A Psalm of Derrick: How a DJ saves souls through a digital Pentecost

On the birthday of the Christian faith, preachers weigh in why the Church of Club Quarantine is thriving more than traditional houses of worship

DJ D-Nice theGrio.com
DJ D-Nice attends the 2018 BET Awards - Debra Lee Pre-BET Awards Dinner at Vibiana on June 20, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images for BET)

Sunday, May 31st marks approximately the one thousand and eighty-seventh anniversary of the birth of the Christian church. That was the occasion when the followers of Jesus from Galilee gathered in one place to celebrate the Jewish harvest festival Shavuot and history changed forever.

They should have been studying scriptures for the holiday, but they weren’t … They were devastated … They were lost … They were mourning. They had no language to articulate this feeling of being trapped by the unknown.

READ MORE: Inspired by D-Nice: 10 uplifting, soul albums to get through quarantine

They would have also been distressed and traumatized, but during this Pentecost there came a comforter to unify them —while they were shut up in a house. See shut up in the house, they thought they couldn’t do ministry.

Most people isolate ministry to the church, a house, a movement, a person.

That is why research bodies like Pew Research Forum and Lily Endowment are predicting the collapse of organized religion in the next fifty years. However, those who know God understand that ministry happens in community — and during this COVID-19 reality and this unprecedented combustion of civil unrest directly related to the oppression of Black and brown people, no one has created community more than DJ D-Nice and his Club Quarantine Instagram sets.

 

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Spreading love worldwide. Let it breathe.

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The Boogie Down Production DJ has done for the church in a way, what those disciples did almost two millennia ago: he created a much-needed space for the Spirit of Comfort to come through using music as his sermons and his turntables as his pulpit.

The Psalm of Derrick Jones is a hymnal of Hip-Hop, Soul, Disco, and R&B broken down in two playlists: Club Quarantine (proper) and CQ After Dark.

Club Quarantine theGrio.com
Club Quarantine Logo

Congregants include everyone from your auntie Ivy to Oprah Winfrey, high school math teacher to the presumptive Democratic candidate Joe Biden. Rappers, athletes, actors, politicians, judges, street sweepers, gang members, essential workers, community activists, ex-cons, lawyers darken his Instagram-based church to find solace from the madness if the world.

And while it feels like sanctuary, is it really church? Is it really sacred? Can music be as spiritually fulfilling as physically going to church … and [ahem] Black churching, a ritual denied because of national social distancing rules?

Theologians, preachers, and faithful believers believe that it is.

Rev. Kris Watson, the Senior Minister & Pastor of the West Center Congregational Church, UCC in Bronxville, NY and a member of the Club Quarantine fellowship directly connects D-Nice’s set to that of the Christian Pentecost as she notes, that “the power of creativity and music to heal, but mostly the power of community.”

As she reflects on the holy day, Rev. Watson shares that “they were all together in one place when they received the Holy Spirit.”

“What D-Nice is doing is creating a global community,” she continues by referencing Acts 2 from the New Testament, “No longer are we Jew and Gentile, but now one under the power of the Holy Spirit.” Indeed, Club Quarantine brings all kinds of people together, reminiscent of the account of that night from the bible.

Acts 2: 2-4 (The Voice, modified for tense)
“A sound roars from the sky without warning, the roar of a violent wind, and the whole house where they gathered reverberated with the sound. Then a flame appeared, dividing into smaller flames and spreading from one person to the next. All the people present are filled with the Holy Spirit and begin speaking in languages they’ve never spoken, as the Spirit empowers them.”

On Friday, March 21st, that was exactly what happened, when possibly a million people, for the first time in Instagram’s history, gathered to hear the popular DJ spin songs of upliftment for the crowd. The evangelism started with his celebrity diákoni and devoted-average-joe disciples tagging others to join the jam.

Once inside his church, people heard the sound roaring over the digital atmosphere, and felt the vibration of Chaka Khan, Steve Arlington, Melba Moore, and Stevie Wonder — Hip-Hop musings of Tribe Called Quest and Bad Boy Records — The Clark Sisters and Kirk Franklin. They became baptized in the sacred catalog of Prince. He used music metaphorically as his invitational prayer for The Comforter to enter into his people’s hearts.

Like the flames popped out for the apostles, fire emojis set ablaze the comment section of the Originals member’s Live.

Watson’s unique homiletic could not let those powerful images just rest without recognition:

“Despite language barriers, fire tongues allowed people to understand each other in the scriptures. Similarly, people of different points of entry to the music understood one notion of peace and joy through fire emojis and praised hands.”

Without religious or ecclesiastical intention their offerings of affirmation and the feeling of the music served as a bridge for all barriers and in time of such division, it was just so powerful to experience.

The Reverend Dr. Charles E. Goodman, Jr., Senior Pastor of the 135-year-old Tabernacle Baptist Church in Augustus, GA, explains how D-Nice’s vocation as a record-spinner is comparable to those who scribed the most popular segment of the Judeo-Christian scriptures, The Psalms.

“The Psalms are simply the Hebrew Hymnbook. Many of the lyricists, notably King David, would draft songs to be sung during varying moments of the life of this nation of chosen people. They were not just written to express moments of victory or love, but they were also highlighting moments of despair and lament.”

Most people know Psalms because outside of “Jesus wept,” those are the first ones (23, 91, 110 and 122) many folk had to learn in Sunday school. But as Dr. Goodman stated, the Psalms were more than just things to say to remind you of the promises of God. They remind you that you are not alone. D-Nice’s set also reminds you of that truth.

“I, like the whole nation, have had to navigate the uncertainty of a new normal, especially with a space I hold dear, the church. To clarify, my longing for the church is not some building of brick or mortar, but I define the church the way Jesus did, a group or gathering of called out people. I am grateful that my first exposure to ‘gathering’ during this global pandemic was at a virtual club, being led and orchestrated by the turntable psalmist, DJ D-Nice.”

