Joel Chin: Out of the dancehall and into the studio

Joel Chin, who has been killed outside his home in Jamaica at the age of 35, was the director of A&R (artists and repertoire) for VP Records, the world’s largest independent reggae label. Chin was known for nurturing undiscovered talent, and was responsible for signing some of the most significant acts of the contemporary dancehall era, including Beenie Man and Sean Paul. He was also a perceptive songwriter, a consummate record producer and a keen sound engineer who raised the general standard of dancehall’s production values.

Chin came from a family who helped to shape Jamaican music for more than 50 years. His grandfather Vincent established the Randy’s record label — named after a shop in Tennessee that exported records to Jamaica — and built a studio in downtown Kingston where virtually every Jamaican artist of note recorded in the early 1970s, including Bob Marley and the Wailers and Lee “Scratch” Perry, as well as foreign stars such as Johnny Nash.

Vincent’s son Clive also became a noteworthy producer, cutting early material at the studio with Augustus Pablo. By the time Joel was born, in Kingston, to Clive and Juliet Jadusingh, Randy’s controlled important avenues of record distribution in Jamaica and New York, thanks to a base in Brooklyn established by Vincent’s brothers Victor and Keith.

Amid political unrest in Jamaica, the Chin family — like many other members of the Jamaican merchant class — relocated to New York in the mid-1970s, while Joel was still an infant. Two years later, Vincent and his wife, Patricia, founded VP Records in the borough of Queens, initially focusing on distribution and later issuing new releases. Clive ran a restaurant during much of Joel’s youth, but later returned to concentrate on record production and reissues.

It was only natural that Joel would become a key part of the family business. As a teenager, he worked at VP’s record store on Jamaica Avenue in Queens, and when barely into his 20s was made director of A&R, working closely with his uncles Randy and Christopher, as well as his grandmother. Overseeing the popular compilation series Strictly the Best and Reggae Gold brought Joel into close contact with the leading artists of the day, and he was soon responsible for signing a range of impressive talent, including Beenie Man, Wayne Wonder, Sizzla Kalonji and Beres Hammond, as well as the male harmony group TOK and the family band Morgan Heritage.

It was his signing of the then largely unknown Sean Paul in 1999 that resulted in the most momentous hits, particularly after the single Gimme the Light sparked a partnership with Atlantic Records in 2002. Chin also wrote songs for artists such as Etana and Elephant Man, and worked closely with leading musicians such as the keyboardist Steven “Lenky” Marsden and saxophonist Dean Fraser.

Chin moved back to Jamaica two years ago to enable closer working relationships with the Jamaican music fraternity. That he would be shot dead by unknown assailants outside his home in the relatively tranquil Stony Hill neighbourhood speaks volumes about the wanton violence plaguing Jamaica.

He is survived by his parents, his fiancee, Natasha, his daughter, Maya Juliana, two brothers and three sisters. –

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