like when she came in, you know, when I had to explain to her assistant, her assistant what it was, and then when Michelle finally came and saw all of these people, she was like, we should use this as a vehicle to get people registered to vote. So I, I did multiple couch parties with Michelle. We had parties, you know, and invited people in. You know, I raised money for HBCUs. I raised money, you know, I mean, will Smith and I raised money for, for the CDC foundation, not for the cdc, but for the foundation to, to, to, because we didn’t know what was going on. So we wanted to do things that were raising money for people.
We ra we raised so much money. I mean, for the Apollo Theater, they, you know, these, these venues really operate on, you know, money from people donating, people weren’t making money so they couldn’t donate properly or couldn’t get to the venue. So we raised, you know, I think I may have raised like $300,000 for the Apollo. You know, there was a, a young girl who I think she was like 10 years old. She was dying of cancer, you know, I went online and raised like a hundred thousand dollars for her. You know, unfortunately she ended up transitioning. But like, it
Was, it was still a beautiful, beautiful gift that you were giving your time, your service, your platform, and you’re creating these parties with a purpose that we’re doing incredibly good things in the world. I, I, I love your commitment to making a difference, you know, how we lead matters, how we use our platform matters. And you have been, I think, just a tremendous role model. So thank you for that.
Oh, thank you.
Okay. Let’s shift gears a little bit, if that’s okay?
And talk about your life outside of work. You were born in Harlem, and you came of age as the child of a single mom. So can you just share a little bit about your early childhood and some of the important lessons you learned growing up?
Oh, man. So I, I was born in Harlem. I spent like, my formative years in the Bronx, you know you know, from the time I was like, say like eight to to 15 when I first dropped my record. So I lived in the Bronx then I wasn’t raised by my mother. I was actually raised by multiple family members. My mom is still alive. My mom is here living in LA with me, and she’s a beautiful woman. But my mom had me at a very young age, you know, my mom was like 17, turning 18 years old. So like, I think an important lesson that, that I’ve learned throughout my life was, put it this way, I used to look at my mom, you know, like, man, how could, how could a parent, you know, allow a kid to live with someone else?
And then it wasn’t until I had a daughter and she was 16 and 17, and I was looking at my own daughter, I was like, man, there’s no way she could have raised a child. So the best thing that ever happened to me was to be able to live with other people, to have other experiences. And and I always think about like, how many of my friends, like, especially in like in in our, in African American communities who, you know, you see your kid climbing a tree, you’re like, get down off of that tree. Don’t, don’t, why are you jumping from there? I never had that, you know? So I, I was able to jump from the tree. I was able to fall, scrape my legs and do everything, because I had no one telling me to get off of that. And I think that that was an important lesson in terms of like confidence, where I’m like, no, I want to go.
If I, I’ve always felt like if I’m, if I’m able to walk and I’m able to get up and communicate, and there’s something that I want to do, I should be able to do it. You know, I should, I should be unafraid of doing that, you know? And, and, and that’s how I live my life. But it’s also based on those experiences as a parent, I never told my kids not to do these things. As a matter of fact, I actually encourage them to, to, you know, have, have, have these experiences in life. Nothing too crazy, you know, still be, you know, respectful and don’t need too out of control. But like, no, I’m, you know, if you want to do that, just explain to me why, you know, like, I remember like my daughter, you know, and by the way, you know, like growing up, I, my father wasn’t there either.
So like, becoming a parent was something that I had to learn on, you know, on, on my own or from like watching my friends become parents. And, and you know, I remember my daughter, she was like five years old. I was still trying to figure out the next phase of, of reinvention. This was after, after people stopped clapping when I was rapping. Like, oh, you know, how am I gonna take care of my kids? And I remember her going into like this this neighborhood, the neighborhood daycare, you know, it was like someone who had like a, a daycare in their house, you know, it’s like an older woman. And I remember walking in there and, and the kids were watching Judge Joe Brown. And I was, I was upset. I was like, why are they watching this? This is not appropriate for like five year olds. And when we left this daycare, my daughter kept saying, I wanna be a lawyer. I wanna be a lawyer. And she said that until she actually became an attorney. Wow.
Fact, fact, she recently became an attorney, right?
