“Down in Jamaica”: 40 years of reggae-ragga-dancehall by VP Records!

On October 25, a luxury multi-format box with 4 CDs, 4 7-inch singles, 4 12-inch singles, 1 24-page book and 6 artist cards were put on sale. This represents 94 vocal tracks and 5 dub mixes featuring 101 different artists. This is the most complete anthology to date of the famous record label VP Records which was titled “Down in Jamaica: 40 Years of VP Records”.

Beenie Man at the West Indian Day Parade in 1999 – Photo: VP Records

Reggae-ragga-dancehall fans are in seventh heaven! Almost all the great artists of these musical genres appear on this compilation, which takes its name from Red Fox & Naturalee‘s single “Down in Jamaica” released in 1989 (see full list of names below).

On the occasion of this release, on Wednesday, October 30 was organized in London (England) a party with Rockers London crew at The Empire Bar, in the presence of Carter Van Pelt who was hired, last year, by VP Records as Director of Catalog Development with the mission of curating this 40th anniversary box set. Several other events were scheduled this week at the Jamaica High Commission Office in the British capital. In the United States where the record company is based, the public was expected for a listening party in Brooklyn, New York, on Sunday, November 3.

To succeed in this titanic work, Carter Van Pelt had to examine closely thousands of titles dating back four decades. He wrote in “Down In Jamaica – 40 Years Of VP Records” published on Discogs.com: “The CDs reflect hit songs, in some cases, the most popular songs by the top artists at their prime, in any given period. These are songs that VP either licensed or produced for first worldwide release or first US release, not hits from acquired catalogs (…)”.

Buju Banton at VP Records for release of the album Inna-Heights in 1997 – Photo: VP Records

The essential role of VP records

In this article produced in partnership with VP Records, the new Director of Catalog Development in the world’s largest reggae label explained at length his approach to present an exceptional compilation by giving us valuable information on the running of the company through the years. “While my starting point was “Strictly The Best”, a compilation series that dated to 1990 and reaches 60 volumes with the next edition, I was interested in looking at the company in terms of the singles it manufactured. (…) Reggae and dancehall have always been driven by singles rather than albums. The hit single or “big chune” is what drives the dance, and VP has had its hand in some of the biggest ever a role in the reggae and dancehall worlds”.

And he continued: “Prior to “Strictly The Best”, which initially appeared not on VP Records (the label), but on a sub-brand called Gold Disc, VP itself was nebulous. Many reggae and dancehall records originating in the US in the 1977 to 1990 period may not have a VP Records brand label but many have the company’s store or warehouse address and contact information printed on the label. Look closer still, and you can identify VP’s role as a manufacturer by a series of letters and numbers etched in the vinyl runout, the realm of the vinyl archeologist”.

Patricia Chin at VP Records in 1986 – Photo: VP Records

From Randy’s Records to VP Records

Through this compilation, it is also the story of a family of traders that is told. VP Records was founded by Chinese-Jamaicans Vincent and Patricia Chin. After a short spell between 1977 and 1978 in Brooklyn, the company moved to Jamaica Avenue in the Queens district, New York.

VP Records, in fact, extended the activity started in 1958 in Kingston, Jamaica, by Randy’s Records which was first a secondhand record store, a small label and a producer of original recordings before becoming a distributor and a manufacturer of recordings for various independent producers…

In its 40-year history, VP Records which now is known as the label behind famous Jamaican artists such as Sean Paul or Beenie Man, played a major role in the globalization of reggae and dancehall. It represents 25,000 recordings that were played on all cheerful or sad occasions (parties, weddings, funerals, etc.) and are today part of the musical heritage of Jamaica and the entire Caribbean.

“Across the four CD, “Down In Jamaica” should give a sense of how many impactful songs the company brought to the public and how many key names intersected with the label at pivotal moments in their careers”, said Carter Van Pelt.

*Thanks to Carter Van Pelt for his collaboration

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Liste de Chansons – Song List – Lista de Canciones VP Records