That initial call immediately and unexpectedly landed me on the phone with one of the co-founders and owners of VP Records, Patricia Chin (the “P” in “VP”). I say unexpected because VP is the world’s biggest label that specializes in Caribbean music (damn near single-handedly helped make reggae and dancehall worldwide genres), and has been so since the 70s, and, after having worked in the record industry for some years, its normally impossible to get the owner of a behemoth of a record label on the phone.
After explaining to Pat (an extremely down to earth person) what The Classics was about she was down to support and it was at that instant that I thought to ask if she’d be interested in being interviewed for the project as well and, very fortunately for me, she agreed.
Check out the read:
Where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, West Indies.
Growing up, were you musically inclined? If so, what instruments did you play? Were you ever in any bands or groups?
Not particularly. I did take piano lessons as a child, but never in any bands.
Describe the music scene in the 50s. Who were some of the popular artists/groups at the time?
The music scene in the 50s was dominated by the Jazz, Blues, and R&B genres.
I actually met him because he was a delivery driver for my grandparents bakery.
What led you two to open Randy’s Records?
Vincent used to maintain jukeboxes all over the island, this required replacing the older records.
Talk about some of the challenges that you guys faced with that first store?
The most memorable challenge was coping with such a small store. The store was so small that customers had to line up on sidewalk. with new ones. These old records would actually just be discarded, so he kept them and eventually decided to begin selling them.
We were located in a small space actually within an ice cream parlor. It was unique because no one had such a shop. People often stopped by for ice cream or soda and listened to music.
What prompted you two to open Studio 17?
Our location was actually a lively spot for musicians, artists, vendors and foreigners. All studios were located outside of town and very expensive. My husband wanted to give the artists a place to harness their talent, so we credited them their studio time and when they made their music they would give it to us to sell. Doing business this way benefited everybody.
Who were some of the artists/groups that recorded there and what were some of the more significant records and or albums that were recorded there?
With all of the business’s success in Jamaica, why did you two move it to America? Did your Kingston store remain open as well?
We decided to move to America due to the political unrest and to provide better opportunities for our family.
What were some of the challenges you and Vincent faced when you first opened in the US?
I read that your very first location was in Brooklyn. What led to the move to Queens?
My Vincent’s brother Victor had a record store located in Brooklyn (Schenectady and St. Johns) already named Randy’s Records so we decided to name our store VP Records. I actually didn’t like the name back then, I wanted something more catchy.
Vincent and I actually came up with the name. Starting a record label was not planned it just came natural as we grew. It developed from a shop to distribution to a record label.
Was album cover art made a strong consideration with your artists or was that more-so for them to handle?
What was the atmosphere like at the height of the label’s popularity?
It was very exciting, chaotic, and fun.
From Bob Marley, to Lee Scratch Perry, to Shabba Ranks, to Sean Paul; you have worked with practically every major West Indian producer and artist/group. What’s it like working with so many different personalities?
What do you think it was about VP Records that separated the label from its competition?
Working hard, staying consistent, and being Jamaican we have the best understanding of the culture.
The compilations, such as “Strictly the Best,” “Reggae Gold,” and “Dancehall 101,” that the label has produced have been widely successful and were perhaps the music industry’s first “mixtapes.” How did the idea of putting together the compilations come about?
The customers expressed their desire for a product that was compiled with all of the current hits.
I read that your step-son, Clive Chin, was credited as being one of the originators of dub.
Why do you think people are so drawn to West Indian culture?
Our culture is rich with diversity, music, food, and fashion.
What are your thoughts on Caribbean music and what do you attribute to its long-lasting and worldwide popularity?
Because it is authentic, it is often regarded as the voice of the people because the message is derived from the people. People all over the world can identify with the music.
How has VP Records adapted to this “digital age” in music?
What are some characteristics that you look for in a new artist/group?
They not only have to possess the ability to create great music, perform well, also overall image is important.
Talk about Riddim Driven Clothing. When did it start and what’s the response been like?
Riddim Driven was created three years ago after making artist related t-shirts. Like everything else it is trying at times, but I am optimistic about the line because whoever embraces the music will enjoy the line.
In the future we plan to create more accessories and solidify it as a brand. I am also interested in creating a girls line.
Looking forward, what’s next for VP Records?
Trying to do more performance bookings and concerts. And to stay at the cutting edge of the digital age.