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VP Records, Largest Independent Reggae Label Celebrates 40th Anniversary

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “VP is integral to the history of reggae and dancehall music. We take this responsibility seriously and we are using our 40th anniversary to celebrate the music’s rich heritage as we steward the genre into the future,” said company president Randy Chin.

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VP Records Anniversary Logo

VP Records Anniversary Logo

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

VP Records, the world’s largest reggae music company, has announced a year-long calendar of activities in celebration of its 40 years in the United States.

For two generations, the Queens, N.Y.-based company has marketed Caribbean culture and island lifestyle through music, events and merchandise, and has been at the heart of reggae, dancehall and soca.

The year of celebrations will feature a variety of music and cultural events, products, historical exhibits and experiences, in Jamaica, across the U.S., Toronto, Canada and London, England.

“VP is integral to the history of reggae and dancehall music. We take this responsibility seriously and we are using our 40th anniversary to celebrate the music’s rich heritage as we steward the genre into the future,” said company president Randy Chin.

“A major focus for the anniversary is highlighting the company’s commitment to the development, promotion and globalization of Jamaican music.”

From Dennis Brown, Barrington Levy, and Freddie McGregor to Sean Paul, Beenie Man, Lady Saw, and Tarrus Riley, VP Records has become home to some of the biggest acts in reggae music.

The label’s current roster includes Alborosie, Jah Cure, Raging Fyah, Gyptian, Beres Hammond, Queen Ifrica, Ikaya, Jah9, Fay-Ann Lyons, Christopher Martin, Maxi Priest, Busy Signal, Spice, Romain Virgo, and Spiritual.

The company kicked off its anniversary celebrations with a return to its homeland of Jamaica in January and will continue into the summer with a historical exhibit titled “A Reggae Music Journey,” at Donald Sangster airport in Montego Bay.

The exhibition will move to Kingston’s Norman Manley International Airport in June 2019 through the end of the year.

Chin recently sat down for a Q&A with NNPA Newswire:

NNPA Newswire: How did the company get started and what or who inspired you?

Chin: My parents, Vincent and Patricia, started the Jamaican chapter of the company after my father accumulated records that he changed out of jukeboxes around Jamaica.

The owner of the jukeboxes had no use for the records, so my parents kept them, and then started selling them out of their ice cream parlor.

They named the business ‘Randy’s” after the sponsor of an American radio program that was heard down there at the time. Obviously, that became my nickname too.

They couldn’t have gotten into the Jamaican music business at a better time. They got in on the ground floor in every sense, because Jamaican music was about to become an international phenomenon, starting a few years later with Millie’s “My Boy Lollipop,” then Desmond Dekker’s “Israelites,” and of course Bob Marley and the Wailers, and the rest is history.

In 1962, they moved from their first location to 17 North Parade, and records were becoming the central focus of the business.

My father started producing music with a popular singer named Lord Creator and built a studio above the new shop, which became known as Randy’s Studio 17. My brother Clive became involved in producing also, and many local independent producers such as Lee Scratch Perry rented the studio.

This was right as reggae was born. Everyone recorded there, including Bob Marley, Gregory Isaacs, Dennis Brown, Burning Spear, Augustus Pablo, you name them. Reggae may not have been born at our studio, but it grew up there.

NNPA Newswire:  What were perhaps one or two of your biggest challenges getting things off the ground?

Chin: One of the biggest challenges was that the business environment in Jamaica in the 70’s made it hard to get records to the international market. So, my parents decided to move from Jamaica to New York in the late 70s, which is how the VP Records chapter began. VP is their initials.

It’s always been a challenge to get music that comes from Jamaica, from our culture in our way of speaking, patois, to translate to international ears and international tastes in a way that people can really relate.

I think overall, it’s impressive how well received our music is outside our small island, but we still have to be mindful of the music that is made for a local Jamaican audience and the music that can make it on the bigger stage.

NNPA Newswire: Briefly tell us about a couple of your top artists, i.e., who they are and how did you land them for the company?

Chin: From the VP chapter of the story, the top artists have been dancehall stars over the last 20 to 25 years like Sean Paul, Beenie Man, Lady Saw, and Bounty Killer, but the veteran reggae singers and emcees have been the foundation of the business, including Dennis Brown, Barrington Levy, Freddie McGregor, and Yellowman.

Beres Hammond really stands out as well, because of the length of time he has been with the company.

My brother Chris has been involved with the company his whole life, initially on the technical side of mastering records but also deciding about what music to release. He and my mother built relationships with artists and producers over many decades. Relationships are a key to bringing in great artists. That extends to our whole A&R team.

