by Petula Caesar
I wasn’t a close friend of Derrick “OOH/Yo Slick” Jones. We’ve shared a few conversations over the years that were very enlightening and great fun. When I performed at “Judah Juke Joint Thursdays” last year he greeted me with a huge warm hug, and made me one of the biggest strongest drinks I have ever experienced. The last time I spoke to him was April. He wanted me to interview him for this magazine, and I was thrilled that he asked – I was thrilled that he even knew about the magazine. I had been mentally reminding myself to contact him to set up that interview, but I kept putting it off and forgetting to reach out to him. I figured I had time to do it. But in spite of my forgetfulness, I really was looking forward it. I’d planned to ask him all the things I always wanted to know about him. I wanted to ask him about things about himself I had quietly observed over the years he’d been on the scene. He did so much, from his involvement with “Black Daddy Gang” to writing/recording/performing BrownFISH classics like “In A Fishbowl” with his brother-in-love Jahiti, to performing with his band seeWEED as a solo artist doing songs like “Dope Boy”, to his work with the Youth Advocate Program (YAP) and his “Save A Dope Boy” projects. The interview would be my chance to get to know him better, to find out exactly why so many people from all walks of life were so drawn to him so strongly. I would find out exactly how this man, one Derrick Jones, could be so ‘regular’ and so extraordinary at the same damn time. How could he be so much larger than life and stay so down to earth? How could he traverse the toughest Baltimore neighborhoods one day, then visit the White House the next?
But I didn’t have time. I never got to ask OOH any of my questions. But the outpouring of love he has received from this city in the wake of his passing has answered them. In addition to his talent and his strong dedication to his causes, he was engaging and genuine. His ability to interact with everyone in the most authentic way possible is why over 400 people turned out to pay homage to Mr. Jones at Nowchild Soundstage on Wednesday, June 4th, not even a full and solid 48 hours after his passing to celebrate his 38 years of life.
It was a sad occasion definitely, but not an entirely solemn one. There was still an air of excitement present, the kind of excitement you feel when you’re at a really great party and all your friends, family, neighbors and acquaintances are there. Nowchild Soundstage was transformed into a huge circle of love that does exist in this city – love that doesn’t always get to bubble to the surface and show itself. Baltimore believes in “keeping it real” and that usually means “keeping it hard.” But for this man, the city showed its soft, gentle and caring side. The hugs, kisses, smiles and kind words flowed freely from one end of the space to the other, and tonight the kisses were more tender and full, and the hugs lasted longer and were more deeply felt. But in spite of all the love present, it was accompanied by feelings of loss and displacement. The packed house, increasing temperatures in the room and the feeling of camaraderie made the evening seemed like a super packed Thursday night at Judah’s Juke Joint, and every now and then I would forget why I was there and look around for OOH out of pure habit, wondering where he was, and then I would remember, and the feeling of loss returned as the weight of his permanent absence from this place in the physical form hit me yet again.
Jahiti took the stage, and you had to wonder how he would carry on without his brother. How could he possibly perform “In A Fishbowl” without OOH’s energetic and magnetic lifeforce alongside him? It was one of the most beautiful and painful moments I’ve witnessed in all my years in the Baltimore performance scene – to see Jahiti, face soaked in tears you could clearly see in spite of his ever present sunglasses, voice breaking here and there, singing to the packed and emotional audience with a small sea of photographers and videographers surrounding him in a semicircle and a bigger crowd of people behind him on the stage. He raised his voice up to the universe to sing to his brother, because he would no longer sing with him. But he did not sing alone – as he performed a tremendous impromptu chorus of those onstage joined in, as did most of the crowd, especially as he made his way to the hook of “Fishbowl”. Heads, arms and hands bounced across the room as everyone cried out the words to what is undoubtedly BrownFISH’s signature song:
“…living in a fishbowl…life seems so small and cold in a fishbowl, now everywhere I seem to go they already know…in a fishbowl…but the only solution is…jump up up up up up up up up up up up up out this fishbowl…”
And the crowd boomed out OOH’s signature line: “In this fishbowl that I’m living in I just can’t keep on swimming in…”
And of course he performed “Dope Boy”.
Jahiti was joined by B Fly. She was clearly shaken and sad as she stepped in front of the bulging crowd to perform. Her dark sunglass-covered face was also moist, and the pain was clearly etched not just across her face, but across her body as well. She seemed unsure on her feet at times, and at times was hunched over, looking very much like a lost and hurt little girl missing her brother. She delivered the lyrics as if they were drops of blood leaving her body, making her weak, but finding strength in the agony of it all. At one point she undid her locs that were perched in a huge bun atop her head and let them hang down low, grabbing onto them as if she were seeking comfort and strength in them, as if holding onto them would hold her together. It was an amazing performance as well.
Shortly after this, everyone was asked to go outside for the candle lighting vigil. Small tea candles were provided as everyone stepped into the outside space behind Nowchild Soundstage, which quickly overflowed. Night had fallen and it had started to rain, but the crowd did not take shelter back inside the building. They stood in the gentle rain, lit their candles and raised them to the darkened heavens, shouting “OOH! OOH! OOH!” over and over again. The hundreds of voices came together, crying out his name and lines from his songs. Even as the rain continued to fall, this small village of people continued their tribute, candles raised, hot wax dripping onto hands and arms, honoring Derrick Jones’ time on Earth. Tears fell and the rain cooled the heat and washed them away.
I left shortly after the candle lighting. I was emotionally drained from it all – all the emotions running high in such a tightly packed space was too much for me. There was another round of hugs, kisses, chats and general love-sharing as I departed, I felt the love, and the loss, and the hurting, and maybe, just maybe, the opportunity for some healing at some point. But not yet. Right now it just hurts. Derrick Jones will certainly be terribly missed by many, but it is my sincere hope the love he leaves behind will help us all uplift this city, this performance arts community, and each other…even the dope boys.
Peace be unto you Brother OOH.