Eyewitnesses say ... Chris had been hanging out at his own VIP table with a posse of 16 other guys ... one of whom was a man with dreadlocks who was throwing gang signs and screaming at Drake's table. Witnesses say this man was the primary instigator in the brawl that would follow.
Among the verbal taunts, we're told the man yelled out, "Somebody's gonna die."
We're told the man also directed some of his anger at Drake's friend Meek Mill -- saying, "F**k you, we're gonna kill you n*gga."
As the man continued to spit venom, witnesses say Chris stood up and embraced him ... as if to say, "This is my guy."
Law enforcement sources tell TMZ ... it's possible the threats were captured on tape.
Here's the rub -- Brown's friend was acting as if he was associated with a gang .... which is significant because Chris is not allowed to associate with gang members as part of his probation in the Rihanna beating case.
So far, no arrests have been made.