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NEW YORK — Despite a semblance of routine Monday morning activities, the day wasn’t a typical workday inside the cavernous Queens, New York offices/distribution headquarters for VP Records.
Just a week ago, on August 16 at approximately 11 PM, the label’s Director of A&R Joel Chin, 35, was fatally shot in the head as he left his car parked in front of his home in Stony Hill, St. Andrew, a few miles north of Jamaica’s capital Kingston. With the intention of fostering closer relationships between VP and their (predominantly) Jamaica based roster of acts, Joel relocated to Kingston about three years ago.
“You could have heard a pin drop in here yesterday; there is a sense of sadness but also a sense of togetherness,” said VP’s Vice President of Marketing and Promotions, Cristy Barber. “Joel had a great passion for the artists and for his projects; he cannot be replaced.”
An officer at Jamaica’s Constant Spring/Stony Hill Police Station who requested anonymity said investigations into Chin’s murder are ongoing but thus far there aren’t any suspects or any known motives for the slaying.
A songwriter and a producer, Joel also mixed songs for innumerable VP artists’ releases; his exacting A&R direction contributed to acclaimed albums by several contemporary roots reggae acts including Tarrus Riley‘s “Parables” and “Contagious”; the latter peaked at no. 5 on the Reggae chart on August 29, 2009. Riley says that their often heated, music-related disagreements ultimately strengthened their collaborations. “I am very opinionated about how songs are mixed and we would argue about those things but it was never personal,” Riley remarked on the phone from his home in Jamaica. “It was always about how are we going make the music better? Joel worked very hard because he wanted to be the best.”
Joel’s vast contributions to the reggae industry will be celebrated at the upcoming Reggae Rhythm and Blues concert on September 4 at Roy Wilkins Park, Jamaica, Queens, featuring R&B crooner Kenny “BabyFace” Edmonds and Riley who is slated to participate in the tribute’s live segment along with his bandleader, veteran saxophonist/producer Dean Fraser. Joel deeply admired Fraser’s musical expertise and regarded him as his mentor. “With the Chin family’s cooperation, we will also present a video tribute featuring interviews with artists, Joel’s family, and his VP colleagues,” explains Bobby Clarke, one of the concert’s promoters. “Joel touched every aspect of the music and played a major part in reggae’s promotion, especially in New York.”
Joel Chin is the first grandchild of the late Vincent “Randy” Chin and his wife Patricia, who founded VP Records (originally Randy’s Records) in 1959 in Kingston. The Chins moved to New York in the late 1970s; in 1979 they opened VP Records, in Jamaica, Queens, with Vincent and Patricia’s first initials forming their company’s new name. Today, VP is the world’s largest independent reggae label with its own physical and digital distribution services, marketing and promotions departments, touring and booking divisions and a publishing arm.
Born in Jamaica, Joel moved to New York as a child with his mother Juliet (Jadusingh) and father Clive Chin, a reggae producer best known for his work with The Wailers, Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs and melodica player Augustus Pablo. As a high school student, Joel helped out at VP’s retail record store, located on Jamaica Avenue, Queens. By the mid ’90s he was VP’s Director of A&R, working alongside his uncles, VP CEO Christopher Chin and President Randy Chin and his grandmother, Miss Pat, who is still actively involved in VP’s daily operations.
Joel signed several top-tier Jamaican acts to VP including Beres Hammond, Beenie Man, Wayne Wonder and Sean Paul whose debut album Stage One was released on VP in 2000, featuring the hits “Hot Gal Today” and “Deport Them.”
In 2002, VP forged a strategic partnership deal with Atlantic Records; Sean Paul’s Dutty Rock, the initial release through that arrangement, has sold 2.7 according to Nielsen SoundScan. The album spun off three top 20 Billboard Hot 100 hits: “Gimme the Light” (No. 7), “Get Busy” (No. 1 for three weeks) and “Like Glue” (No. 13). The album itself peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard 200 and spent 85 weeks on the chart. “Joel was my first A&R; he was the one at VP who really knew what was happening in the streets and the first one to really believe in me,” Sean remarked in an exclusive interview with Billboard.biz on Sunday at midtown-Manhattan’s Quad Studios. Sean relied on Joel’s discerning skills to steer his debut production, “Blaze Fia”, featuring various Jamaican artists recorded on his dancehall rhythm of the same name.
“Blaze Fia” was digitally released through Sean’s Dutty Rock Productions, ironically, on the day of Joel’s murder. “I left the track listing up to him because his opinions really matter to me,” Sean reflected. “There are many yes men in the business, but I could always depend on Joel for a real answer. We are still trying to deal with his murder because we lost someone very special.”
Dean Fraser produced the final album of Joel’s abruptly halted yet nonetheless storied career. “We Remember Gregory,” features 16 artists reinterpreting beloved hit songs by the late Gregory Isaacs; Joel signed on as the set’s executive producer immediately after Fraser played him the tracks. Sadly, “We Remember Gregory” was also released on the day Joel was slain and Fraser, who has worked closely with Joel since 1996, was the last person to speak to him.
“Just as he drove up to his house he called to remind me to be on time for a Wednesday morning meeting; 15 minutes later I got a call that he was killed,” Fraser chillingly recounted, calling from Kingston last night with his first public comments on the tragedy. “I went up to the house and he was lying there, his keys were in his hand, his cell phone beside him; it was devastating. Joel didn’t have any enemies; he just loved working with Jamaican musicians and wanted the best for our music. It is just heartbreaking for this to have happened to him.”
Joel Chin is survived by his parents, five siblings, his fiancé and a newborn daughter.
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