Chin Music

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

"One of the reasons he decided to retire was he saw the force in the family," Clive explains. "We weren't ready to push him aside or force him into exile or anything. He played his role, and he played it to the fullest. He retired pretty young, but he set the pace. And when you set the pace, there's nothing more you can really do." When Vincent and Miss Pat resettled in Pembroke Pines around 1997, Howard and Angela headed south as well and opened their own branch of VP in Miramar.

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.

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

"I've always been in the business," says Angela, who lets loose a nervous chuckle when the music temporarily drowns her out. She cocks an ear: "That's always been a part of my life." In the lobby, a Marley poster covers one door, highlighting the phrase "IRON - LION - ZION." But the Chungs -- tired of dealing with a public that too often believes reggae begins and ends with Robert Nesta -- sometimes wish his image wasn't so pervasive.

"American understanding of reggae is not very deep," Howard -- who resembles a handsome, Chino-Jamaican Colin Powell -- points out. "People also associate dancehall with a lot of violence."

"It's very frustrating," adds Randy. "The reggae we've been able to break has been reggae that's actually from Jamaica. It's not a reinvented remix of reggae, it's not something that's been tweaked. One of the things we've been doing over the years is educating retailers and the buyers for the Sam Goody's and the FYE's of the world that reggae isn't only Bob Marley. There's more in common between dancehall and hip-hop than there is between dancehall and Bob Marley. But because of the closeness to hip-hop, it's been a challenge."

The charts indicate that the challenge is finally being met, with VP rising to the occasion. The industry couldn't help but notice the label's standout reggae and soca compilations, like its huge "Strictly The Best" series. Then again, no one could. Packed with hits, garishly designed to resemble those attention-wrenching K-Tel covers, picturing thongs riding up, up, up butt-cracks, the comps sold in the hundreds of thousands. And this year alone, 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. This week, 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 video for "Gimme the Light" was the number one video played last year on BET. Even better, VP entered into a distribution deal with Atlantic Records last October, instantly making the conglomerate responsible for VP's international marketing.

The crossover victories scored by VP were too striking to ignore, says Atlantic vice president Craig Kallman. "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. "We did our thing up to a certain level, but they have the machinery to really kick it much further than we could have." 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 last month, the family seems not to mind one bit. In fact, Clive says, "I'm pleased to know Perry got the Grammy this year. It was well deserved."

This Friday morning, three weeks after Vincent Chin's funeral, Randy Chin is busy polling the VP staff for impressions about last night's triumphant, sold-out Hammerstein Ballroom concert, which 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. It looked outstanding."

Clive Chin, on the other hand, sounds less impressed.

"I had to leave halfway through, because I started fallin' asleep," he deadpans. "After Wayne Wonder finish and [Banton] come on with that foolishness, I thought, 'Dammit, it's time for me to go home.'"

Clive probably figures his dad would've wanted him to make an appearance at a large event featuring one of VP's biggest stars. "Yeah," he agrees. "I want them to know that he was a major, major contributor to the music industry. I would never want anyone to think anything but how important his role in the music business was. So you have to go, you have to show your face, you have to keep up with the business. But to be honest, I wouldn't spend my $30 to go out and support that."

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