The news ain’t all bad. While America hunkers down in the face of the looming threat of the COVID-19 coronavirus, reminders of the good times past and yet ahead have proliferated online, giving new meaning to the phrase “going viral.” TikTok dances and free living room concerts have been keeping families entertained as they isolate themselves to slow the spread of the virus, but there’s one truly social experience taking place on Instagram Live, courtesy of one of hip-hop’s pioneer personalities.
Back in the 1980s, D-Nice helped speed the propagation of the then-nascent rap genre as a member of Boogie Down Productions alongside rapper KRS-One and DJ Scott La Rock. It’s only right that he’s helping to spread a new trend 30 years later, as the vanguard of a wave of high-profile DJs staving off the coronavirus blues with upbeat, uplifting, and wildly popular extended sets, live-streamed to audiences that have begun to break Instagram records — and even occasionally, the app’s bandwidth.
A live dance party would seem unthinkable in an era where virtually every public entertainment venue has been indefinitely shut down and all the major music fests have been “postponed” to off-season dates or even all the way to 2021. Yet, that’s exactly the concept behind D-Nice’s Home School DJ set on Wednesday, March 18: A “social distancing dance party” DJed by the former rapper, producer, and photographer on Instagram Live. Throughout the nine-hour set, D-Nice was joined by a who’s-who list of celebrities that he shouted out one-by-one as they entered the chat.
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I can’t believe that I started the Home School social distancing dance party just four days ago and it’s become a place for us to virtually dance together and stay connected. From my kitchen, I’m able to send positive vibrations to each of you. Thank you for rocking with me. Thank you to all of the artists that popped in to show love. Al B. Sure, Andre Harrell, Angie Martinez, Anthony Hamilton, Beverly Bond, Bevy Smith, Big Daddy Kane, Bink, Black Thought, Bun B, Chris Spencer, Common, Damien Hall, Dave Chappelle, Deborah Cox, Debra Lee, DJ Camilo, DJ Cassidy, DJ Clark Kent, DJ Goldfinger, DJ Tony Touch, Donald Faison, Dres, Dule Hill, Erick Sermon, Estelle, Fab 5 Freddy, Fat Joe, Ghostface, Grand Puba, Jairobi White, Jazmyn Simon, Jermaine Dupri, Jill Scott, Jim Jones, Joe Budden, John Legend, Jonathan Mannion, Kardinal Official, Kenny Burns, Kenny Smith, Kevin Liles, Lee Daniels, Lena Waithe, Lennox Lewis, Letoya Luckett, LL Cool J, Louise Hazel, Mary J. Blige, Maseo, MC Lyte, Michael Ealy, Michael Rapaport, Michelle Wolf, Naomi Campbell, Nile Rodgers, Omar Dorsey, Oneal McKnight, Posdonus, Royale Watkins, Russell Simmons, Sophia Chang, Spice Adams, Spinderella, Stretch Armstrong, Swin Cash, Tank, Tasha Smith, Teddy Riley, Tobe Nwigwe, Zab Judah, and more. Class resumes today at 2pm pst. Please tell your friends. #BrandNice #dnicehomeschool
Soon enough, word had spread and by his second installment of the series on that Saturday, March 21, not only had the list of public figures dropping by to groove along to his decades- and genre-spanning set expanded, but the number of plain old civilians stuck at home had grown as well. As the viewer count ballooned, D-Nice continued to excitedly welcome the verified standouts and exclaim each new milestone: 50,000; 60,000, 70,000. As the numbers grew, the word spread further — on Twitter, on TikTok, via email, through text messages, and on blogs — pushing the number ever closer too 100,000 — then right beyond that benchmark.
It’d take way too many words out of this essay to list them all, but here are some of those noteworthy names: Ava Duvernay, Diddy, DJ Khaled, Drake, Gabrielle Union, Erykah Badu, Janet Jackson, Lauren London, Ludacris, Lalah Hathaway, Michelle Obama(!), Missy Elliott, Naomi Campbell, Nile Rogers, Oprah(!!!), Queen Latifah, Rihanna, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Will Smith. Nearly every Democratic Presidential candidate appeared in the chat, including Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and yes, even Bernie Sanders popped in to take in the spectacle. The next day, the stream capped at 150,000 simultaneous viewers.
For users who chimed in on the chat and spoke on the “Club Quarantine” stream on other social networks in the aftermath, the feeling was one of optimism, of relief, of connectedness, and of hope. In the dark days since news of the virus’ arrival on American was first reported, it seemed like the media had become a nonstop deluge of anxiety-inducing information, with mentions of “coronavirus” dwarfing anything previously seen with past outbreaks of novel viruses, and leadership that seems cavalier, clueless, or both about even the basic facts of the virus and its spread.
D-Nice’s dance party provided respite from that looming sense of disaster and hopelessness — even if only for a while. Folks who haven’t gone to the movies or to restaurants or parks or social clubs or children’s little league games in a week all got to share in a communal activity for once; 100,000 people danced their fears and anxieties away with the reminder that they weren’t really in this alone, that social distancing doesn’t mean cutting off all human contact, and that being stuck at home doesn’t mean frantically refreshing your Twitter feed, addicted to the endless stream of bad news and gloomy prospects for the future.
Other DJs and entertainers have taken note, as well. D-Nice’s fellow DJ and living hip-hop historical artifact Questlove accepted the torch after Sunday’s session, spinning his own extended set called QuestLoversRock, playing slow jams for the wind down to Monday morning and the return to the work-from-home grind. Their fellow ’80s rap icon Biz Markie announced that he would be spinning live on Instagram for the first time for Rock The Bells radio. The Los Angeles Clippers’ arena DJ Dense even got some love from the team’s coach on his Sunday Supper Mix.
It seems doubtless that the trend will continue, with more and more DJs opting to spin live-streamed sets for appreciative viewers who will use the opportunity to cast off their cares for a few hours at a time and connect with others. Socializing has long since moved online, but for perhaps the first time in a long time, it feels like we’re truly being anchored to one another as we’re buffeted by the storms of social upheaval. We may be distancing ourselves from one another physically, but digital dance parties like D-Nice’s and others remind us that we are all in this together.