After the Fall

Now that Mix Master Mike is gone, can hip-hop rise again?

"I feel that the state of Colorado is trying to ban hip-hop, for obvious reasons," began Mix Master Mike Brown, resting his large hands on the table. "They want it to go away."

The obvious reasons, explained the DJ and promoter, were these: Denver-area officials didn't want huge crowds of black people partying in the heart of their entertainment districts, and the music they partied to, with its thumping beats and hard-ass lyrics, encouraged gangbangers and violence. "White people are in fear when they see a large group of black people," he said. The Mix Master had deejayed or promoted successful hip-hop nights in clubs across the city, only to find many of them closed down for one reason or another.

Clubs close all the time, of course, regardless of the music they offer. But hip-hop venues had been especially hard-hit in the previous six months, and Brown was feeling the pinch. In fact, the town had just lost its two premier weekly hip-hop nights in March, and coupled with the closing of F-Stop last fall after mediation with its neighbors failed ("Last Dance," November 7, 2000), it didn't look like a coincidence.

DJ Swaun Blaze tries to keep the Mix Master's beat alive.
John Johnston
DJ Swaun Blaze tries to keep the Mix Master's beat alive.

Certainly the timing couldn't have been worse. Brown had gotten married in Las Vegas just a few months before, and he'd bought a house. For the interview at the Denver Buffalo Company, he'd pulled up in a luxury sedan that went for at least $1,100 a month -- leased. Brown loved glamour. He was a "flosser," somebody attracted to things that shine: new cars with fly rims, jewelry, fine leather coats, even his smooth bald head. Everything about the man was big.

On this day in early April, it was his frustration. If black clubgoers harassed people at a white club -- Brown grabbed the salt and pepper shakers to illustrate his point -- the police would quickly step in to protect the club and to "stop these niggers from fucking with white folks," he claimed. "But they won't do that for us." And because the Mix Master was such a big fish in this pond -- some said the big fish -- he believed that Denver, and now Glendale, were making an example of him. He'd been promoting some nights in Aurora, too, but already neighbors there were starting to complain.

"Anywhere you put Mix Master Mike, you'd have 2,000 people," says Brown's protégé, DJ Swaun Blaze. "It was like he was the Pied Piper. He was playing music everyone wanted to hear."

"Any club he was at, the police were watching him close," admits one official with the Denver Sheriff's Department.

Denver Police Department lieutenant Judy Will, who oversees patrols in LoDo and around the ballpark, admits that there's some sentiment in her department against hip-hop. "I'd be lying if I said I don't think that exists," she says. "I do think that exists."

But others argued that the increased scrutiny was simply good law enforcement. "Nobody was trying to run him out of business," says DPD sergeant Tony Foster, adding that if someone had wanted to shut down the Mix Master, it would have been done years before.

As Brown continued talking, it became clear that what weighed most heavily on his mind was "the list." The Denver Police Department had compiled a list of individuals for whom off-duty Denver cops were no longer allowed to work; the list also included venues that were off limits. Mix Master Mike was on that list, Brown said, and that was proof that Denver was trying to kill off hip-hop. Few, if any, clubs were willing to run the risk of attracting a thousand patrons without off-duty law enforcement on hand.

Brown had a few contacts at the DPD who'd promised to get him a copy of the list. Once he had it, he said, he'd be back in control of the situation. He mentioned the possibility of a lawsuit, as well as a protest march on City Hall mounted with the help of Alvertis Simmons, organizer of Denver's Million Man March.

The Mix Master left the Buffalo Company feeling strong. The city had hurt his business, but he looked forward to the battle ahead, which he knew he could win. First, though, he and his wife, Tamara, were heading off on a short trip to Vegas. In fact, the Mix Master called from there on April 10 to say he'd finally obtained a copy of the list; he'd drop it by when he returned to Denver the next day.

But just hours after that call, Mike Brown jumped -- or fell -- off an eighth-floor interior balcony at the Luxor hotel and casino, landing in the lobby below. He died instantly.

The news hit Denver hard. Hip-hop radio stations were deluged with calls: The Mix Master couldn't be dead. The Las Vegas police and coroner were both calling his death a suicide, but people who'd been in touch with Brown days before, sometimes hours before, didn't believe it. He hadn't exhibited any warning signs. He wasn't unhappy or depressed. He was mad. He was determined. He was going to save hip-hop in Denver.

Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help