Derrick "D-Nice" Jones is one of the most famous DJs in the world. He's spun for Presidents, Oprah, Quincy Jones, Mark Zuckerberg and Madonna. He helped the entire world get through the terror and claustrophobia of quarantining during the 2020 pandemic with his Club Quarantine, eventually drawing hundreds of thousands of viewers. In short: D-Nice is the fucking man.
Hip-Hop heads already knew that, though.
D-Nice has been nice since he was a young'n. Teenaged Derrick was only 15 when he took his first steps towards musical greatness, and he was pushed there by a friend and mentor who would forever change his life. The teenager happened to be visiting a cousin who worked security at the Franklin Armory Men's Shelter on 166th St. in the Bronx in 1986, when he met a guy named Scott Sterling. The kid was one of those youths who were sitting at a crossroads between street life and virtually anything else that could be a positive influence.
“Scott introduced me to someone that lived in the shelter who was KRS-One [Lawrence “Kris” Parker],” D-Nice says. “They had formed this group while Kris was living in the shelter. And Scott La Rock looked at me – he didn’t know what my talents were, I didn’t know what my talents were – but he looked at me and said, ‘Hey, I want you to be a part of my group.’ This was like late ‘85, early ‘86...."
Kris was a brash young graf artist-turned-emcee who called himself Blastmaster KRS-One. And Scott Sterling was a charismatic young social worker who was making noise as a DJ who went by Scott La Rock. Scott had made a name for himself DJing parties at Vermont's Castleton State College; and he'd come home to the Bronx with the aim of launching a music career. Scott wasn't just focused on making records, he wanted to launch a business. He was spinning at the Broadway Repertoire Theatre and plotting world domination.
Derrick was still drifting through school, but Scott's influence was profound. He took the teen under his wings and, after finally settling on the name Boogie Down Productions, brought his young friend into the group. Scott saw a future for Derrick when no one else did, and KRS helped give Jones a proper Hip-Hop name.
Scott La Rock looked at me – he didn’t know what my talents were, I didn’t know what my talents were – but he looked at me and said, ‘Hey, I want you to be a part of my group.’"
- D-Nice, 2020 Pollstar Interview
“That’s how I got my name,” he told Pollstar in 2020. “KRS-One had this cool name he used to tag as a graffiti artist. And Scott La Rock had his DJ name and I was still Derrick. In the ‘80s, everyone was Ice, like Vanilla Ice and Mix Master Ice and I was like, ‘You know what? I’ll just be D-Ice.’ And then [KRS-One] accidentally called me D-Nice while he was recording the end of ‘South Bronx.’ I was like, “Ah, you know what? I’ll just be D-Nice.’ It’s a very ‘80s hip-hop name, but it works for me now.”
Boogie Down Productions (aka B.D.P.) was suddenly one of the hottest acts in Hip-Hop; on the strength of early single "The Bridge Is Over" and the anthemic "South Bronx." The Bronx-based group had taken aim at radio icon Mr. Magic, his cousin Marley Marl and Marley's artist MC Shan, who they believed was attempting to cite Shan's home turf of Queens as Hip-Hop's homebase. The Bronx wasn't having that; so BDP swung into action.
"'South Bronx' came out in ‘86, around the time I got into hip-hop," D-Nice recalled. "I literally walked into it. It wasn’t something I was trying to do, everything in my career happened this way.”
"I hear all these records about Brooklyn and Queens and then Shan saying that rap music started in Queens--that's a bunch of bull," Scott told KFPC at the time. "I don't like Mr. Magic anyway, so I thought it was time to tell the truth."
Their Shan-dissing singles launched the infamous "Bridge Wars" and made Boogie Down Productions the brash new stars of New York's street rap underground. But Scott La Rock wasn't happy with his young protege.
As BDP set to work on it's debut album, D-Nice wasn't doing well in school. He was enjoying his newfound notoriety as a Hip-Hop star, and for the already wavering teenager, high school became even less of a priority. Scott La Rock decided to put his foot down.