“Much like a traditional church service, D-Nice takes the position of the ‘worship leader’ creating an atmosphere of worship for us ‘congregants’ who are filing in to be seated online. Just like a down-home church service, we are ‘passing the peace’ as we recognize and engage with others as they take their place in the ‘sanctuary.’”

And Club Quarantine does have regular congregants.

 

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The early church members, who ultimately serve as church mothers, trustees, deacons, gatekeepers, are a myriad of popular personalities: Chris and Vanessa Spencer, Gabrielle Union, Quincy Jones, Donnie Wahlberg, Ava Duvernay, Spice Adams, Halle Berry, Syreta Oglesby, Deon Cole, Myorr Janha, Akinah Rahman, Danielle Lott, Nickey Martin, Rahman Ali Bugg, Robi Reed, Will Packer, Rob Morgan, Diddy Combs, Russell Simmons and the late André Harrell (now in the spirit realm). They all greet you with the CQ “let it breathe” emoji at the door.

That culturally matters for a few reasons.

Yes, they are influencers and celebrities, but the velvet rope once dividing people when we were able to go outside is stripped. Like the equality that the Jesus movement represented, once you click on the pulsating orb that signals like church bells that service is starting, you all are family and it is all good. People need to feel good.

But the ministry of Jesus was not just about feeling good. The hopelessness that people felt during the first Pentecost didn’t feel good. It was a direct reaction to the oppressive imperialism of Rome. For Black people … America is Rome.

The disease of COVID-19 has forced people into quarantine and self-isolation is a direct response (physically and spiritually) to the national arrogance of our Caesar, President Donald Trump. Also, the need for a breather from the traumatic murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and the thousands of Black and brown people dying from the coronavirus is just what it is … a word that we are using way too much … essential.

So is D-Nice just a feel-good opiate of the people or are there levels of prophetic activation? He is both.

It is a politic communicated in one of the most digestible ways ever; comfort.

This is especially true for people who like Peter, James, John, and all of the Marys who were at the foot of the cross unsure about their future. They needed a “Jesus,” whether accepted as the Son of God or Holy Prophet, to help them make sense of the senseless.

Hip-Hop journalist Gregory Johnson was raised in the Seven Day Adventist church, just like rappers Q-Tip, the late Phife Dawg and Busta Rhymes, and understands that this feels like the end times for people. In many ways it is. 2020 has created an energy of unrest and hysteria. Johnson notes that traditional churches either can reel in those feelings or can fan the flames making people more afraid.

The DJ, who doesn’t claim (at least publicly) to be a prophet, a teacher, a preacher, or even a member of a particular church, somehow ministers to him without fire and brimstone that is aggravated by everything going on in the world.

He checks for D-Nice, and the Psalms he spins, but Johnson as a spiritualist does so even without a traditional Christology present. He just tunes in when he needs to release and in that space he actually sees God.

“As a Floridian, I’m particularly anxious.” He confesses. “Like millions of Americans, I am nervous about the degree to which it is safe to engage others and my life has been reduced to strict and rigid social distancing measures.”

“Given how much we still do not know about the extraordinary COVID-19 transmission and death rate in the US, how much measures like distancing and mask-wearing even help, there’s a very strong dystopian, almost apocalyptic feel to the rising waves of anger, panic, and confrontation.”

So it seems that D-Nice the person, not just the music that he spins, has helped this father and freelancer find peace.

“Like few others in Hip-Hop, D-Nice is an avatar for the Zulu Nation’s old school mantra of love, peace and unity, and an example of how a loving spirit and a radically large imagination can overcome what my grandfather would call the challenges of the ‘worldly world.’

Unlike ever before, Hip-Hop does not an emcee or a personality to break out with a message that our experiences (not just voices) matter. With the world falling apart around us, over 30 cities erupting with unprecedented clamor, it needs its own hymn to summons a comforter.

And while The Psalm of Derrick Jones is not really canon … by playing Kathy Sledge’s “Thinking of You,” who would deny that it damn sure should be.

 

“The Psalms give voice to our pain, joy, doubt, and frustrations.” Rev. Shaun Lee, Pastor of Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church in Brooklyn notes. “They help us navigate the journeys we encounter in life through the gift of music and authenticity. D-Nice, like the psalmist, has used music to collectively draw us into a therapeutic space.”

And that is what Dr. Goodman contends makes D-Nice the perfect worship leader for the nightly service. People of Faith need an overseer who has the personality for them to have that kind of therapeutic release.

“This place of gathering becomes like the spirituals and the blues—a place where lament and longing, love, and liberation meet. DJ D-Nice becomes our psalmist who declares that Black is beautiful, that Black deserves space to be free, that Black joy in the midst of struggle a spiritual virtue. As we deal with the tragic experience of being black in an anti-Black world, our psalmist leads us to see the good news that though the world forsakes you, this space becomes the public expression of a theological truth that Black lives matter to God.”

READ MORE: DJ D-Nice reacts to his viral ‘Home School’ party on Instagram Live

Black Lives Matter activist, author, Lutheran pastor, and church planter, Rev. Lenny Duncan from Philadelphia but serving in the whitest of white spaces, Vancouver, Washington believes that his deejaying is actually part of the revival work that makes the Lily and Pew studies have suggested is absent in the church.

“D-Nice is accomplishing with Club Quarantine what the church failed to do in this crisis.” Duncan unpacks, “He is bringing people together in a moment of crisis to remember that we have collectively survived centuries of turmoil and strife: together. He has curated a space that is inviting people into the realm of God free of worry and anxiety.”

“While most churches are screaming about their right to gather, D-Nice gathers our souls together.”

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