‘One of the best DJs in the city’: Remembering Reese ‘Vex’ Brown, a force in Phoenix music

Written by on March 9, 2021

Reese Brown was “a connector of people” in downtown Phoenix’s music community. That’s how friends and family describe the late artist, also known as DJ Vex.

Brown — a visual artist and a father — died Feb. 25 after he was struck by a car in Phoenix. He was 41.

Brown is survived by his sons, Ahmir and Ravi, his parents and sister.

“It’s a significant loss, especially for people who felt marginalized for a long time in this community,” said Erika Thrower, also known as DJ Rikkie Tee, who often collaborated with Brown.

“Anybody who considers themselves part of the culture in downtown Phoenix knows Reese. He was that guy — and not just here in Phoenix, but from LA to Virginia to Pittsburgh and New York.”

Friends, fans and venues where he would DJ have posted tributes on social media to share thoughts and memories of Brown. A memorial was held at Crescent Ballroom for Brown on Feb. 26.

A memorial for Brown will be held in Virginia at a later date. A GoFundMe campaign was launched to help the family with expenses at gofund.me/115f6358.

“As a mother, I would just like to thank them for showing him all the love and support. I’m truly grateful for the love that they showered on him,” said Robin Brown, his mother.

“I’m grateful he found a place he felt was home,” added Leslie Brown, his father.

Growing up, Brown lived in Pittsburgh and Virginia. He moved to Phoenix in 2015.

Known for his remarkable knowledge of world music, soul, reggae, dance hall and other genres, Brown created an event to celebrate afrobeat and named it AfroHeat. The event was hosted at Valley Bar in Phoenix and Spirit Lounge in Pittsburgh.

“Moving (to Phoenix) was actually the best thing that happened to him, he really flourished out there and I think it’s because he was surrounded by so much art,” Robin Brown said.

Brown also streamed jazz-funk sets titled Steel City for hundreds of viewers live on YouTube with Recordbar Radio, a collective of metro Phoenix DJs.

“You always heard people comment on his transitions,” said Ken Williams, who goes by DJ MyGodComPlex and worked closely with Brown. “His mixing in between one record to another record was like butter. He was one of the best DJs in the city for sure.”

Brown hosted a mix show called Basement Tapes that he started on the East Coast. Mix shows combine DJ sets with talk show elements. Basement Tapes highlighted independent artists with interviews between grooves.

Brown added Thrower and Williams to the show in Phoenix, and the trio became inseparable.

“None of us are from here and that transplant life you’ve got to find your family and friends. We found family in each other, our shared interests in music, our outlook on things and just being Black … in Phoenix. We became each other’s family out here,” Thrower said.

With Brown’s help, they also began to play sets together at Valley Bar, Crescent Ballroom and Thirdspace. 

“We were all looking for culture here at the same time,” Williams said. “We started out trying to find it and when we couldn’t find it we made it ourselves, together.”

Brown’s family said his passion for music started at a young age. He’d sift through crates of his dad’s records filled with everything from country to jazz. His natural talent for DJing picked up steam during his senior year of high school when he moved to Virginia Beach from Pittsburgh. Brown won enough DJ contests around the city to buy much of the equipment he used at the time.

But he was also an artist, always sketching and painting. Art ran in the family.

Brown’s great-grandfather was Wilbert Louis Holloway, according to Leslie Brown. Holloway was a cartoonist for the Pittsburgh Courier, the city’s Black press. His cartoon ran in the Courier for 41 years, Leslie Brown said.

Tish Brown McNair remembers her brother as “genuine.” 

“If you got to know him, it was always love. He’d listen, encourage, empower, inspire and I think people drew to him because of that,” she said.

Williams felt the same way.

“Reese was the plug, the gateway to the culture here whether it be Anwar (Newton) and him and their comedy, or whether it be Valley, Crescent, Van Buren, or Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra or the dope food spots that we used to go eat. I found out about all of that stuff because of Reese,” Williams said.

“He was a connector of people. There was some magic between us, so there’s gotta be some magic to the people that were important to him here.”

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