"I wasn't on the cover of Criminal Minded for a reason," D-Nice said in 2014. "We got into an argument. I was a smart dude, and Scott knew that. I didn't like going to school anymore...because people, when they found out that we had records out, there was always issues.
"Because I was always by myself and never rolled with a crew--most of the dudes I rolled with were older than me--so being in school it was always like an issue," he continued. "I stopped wanting to go to school and this dude...was saying to me 'Dude, if you don't wanna get your education...you can't be in the group.'"
Scott La Rock made his point. When Boogie Down Productions dropped their highly-anticipated debut in March 1987, D-Nice wasn't on the cover. It was simply KRS and Scott La Rock, brandishing firearms, ammo and grenades. Criminal Minded would be a landmark release, for BDP, for KRS-One and for Hip-Hop. And it was D-Nice's first taste of real success.
The crew had proven they could do more than make diss records. And D-Nice was refocused, thanks to Scott's prodding. BDP posse was now the hottest thing in New York City, but, as it can often go in the streets, with success comes conflict. Even though no one was looking for it at the time.
“Scott’s vibe is pretty much the vibe that I have today,” he says. “It’s why I am the way that I am. He was always willing to go the extra mile for people, always wanting to do the right thing. That’s how he ended up losing his life, which was something senseless. There was no beef.”
Scott's nature was always one of mentorship and partnership. Friends would say years later that Scott was on the road to becoming a mogul in the vein of Steve Stoute. His ambitions were huge, and Boogie Down Productions was on the road to realize them. But everything would change in August 1987. Neighborhood hooligans had threatened to hurt D-Nice, and when Scott learned of the trouble, he immediately scooped up some BDP affiliates and went to the Webster Projects. But this wasn't a confrontation, it was supposed to be a mediation.
Scott’s vibe is pretty much the vibe that I have today. It’s why I am the way that I am. He was always willing to go the extra mile for people, always wanting to do the right thing..."
“I came from a rough neighborhood and there were kids who were jealous. Things were happening for me and they started threatening me with guns. There was no physical fight, [Scott] just came over when I called him and said, ‘Hey, these guys pulled guns on me.’ They were just jealous we were doing our thing. The way Scott wanted to handle it was, ‘Hey, we need to go and talk to them because things are blowing up for us now and we didn’t need that kind of energy. So, let’s find them, talk to them, find out what the issue is and be done with this, so we can always be straight.’ Unfortunately, not everyone thinks that way. I didn’t even know them. To this day, they could be walking down the street and I wouldn’t know who they were. But it was Scott’s mission to always find peace in any situation. And those are the lessons I’ve learned along the way, in my own life, is to be that Scott La Rock for someone else, that’s the way he was for me.”
As Hip-Hop fans know, the day would end in tragedy. When the crew got to the projects, things immediately turned hostile. Someone began shooting at Scott's car from a window and the car sped off as the bullets riddled the vehicle. They were at a stop light before anyone realized Scott was hit in the head. He died shortly thereafter on the operating table in Lincoln Hospital. He was 25 years old.
The death of Scott La Rock is one of Hip-Hop's most painful tragedies. It's an ugly catalyst for two Hip-Hop icons' careers: KRS-One, who would adopt his "Teacha" persona, focus on addressing violence and ignorance in his lyrics, and become one of the most legendary emcees in the history of Hip-Hop; and D-Nice would forge a successful solo career with hits like "Call Me D-Nice" before becoming one of the world's most beloved turntablists.
Today, D-Nice is an icon. He spins everywhere, for the biggest names. But he was once that kid. He was once just a hopeful teenager, eager to find a better life through a culture that was born in his home borough. The friendship between Scott La Rock and D-Nice is one that so many young Black boys could have used; a pseudo big brother who won't let them go down the wrong path. Scott La Rock's friendship did more than give D-Nice a career. It likely saved his life.