Music, Murder And Mystery In The Brew City
La La Brown was found murdered Oct. 19, 2007.
Yolanda "La La" Brown was born and raised on the north side of Milwaukee, Wis. Born with a natural gift for singing and dancing, La La’s single ambition in life was become a major recording artist. Her family says from the time she was 10, La La worked relentlessly to achieve that goal.
La La Brown was the youngest of five beautiful, exotic-looking children born to an African-American father, William Brown, and a French-Canadian/Mexican mother, Maria Brown. William Brown retired early from his job at a steel plant to work full time with his baby girl. That meant getting her voice lessons, managers, entering talent shows, singing jingles for local radio and numerous road trips to the Urban music meccas of Atlanta and New York to audition and work with top flight voice coaches. In addition to being blessed with an incredible voice, La La was also a gifted and prolific songwriter.
"She'd make up her own thing -- write her music, just like that,” mother Maria says. “She just had a beautiful voice. She said, ‘mommy you gonna be in big mansions and have butlers and a maid.’" Milwaukee V100 FM disc jockey Reggie "Smooth As Butta" Brown first heard La La brown sing when she was just 12 years old.
"She used to sing an intro for one of the guys here on the show, and that's how I met her,” Reggie said. “She was way ahead of everybody. She was a diva." As a teenager, La La made her first national buzz with a mid-west based girl group called Eye Candy.
In 2006, all of the hard work really began to pay off. La La landed an impromptu audition in an Atlanta nightclub with platinum-selling neo soul singer Lyfe Jennings. That led to collaboration on his next album “The Phoenix.” The duo recorded a major urban/R&B soul hit song that propelled Jennings new CD quickly up the charts. The track, “S.E.X.,” was a cautionary tale warning young women about the pitfalls and dangers of premarital sex. It cracked the Billboard Urban Top 10, getting heavy rotation on BET and urban radio from coast to coast. Audiences were immediately struck by La La's incredible voice and stunning, alluring beauty. La La Brown, it seemed, had finally arrived and was on her way to achieving her life-long dream of becoming a star.
Back In Milwaukee, Keeping Her Dream Alive
Milwaukee's hottest singer teams up with city's hottest producer
La La also appeared as a dancer in 2007’s mega-hit rap music video by the Shop Boyz, "Party Like A Rockstar.” After the break-out success of her collaboration with Lyfe Jennings, La La appeared to be poised for stardom, but after touring with Lyfe Jennings for about a year, the two parted ways when Jennings suddenly dropped her from his tour.
In spring 2007, La La found herself back home in Milwaukee with no recording contract and no money to show for her brief dance with fame. She also had a young daughter to think about who her parents had been taking care of while she was on the. La La's daughter Amirrah was born when she was 16 and still in high school.
During the summer of 2007, La La regrouped and set her sights on getting a recording deal as a solo artist. She was writing incredibly personal, soulful lyrics, but needed someone to compose tracks to compliment her vision and vocal style. That quest led to La La to team up with the hottest producer in Milwaukee, a young man named Je 'Tannue (pronounced: Zha-tawn) "Kool-Aid" Clayborn. Both La La and Kool Aid had attended a high school for the performing arts in Milwaukee and may have known each other there. They certainly knew of each other from local music buzz. Both were considered the two of the most talented, most likely to make it big musicians in the Brew City.
V100 disc jockey Reggie Brown also knew Kool Aid.
"That's all he lived for. Music was his life,” Reggie said. “He always talked about new keyboards and equipment. Very talented young man. I ran into him one night at a gas station. It was pouring rain. He said, ‘Reggie I got something I want you to hear.’ We ended up sitting in a car listening to tracks he'd made for 45 minutes. He was so enthusiastic about what he was doing and where he wanted to take it."
A Talented Musician With A Winning Smile
While La La had been on the road with Lyfe Jennings, Kool Aid had been making a name for himself in Milwaukee producing hot tracks for various types of artists.
