Chin Music

How one little record shop climbed to the top of the reggae world

All but hidden behind a barbecue restaurant sending visible streams of hickory-flavored goodness across the clogged lanes of 441, VP Records Florida occupies one end of a nondescript block of businesses. Inside the clean white space is a large warehouse with floor-to-ceiling product, a series of offices where the seven employees make their calls and send their e-mails, and a noisy retail outlet, whose vibrating bass permeates the whole place.

VP itself is vibrating. The music industry couldn't help but notice the label's standout reggae and soca compilations, like its huge Strictly the Best series. Packed with hits, garishly designed to resemble those attention-wrenching K-Tel covers, picturing thongs riding up, up, up butt-cracks, the comps collectively sold in the hundreds of thousands. This year Sean Paul's new album Dutty Rock debuted at number 14 on Billboard's pop chart, and Wayne Wonder's No Holding Back entered at number 29. Wayne Wonder's "No Letting Go" is the number one song on Z100 (WHTZ-FM 100.3), the big pop station in New York. Sean Paul's clip for "Gimme the Light" was the number one video played last year on BET. Much of this is the result of a distribution deal VP entered into with Atlantic Records last October, instantly making the conglomerate responsible for VP's international marketing.

Miss Pat and Vincent Chin behind the counter at Randy's, circa 1960
Miss Pat and Vincent Chin behind the counter at Randy's, circa 1960
Angela and Howard Chung at VP in Miramar
Angela and Howard Chung at VP in Miramar

The crossover victories scored by VP were too striking to ignore, says Atlantic vice president Craig Kallman, who adds, "This agreement puts us in the position of capturing Jamaica's most innovative sounds as soon as they happen in the studio."

The benefits of the Atlantic partnership are enormous, obviously. "Even though we have an office in the U.K. and distribution deals in other countries, we don't have infrastructure across the world," says Randy. But even without Atlantic's helping hand, VP artists have scored well critically as well as commercially, and though Freddie McGregor's Grammy-nominated Anything For You album lost to Lee "Scratch" Perry's Jamaican E.T. for best reggae album in February, the Chin family doesn't seem to mind. In fact, Clive says, "I'm pleased to know Perry got the Grammy this year. It was well deserved."

Friday morning, three weeks after Vincent Chin's funeral, Randy is busy polling the VP staff for impressions about last night's triumphant, sold-out concert at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York that featured Buju Banton and Wayne Wonder. "Everybody loved it!" he says excitedly. "Wayne did 'No Letting Go' and the crowd went crazy! He did extremely well onstage."

Clive, on the other hand, sounds less impressed. "I had to leave halfway through, because I started fallin' asleep," he deadpans. In the background, but still loud and clear, Clive can be heard playing some of the old music he recorded during the fertile period from 1972 to 1975. The original album release of Randy's Dub was limited to a mere 200 copies, but five years ago was reissued as Forward the Bass: Dub From Randy's, credited to Impact All-Stars. Clive is recording it for a friend this afternoon.

Today the old master tapes from Randy's Studio 17 are in Clive's control; he is in charge of overseeing the archives left behind by his father. Some have been released already -- Skatalites & Friends at Randy's, for example, and Lord Creator's Greatest Hits. He promises it will all eventually see the light of day, but it'll be on his terms; he certainly won't be turning the reels over to Atlantic. Upcoming archive projects, he says, include A Rough Guide to Ska and another Impact All-Stars collection of soul, funk, and rarities.

"With the old stuff, if you package it right, people enjoy it. Atlantic commercializes too much. Me go right down to the groundwork and let the music speak, because the music is timeless!" roars Vincent Chin's eldest heir. "And whoever is keeping it alive, it's lovely, and me love dem for that."

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