Attorney, yeah. She’s an attorney. Yes. She’s an attorney in New York State, and she’s about to take the, the, the California bar. And, and I, I could have potentially stopped her journey, you know what I mean? Like, by removing her from that place. And I didn’t, you know, like I could have stopped that, that that journey that she was on. And, you know, it reminded me of my own life that I didn’t, even though I did have people that took care of me, but no one interfered with like, my, my personal progress, you know? And, and, and not to say that everyone should live a life like that. It’s, it wasn’t an easy life, but it’s a life that I’m proud of, you know, that I came from these very, very humble beginnings to being someone that inspired change in the world. And that is a beautiful feeling that you should never count anyone out, no matter where they live, where they’re from, no matter how old they are. You shouldn’t count anyone out.
N and that is a fabulous drop the mic verse. So thank you for that. And thank you for, I think the lesson and the conversation about the importance of family. No matter what shape it comes in, right? There’s the family you’re born into, the family you make, but it’s about how we’re getting better together and supporting our growth and our learning journey that that matters most. You know, I you’ve said that being a father is the kind of, you know, quintessential role, the most important role that you’ve had in your life, and I think that’s incredibly inspiring. So if we can kind of continue on that conversation about fatherhood, tell us a bit what it’s like to not only be a father, but a girl dad, because you have girls.
Yeah, so I have, I have two daughters. They, they are, you know, every parent’s gonna say, oh, I have two amazing kids. But no, I really do have two amazing kids. You know, like, I’m, I’m the best of friends with my, my oldest daughter. You know, we talk a lot. We talk about life and we talk about work, and we, we’ve also just had many conversations about this journey and my personal journey, and we’ve worked things out together. You know, you know, I, my relationship with my own mother is better because of the relationship that I have with my kids, because I, I, I understand what parenting is like, you know, and, and, you know, in, in trying to find ways to even better the relationship that I have with my mom, that’s what, that’s, that’s the’s a
Powerful connection, right? Through
As father, father, it’s strengthened your relationship and connection to your mother is, so, unpack that a bit. How, how do the, the two of you, you and your mom, talk about your evolving relationship as a result of your role as a father?
So for, for me, it’s like when you think about the resources that I personally have, like that I’ve had growing up, my mother didn’t have those resources. You know, growing up in, you know, the fifties, late fifties, the sixties, and the seventies when like segregation was there, you know, racism was extremely high. You know, a lot of those kids from that time, you know, they weren’t being bused to the proper schools or whatever, you know, like, so my mother’s journey was totally different than mine. When I look at the relationship that I have with my own kids, they’re gen, they’re, their journey is way different. And they have the resources I was able to, and not just me, like even, you know, mom was able to provide these great opportunities and experiences for our kids that our parents didn’t have. You know? So because of that, it’s like I’m able to like, see the beauty in how my mother grew up and how I grew up, and how my kids grew up.
It’s been like this constant evolution of like, the goal should be you know, generational wealth and in creating these opportunities for our kids. My mother didn’t have that tho those opportunities. She gave me the best that she could. Then I was able to create, and now I’m able to provide more experiences for my kids. But when I look at my kids, I’m so inspired by them because I can’t believe that I can have a conversation with like an 11 year old about finances. You know, my kid came to me like, Hey, dad, you know, there’s a, a green light card that’s out. You know, I wanna learn about investing. And because she’s learning that in school and from other kids, and now we are, we’re having a, we are having conversations about investing. I never had those types of conversations,
Right? Neither did I trust,
I trust me, you know, and she’s 11. And then I’m like, wow, this is, this is beautiful. To be able to provide those experiences for my kids. And hopefully we can continue to do that, and our families and other families can continue. And, and I think, you know, it will make this world better.
Absolutely. You know? Absolutely. Absolutely. You know, you’ve, you’ve, you’ve talked about the importance of patience as a parent and ensuring that fun and education are at the heart of your parenting. And when I hear you share these stories that your 11 year old is able to talk to you about finance I think the principles that you’re applying are, are definitely working <laugh>. And so hats off to you, my brother. It’s inspiring.
