Chin Music

How one mom-and-pop record shop climbed to the top of the reggae world

Those ideals, he continues, weren't lost on Vincent. "My father was one of the first, and he could see things ahead of time. He didn't have any competition at first, and he took advantage of it at that time. Because him was a man who would challenge like a real true gladiator. Him would go into a ring and see four or five lions and take them one by one. Behind the scenes, he was a very loving father. He found time for us. He gave back to his community. He was very kindhearted, because he came from nowhere. And when a man come from nowhere, 'im know how hard it is."

Although Studio 17 had waned in influence, Patricia and Vincent were increasingly busy downstairs with Randy's Record Mart, which was constantly thriving and thrumming with foot traffic as well as steady global mail-order business. Along with their three young children, Christopher, Vincent "Randy" Jr., and Angela, the Chins made the store a second home, remembers Lloyd Campbell. "In those days, anywhere in the world that wanted a reggae record, you had to send off to Jamaica to order your records from Randy's! They were the heartbeat of this thing, Mr. Chin and Miss Pat. But I would give Miss Pat credit for 75 percent of the workload. She was the brainstorm, I would say, at Randy's Records in those days. Everything was down to Miss Pat. She was a very, very hard worker and a sharp businesswoman."

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
The first family of reggae gathers as Vincent Chin is laid to rest in Hollywood, February 8, 2003
The first family of reggae gathers as Vincent Chin is laid to rest in Hollywood, February 8, 2003

Unfortunately in 1977, Michael Manley's electoral victory spooked businesspeople all over the island, who already feared his socialist leanings and cozy relationship with Cuba. "It wasn't that we didn't like the country," explains Clive. "My heart and soul was in the music business there, I knew I was playing a major role, and I felt betrayed that I had to leave at such a precious time. Bob [Marley] wanted me to go on tour with him. I was a young engineer at the time, and Familyman wanted me to do the mixin' for the world tour. But my father said, 'No, it's best for you to come and set up business in New York.'"

In 1978 the Chins left Jamaica, relocating their lives and livelihood to Queens. By the next year, the studio and record store in Kingston, unable to survive without the family's presence, both shut their doors. But Jamaica -- the one in Queens, New York -- soon emerged as a reggae hub in its own right. Favoring the common tactic of using their first initials, Vincent and Patricia brought Randy's Records to Queens as VP Records.

"Sometimes our mail from the U.K. ends up in Kingston, Jamaica, and has to be rerouted back here," says the bespectacled Randy Chin, now VP's vice president of marketing and distribution. First he detoured to the West Coast, where he worked for McDonnell Douglas for nearly a decade (his undergraduate degree is in engineering). By 1996, with military spending slashed, he wanted to return to the safety of the family firm. "My dad said, 'Bring 'im into the business,'" recalls Clive. "But 'im don't really know the business like me! When I say that, I mean, 'im smart, 'im have 'nuff common sense to know one and one is two. But to actually ask 'im about a record, or how to make a record? You have to ask someone like me who lived that for 35 years. Me know the ins and outs of the recording business."

VP's first store rented for $375 a month, Clive remembers, at 170-03A Jamaica Ave. "Print that," he insists. "Me run that for eight years." After that, he took a break from the record industry and got into catering and Caribbean food. In the meantime, Angela and Miss Pat had moved the retail store into a bigger location on Jamaica Avenue while Vincent, Randy, and Christopher turned their attention toward VP, the label. After licensing the old stock for U.S. distribution, VP Records officially launched in 1993. "It was tough when we came here," recalls Miss Pat. "People didn't know much more than Bob Marley. But Clive was into the older type of recordings and Chris took on the newer."

Immediately sensing that the dancehall sensation taking place back on the island would translate perfectly to hip-hop aficionados in the States, VP began signing Jamaican dancehall artists in earnest, and during the last half of the '90s and into the '00s, Beenie Man, Shaggy, Sizzla, Capleton, and Buju Banton all recorded for VP under Chris and Randy's supervision.

Angela actually met her husband, Howard Chung, while he was shopping for reggae records at her store. Chung joined the family business as well, landing a job in VP's mastering plant after the two were married in 1989. By then Vincent had less and less to do with the day-to-day operation of the label. For starters, he'd never developed a taste for dancehall -- not even slightly, not at all. "That wasn't his bag, no!" laughs Angela. "He was very old school."

"He would much rather get an Ella Fitzgerald or Dean Fraser album and put it on for relaxin'," adds Howard. When Vincent finally decided it was time to retire, he selected South Florida. It was close enough to Jamaica to make returning to see relatives simple, and besides, none of the Chins had ever gotten used to New York winters. Plus, says Miss Pat, he was in poor health. "We'd go out and relax, and spend time with family, with the grandkids. He was very family-oriented. He was suffering from diabetes and its complications, so he just took it easy and rested." His children, after all, were poised to take over.

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