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Musician, teacher, activist Derrick “OOH” Jones dies at 38

(Photo by Rarah) (Photo by Rarah)

Derrick Jones, a musician, teacher and community activist who had an indelible impact on his city, fell ill at his home in Baltimore on Sunday, June 1 and passed away soon after. A cause of death has not yet been released. He had celebrated his 38th birthday just a few days earlier. Jones, better known as OOH, had been a major figure on the Baltimore hip hop scene since forming the group Brown F.I.S.H. More recently, Jones had released music as a solo artist under the name Yo Slick. All the while, Jones maintained a parallel career as in education and youth outreach, teaching at Gilmor Elementary for a decade before being appointed in 2011 as the director of the Baltimore Youth Advocate Program. Jones formed Brown F.I.S.H. with a fellow student at Coppin State University, Jahiti, and they remained the core of a large cast of rappers and musicians over the group's 15-year history. "One day he was coming out of one educational building, I was coming in, he had a book in his hand, I said 'Hey, what are you reading?'" Jahiti says of the day they became friends, and wound up teaching together as well as becoming musical collaborators. Jahiti was in Florida visiting his grandmother at the time of Jones's death, and flew back home, though he remembers his last interaction with his friend and bandmate. "He sent me a message saying he's trying to get a game of Monopoly going. We are serious Monopoly players." Although the group was at one point courted by Def Jam Records, Brown F.I.S.H. opted to build a dedicated grassroots following in Baltimore, playing hundreds of performances at local clubs and festivals and distributing self-released 'bootleg' recordings. Jones, who rapped with dark sunglasses and gold gleaming from his teeth, was a charismatic stage presence who always found ways to turn his lofty intellectual interests into exciting, entertaining music. Jones's crowning achievement with the Youth Advocate Program was the #SaveADopeBoy campaign, a work readiness program that encouraged companies to hire youths in the juvenile justice system who might otherwise turn to selling drugs. Merging his work with his art, the Yo Slick single "Dope Boy" promoted the program while helping to raise funds for it. In the past year, Jones had visited Annapolis to discuss his program with Governor O'Malley, and to the White House to meet with the president's administration. "Mr. Jones taught his students from the center of his heart," says Dr. Jo Ann Cason, who was principal at Gilmor Elementary when Jones was a teacher there. "He spent his time and shared his life with his students." News of Jones's passing on Sunday didn't spread until Tuesday, and on Wednesday night a vigil was held at NowChild Soundstage, an East Baltimore venue where Jones had performed and hosted many events. Hundreds of friends and fans turned out to hear Brown F.I.S.H. perform, for the first time without a key member, and to share stories  about Jones and cope with the sudden, shocking loss. Derrick Jones is survived by his fiancée and their 4-year-old daughter. "I'm happy that I know for a fact that he knew he was loved," says Jahiti.

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