Hats, hats off to the, to the family. I can’t say it’s, it’s just on me, but to the family, you know, like, none of this is possible without being surrounded by people that, that believe in you, even when they don’t understand it. You know, like, look, I’m, I’m divorced, you know, mom could have definitely been harder on me when I was making no money when there was nothing coming in, but, but she wasn’t, you know, and, and they, they’ve supported like, you know, along this entire journey. You know, like my journey in the nineties is way different than what I’m experiencing right now in the nineties for 10 years. You know, I had nothing, not even a bank account until the late nineties, you know? So to be able to go from being this kid in the hood, having some success, losing everything, but still having fame, which is the hardest thing for any artist to have fame, but then you have no resources, but people know you, but you have nothing, then now you’re dealing with ego, and every decision that you make is based on ego. Some are good and some are bad, you know, like, so to be able to like, get through that storm and get to a period where I just let go of all of what I thought I was supposed to be so I can become this person is the, it is a beautiful journey. And I wouldn’t change that for anything. Oh, I, I, so I share these stories with my kids.
I love how vulnerable you are. Vulnerable you are in sharing the life and leadership learning journey that you’ve been on. And, and I’m curious, de have there been influential people in your life, mentors, sponsors, like, who has helped you along this incredible journey that you’ve been sharing with us and that you’re still on? Quite frankly,
There’s like no one, one person. It’s really just people. It’s people. It’s conversations with people. And sometimes you could have like you know, you can have a conversation with someone. And, and that conversation can totally change your outlook on life. You know, for, for instance the gentleman, Chris Lighty, I would not have become a photographer, actually, I wouldn’t have become a DJ had it not been for something that he did. Quick story, I was building a website for them, for his company. It was called Violator Management. And Violator had a deal with Reebok, with 50 cent in a G shoe. So they brought me in and my small company, my company was, well, it was a boutique company. I don’t wanna call it small. It was a boutique company that I started like to develop websites and do online marketing. And they brought me into to assist in the online marketing of the G issue.
And I was sitting in this meeting with Paul Fryman, who started Reebok. He was the CEO and a, a guy named Q Gatson, who is the, the liaison between Alan Iverson and Reebok. When Aal, when Alan had his deal a gentleman by the name of Steve Stout, like, I’m in this room with all of these like, major people, but I’m only in there because Chris Lighty pulled me into it because he believed in me. And by the time we got to the, the last person that I was, that I was being introduced to, the guy just stood in front of me. He didn’t say anything to me. And I stood up and I was like, Hey, I’m Derek Jones. And everyone laughed because they were all in on the joke. And you know, he, he introduced himself. He said, Hey, you know, I tell this story all the time when I, you know, and his name is Todd k Crike.
And Todd was like, Hey, I went to Boston U and I wrote my, my thesis on a song from your first album. Oh, wow. And, and that conversation was so important to me because I had spent so many years running away from who I was, you know, running away from what I had built in, in the late eighties because of ego, because I’d lost everything. I had to start all over, you know, I wasn’t in the club scene, I wasn’t, but that one conversation with someone who was so high up at Reebok, he was the senior vice president, I think he’s still there. He made me feel seen, he made me feel appreciated. That changed everything for me. That made me want to get back into music in some capacity. And I started to, I tried to throw after work parties and I couldn’t find a dj, so I couldn’t find a DJ that I like. Ah. So I ended up playing music myself.
So you became the dj, dj, so you
Became the, you created music. Yeah. So that thrill, that part of my life, that conversation sparked everything else that I ended up doing, only because someone, someone made me feel seen. So when you fast forward to a club, quarantine, when, when, when, when everyone was dark and everyone was at home alone, the reason why I shouted people out was because I just wanted them to feel like they were being seen. You know, because that’s the way that that guy made me feel. And that’s the way that everybody that listened to my old school, mu old school music, made me feel like this thing that I’m going through right now, there are multiple generations of fans that I have, right? Or, or just people that appreciate what I do. The younger ones have no idea about my old school history. They’re just like, yo, this guy’s everywhere.
He’s cool. But the people that listen to my music that grew up listening to the music when I was a rap artist, the sense of pride that they feel is so great because they see like someone from their generation, someone from from their age group is still out here doing what he loves, and they feel proud and they feel seen. So that’s why I, I shout out people when I’m, whenever I’m online and, you know, I try to shake as many hands as I can because I want people to feel that same kind of love that Todd Krinsky made me feel,
Oh, what a wonderful tribute. And a way to pay it forward, quite frankly, what was poured into you, you’re pouring back into so many others and making sure that they feel seen and heard, valued and respected is an enormous gift that I know many feel through cq, through club quarantine and, and the various other venues and forums that you’ve created and opened up. And so I, I’m really honored that you’re sharing all of these details, all these nuggets of wisdom cuz it’s going to inspire so many in the Conference for Women community. And, and our audience is primarily women and girls. And you are absolutely an ally for women and girls and always have been, not, not just for your daughters, but for all women and girls. And, and I really would, would love to hear you share why is being a male ally important to you? You just seem to do it naturally. But what’s behind that?