"He had even come to the attention of Jay-Z and was hoping to produce some tracks for him in New York,” his mother Dinah Chambers says.
Like La La, Kool Aid (nicknamed because of his big wide smile like the powdered drink icon) had been a music phenom since childhood. Raised in the church, he sang and played for choirs and was so advanced as a teenager that he became the composer for his high school marching band. His mother told AMW that her son was serious about making a career in music as an entrepreneur/producer from the age of 16.
"He wanted to make sure his life meant something, and he started becoming more of an entrepreneur and thinking that way when he was about 16,” Dinah says. “It really set into him, that ‘I'm going to make something of my life,’ and he was determined to do it with music."
By age 21, Kool Aid had built his own studio, Loud Enuff Productions, and was producing tracks for various artists. Like La La, Kool Aid was making a name for himself as a sought-after beat maker beyond Milwaukee working with artists around the country.
"He was across-the-board talented -- anything from house, club music, R&B, hip-hop, gospel,” his brother Anthony told AMW. “You name it -- this kid could do it."
La La and Kool Aid spent the end of summer 2007 working on recording music in his studio that they believed would help them land a major recording contract. Kool Aid lived in the studio in a makeshift bedroom. Their musical collaboration eventually led to romantic relationship, and La La moved into the room Kool Aid called home right above his studio.
The couple spent their days working on music and making industry contacts to line up auditions and potential deals. In the fall of 2007, they were ready to shop their recorded products to the music industry big wigs. La La had recorded a soulful, autobiographical ballad about her first brush with fame and all that experience had dealt her, good and bad. The song was titled “I’m Gonna Give ‘Em What They Want.” It was a hit waiting to be heard. Unfortunately, she never got the chance to shop it.
On Friday, Oct. 19, 2007, the bodies of JeTannue "Kool Aid" Clayborn and Yolanda "La La” Brown were found decomposing inside the bedroom above the studio by Kool Aid's brother Anthony. The Brown and Clayborn family members had become concerned after no one had heard from La La or Kool Aid since the prior Monday night when Mr. Brown had dropped the couple off at the studio. Police believe the couple was murdered Monday night, so they would have been dead four days by the time the bodies were discovered. They had both been shot to death. Kool Aid was shot once; La La was shot multiple times. Nobody in either family had any idea why someone would kill the couple.
The studio had been burglarized the Sunday before the murders, and an estimated $10,000 worth of recording equipment had been stolen according to the police report Kool Aid filed. Police don’t know if the burglary is connected to the murders but haven’t ruled that out. Did the burglar, or burglars, return the next day? Cops don’t know. They do believe that more than one person may have been involved in this double homicide.
Milwaukee Police Department homicide detectives have cultivated numerous potential suspects based on petty beefs or debts owed by Kool Aid to various guys he knew from the neighborhood. But they don’t have anything solid enough to make an indictment.
AMW correspondent Tom Morris learned while reporting in Milwaukee that La La had been getting death threats three days before she was murdered. La La’s hairdresser, Marshall Duke, told Tom Morris that the couple came into his salon the Saturday before they were murdered. Marshall was a good friend and stylist to both of the budding talents. La La confided to the salon owner that she was getting phone calls threatening her life, but she did not say who was making the threats. Marshall says Kool Aid was, “His usual upbeat self. I don’t think he thought he’d made any enemies, and I don’t think he saw it coming.”
Yolanda La La Brown and JeTannue "Kool Aid" Clayborn were both talented entertainers who might well have risen to stardom by now had their lives not been so brutally and mysteriously snuffed out. The Brown and Clayborn families are devastated by the loss and not knowing who did this or why.
The murders have been a major topic on the Web and in the music world ever since. Milwaukee detectives hope AMW viewers might be able to move a stalled investigation forward and get justice for two grieving families. Compounding the tragedy, both Kool Aid and La La both left behind children. Kool Aid had two sons, Je'Tannue Clayborn Jr. and Isaiah Curtis. Like his father, little Je'Tannue has that same Kool Aid smile and loves to sing.