Jamaica loses Joel Chin

David Katz on a tragic and shocking death

Joel Chin. Photograph courtesy VP Records

News of Joel Chin’s death came as a terrible shock, not only to his friends and family, but to the whole of the Jamaican music fraternity, as well as a legion of dancehall fans around the world. That Chin should have his life ended at the age of 35 is truly terrible, especially since his fiancée had given birth to their firstborn child just a few weeks earlier. This young man was murdered on his very doorstep, the victim of gunshots fired by unknown assailants, whose targeting of such a respected figure remains an awful mystery.

Joel Chin was one of those characters whose entire life had been devoted to music. He was born into one of the most prominent entrepreneurial families who have been involved in every aspect of music production in Jamaica since the late 1950s (see Riddem & Rhyme).

Joel Chin was born in Kingston in 1976, just as his father Clive was at the height of his roots reggae productions. During the dramatic political upheaval of the era, the Chin family gradually migrated to New York, where Randy’s evolved into VP Records, now the largest independent reggae label in the world. Joel started working at their Queens retail outlet in his teens, and was soon made director of the label’s Artists and Repertoire department. He first made his mark with the compilation series Strictly The Best and Reggae Gold, and was responsible for signing some of the label’s most popular acts, including Beenie Man, Wayne Wonder, Beres Hammond, TOK, Morgan Heritage, and Sizzla. In 1999, he made a very astute move by signing Sean Paul, who would have an unprecedented success a few years later with the Dutty Rock album, which resulted in a broader partnership with Atlantic Records.

As Chin’s career progressed, he became more involved in record production and sound engineering, working closely with musicians such as Dean Fraser and Stephen “Lenky” Marsden, as well as helping artists such as Elephant Man and Etana to write some of their most memorable songs.

Chin moved back to Jamaica two years ago so that he could make closer connections with Jamaican artists. He will be best remembered for his immersion in the dancehall scene, as someone who was committed to raising the standard of dancehall production, and as one who strongly believed in cultivating undiscovered talent.