You know, I was, I was talking to a buddy about that, and it was like trying to find the right answer. Like, well, why, why do I do it? You know? And growing up, you know, just, you know, just being transparent. Growing up, I didn’t grow up with my father in the household. I was in a household with all women, whether it was my great-grandmother or my cousin who’s seven years older than me. You know, she, she had a kid at 17, but she was also taking care of me and our grandmother. You know, like, to see like the strength that she had to be able to do that at such a young age, you know, was so impressive. And it wasn’t impressive to me back then. It wasn’t until I became older and I started to think about like, how old we really were back then, you know, where a 17 year old, 18 year old young girl had to take care of her grandmother.
You know, like the strength of women is, is so important and so powerful. So in, in every phase of my career, I’ve always been surrounded by women that, that really took care of me. So my first record deal was given to me by woman. You know, the, my ars were women, you know. And you know, fast forward to like where my life is right now, you know, outside of like my buddy Jeff, my advisor Jeff. But other than that, it’s all women around me. You know, my, my attorneys’ woman, you know, my tour manager’s, a woman who like every in in, you have talented, strong,
Creative, creative, too strong I women surrounding you still, you
Still still to this day. And it’s not something that I intentionally went out to do. It’s just naturally how it happens. And, you know, the conversations, the, the love and the nurturing that I get from, from, you know, women that have been in my life throughout this journey has been so powerful. You know? And now as a, as a dad of like two daughters, I wanna make sure that they have these same opportunities to, to be great. Not only for themselves, but for other people, you know? So in, in, even when, when my, with my platform, you know, it was important for me to allow women to take over my platform, you know, during, during the pandemic. You know, it’s important for me to, you know, when I played, when I played the, the Academy Awards and I played the Governor’s Ball, I could have played the Governor’s Ball by myself.
I could have played that whole thing alone. But to me, like it was important to every, and most of the shows that were happening, and I’m only singling out that particular night because it happens every night and every, it’s not just about them, but that night, what I was feeling was like, man, all of all of my friends are playing these big events, but they weren’t a lot of women playing these events. So I was like, you know what? I’m gonna have two women, one open and one close for me to give them the same opportunity that I had to be able to say, oh, I played, I played the Governor’s Ball. Like not too many DJs could say, say they played the Governor’s Ball or the Oscars. And I wanted to make sure that I provided, you know, women with this, ex women with these experiences. You know, I mean, I look out for guys as well, you know, there are a lot of, you know, male DJs that I’m always looking out for, but with certain things, I’m like, no, I wanna make sure that I’m there. Also, whether it’s fundraising,
Dee, you’re being intentional about being an ally for women and, and that advocacy and that intention really matters, and it’s how you’re making an impact, right? And creating pathways to advancement for women, which is really important and we need more of it. So, you know, you know, in general, I’d be curious, do you think that men are doing enough to support gender equity? And are there some specific things that men should be doing from your perspective?
All right, so I, I do have my thoughts on that. I don’t think that we’re doing enough. You know, I, I mean, there are some people that are going above and beyond, but like, as, as a whole, no, I think that there are more things that we can do. One, I think we also need to stay outta women’s business and like, your, your why.
Could you say that again? Say louder. The folks in the back and here,
The back and here. Yeah, like, I mean, I’m being serious about that. It’s your body. You’re right. You know, like, I’m very serious about that, you know? And I think that that’s where we should start. You know, like you should be able to like, make choices for your body, you know, like that’s a real thing to me. And I think that we should, there’s so much more that we can do even in terms of just like, just supporting the movement. Now I’m not saying just put someone in a position that may not be qualified, you know, everybody should have that, that opportunity to be great. But if, if, if, if, if that person is qualified, don’t hold them back because she’s a woman. Like, that’s crazy to me. Like, so for me, I’m, I, I believe in, you know, in, in equality, I believe in everybody should have a fair opportunity to have these experiences, but I don’t believe that people should be held back because of race and because of gender. So I’m always gonna be an advocate and, and an ally for women.
Thank you, thank you, thank you. And again, you are using your power, your platform intentionally to create developmental experiences, career experiences, life experiences that do give women equitable opportunities. And I think provide leadership that hopefully others will follow. So greatly appreciated. Hats off to you. Keep it up. And it’s absolutely making a difference. Okay, Dee, unfortunately we need to start wrapping up. So let’s see if we can squeeze in two final questions. Sound good? Okay. Sound good?
Go. All right, let’s do it. We’ve talked about the healing power of music. It certainly has been in my life. How is music also a part of your self-care?
Oh, man. All right. So it’s funny, I listen to so much music that music isn’t the only thing that that provides me with like, you know, some self-help and some healing. You know, meditation has been like an important thing that I recently discovered that is not even something that I grew up with. I couldn’t stop things from moving in my head, like, and I couldn’t stop the music from playing. And one day I sat back and I, I started to, to, you know, take like a guided meditation class, and that’s been really good to me. So between meditation and music, it’s been like life changing music because it’s, like I said earlier, it’s the spirit of it. It’s the spirit of the songs, it’s the spirit of dance and that energy, you know, and, and exerting energy and, and, and receiving that energy from the music.
I’m feeling your energy now. You’ve got me
Swaying energy. Yeah. You know, I, I mean, and not hear music right now as I’m telling you this, I’m like, yes, I’m, you know, I know what that feeling is like. You know, it’s funny because a buddy of mine who’s a big dj, when I was playing so much music on, on my, my, my Instagram live in this virtual club quarantine, he called me and he said, man, you know, this is the first time that I can dance with my family. And that’s, that’s like powerful. Like you can play music that you want to just, you know, the way we either grew up or you would watch television and see like families cooking in the kitchen and music is playing. And, you know, to have that feeling and that experience every day to keep people inspired and to keep my myself inspired was, was just, it, it was beautiful and it still is beautiful. I still listen to music every day,
As do I, I mean, I, I grew up in a home full of music. My parents love music and we heard all different kinds of music and, and it filled my cup, then filled my soul then and still does today, and is absolutely a form of self-care that I invest in every single day. And it’s a gift. And you were a part of that gift and still are a part of that gift that keeps Thank you. And, and investing in self-care, whether that’s music or meditation or whatever it is that, that makes us feel whole and human is so important. I always say self-care, it’s important isn’t selfish. It’s essential. Yes. Okay, last question.
We go. Your top three go-to songs that you spin when you wanna get your groove on and boost your energy.
Man, let me think about that. Give me like five seconds. Okay. I want to get my energy going. There’s a Teddy Pendergrass song called You Can’t Hide From Yourself.
What? Teddy Pendergrass. You went all the way back?
Yeah, all the way back. I went all the way back because it’s, it, you know, it’s about having that feeling. That song makes me happy. Two shorts Blow the Whistle, just something about that record that just Yes, <laugh> the energy, the baseline. Oh no, that’s like random, like coming from Teddy pit. I know. I was like, you asked for three songs, three songs that I need. You’ve
Got me going on all over the place. I love it. I
Love, and then there’s a Shakka Con record called I Know You, I Love You. I love Shakka Con. I love the feeling of that record of shock. And there’s not one time that I play that song that I’m not in my home twirling and dancing and feeling good. So yeah.
Wow. I mean, what an incredibly varied list that you provided us. I can’t say that I’m surprised I’m gonna be adding those all to my playlist. Thank you very much. <Laugh>
<Laugh>. Make sure you add the clean version of Too short though. You
I’m grown. I can add whichever version I
Want to. Okay. That, that’s fair enough. That’s fair enough. <Laugh>,
You know, I am really excited that you’re gonna be joining us at the luncheon keynote for a special conference for Women Club quarantine party. It’s gonna be dope.
So, d nice. Thank you. Thank you so much for sharing your gifts and helping us build connection and community through music. It, it’s a gift that keeps on giving and I’m really excited to see you on the dance floor. So peace out. Thank
Peace. Thank you. Peace. Peace and love. Thank you for this beautiful conversation.
Peace and love. Peace and
Okay, I think it’s a wrap. It’s
A wrap. Beautiful. Thank you both.