Some people are surprised to learn that one of our top artists is Alborosie, who was born in Italy but lived in Jamaica so long that he earned the respect of the local dancehall crowd.

His music is popular all over the world.

Our current roster includes Alborosie, Jah Cure, Raging Fyah, Gyptian, Beres Hammond, Queen Ifrica, Ikaya, Jah9, Fay-Ann Lyons, Christopher Martin, Busy Signal, Spice, Romain Virgo, and Spiritual.

NNPA Newswire: What would you say was the company’s biggest hit and why do you believe it was such a hit?

Chin: In 2002, we had a distribution agreement with Atlantic Records that was a key to Sean Paul’s breakthrough. His ‘Dutty Rock’ album sold 6 million copies and was loaded with hits like “Get Busy,” “Gimme The Light,” “Like Glue,” and others.

We had Wayne Wonder at the same time with “No Letting Go,” which was also a big hit. With the distribution deal with Atlantic, VP Records was able to bridge the gap between working with a major mainstream label while still supporting Sean with the core foundation of the Jamaican community and its diaspora.

Overall his sound was fresh and distinct and never confused with any of his peers at the time. He had his own identity, which is a key to making a hit.

NNPA Newswire: What does the future hold for the company?

Chin: We’re excited about the future. We want Jamaican music, in all its forms — past, present, and future — to continue to develop in new directions and have an international following.

The streaming world makes that more of a reality than ever. We see it when we look at where our fans are. There is so much potential for streaming in developing markets that we just have to make sure we continue to put out quality music for the world to hear.

We’re also very proud of where we’ve come from.

It was a real boost when UNESCO recognized reggae as a cultural heritage asset last year. We want the Randy’s and VP story to always be included in the story of reggae and dancehall.

We bought Greensleeves Records a decade ago and have a 25,000-song catalog that covers a lot of the history of reggae, dub, dancehall, and beyond.

We continue to be interested in new developments and new musical forms that are related to reggae and dancehall, such as afro-beats and all the offshoots of dance and urban music around the world that trace right back to Jamaica.

We’re open to the future and very proud of our past.

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Activism

New California “Strike Force” Gives Teeth to State Housing Laws

California Attorney General Rob Bonta said that California’s 17 million renters spend a significant portion of their paychecks on rent, with an estimated 700,000 Californians at risk of eviction. High home purchase costs — the median price of a single-family home in California is more than $800,000 — have led to the lowest homeownership rates since the 1940s.

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The Housing Strike Force will address the shortage and affordability crisis by enforcing state housing and development laws in the attorney general’s independent capacity and on behalf of the DOJ’s client agencies.
The Housing Strike Force will address the shortage and affordability crisis by enforcing state housing and development laws in the attorney general’s independent capacity and on behalf of the DOJ’s client agencies.

By Antonio Ray Harvey, California Black Media

To advance housing access, affordability and equity, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced earlier this month the creation of a Housing Strike Force.

The team, housed within the California Department of Justice (Cal DOJ) has been tasked with enforcing California housing laws that cities across the state have been evading or ignoring.

The strike force will conduct a series of roundtables across the state to educate and involve tenants and homeowners as the state puts pressure on municipalities failing to follow housing rules and falling short of housing production goals set by the state.

“California is facing a housing shortage and affordability crisis of epic proportion,” Bonta said. “Every day, millions of Californians worry about keeping a roof over their heads, and there are too many across this state who lack housing altogether.

“This is a top priority and a fight we won’t back down from. As Attorney General, I am committed to using all the tools my office has available to advance Californians’ fundamental right to housing.”

The Housing Strike Force will take “an innovative and intersectional approach” to addressing the housing crisis, focusing on tenant protections, housing availability and environmental sustainability, housing affordability, and equitable and fair housing opportunity for tenants and owners.

Bonta also launched a Housing Portal on the Cal DOJ’s web site with resources and information for California homeowners and tenants.

The strike force will enlist the expertise of attorneys from the Cal DOJ’s Land Use and Conservation Section, the Consumer Protection Section, the Civil Rights Enforcement Section, and the Environment Section’s Bureau of Environmental Justice in its enforcement efforts.

“California has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address its housing crisis, thanks to the historic $22 billion housing and homelessness investments in this year’s budget. But it’ll only work if local governments do their part to zone and permit new housing,” Governor Gavin Newsom said. “The attorney general’s emphasis on holding cities and counties accountable for fair housing, equity, and housing production is an important component to the state’s efforts to tackle the affordability crisis and create greater opportunities for all Californians to have an affordable place to call home.”

According to the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB), the level of Black ownership nationally has decreased below levels achieved during the decades when housing discrimination was legal.

The 2020 census reports that there was a 29.6% gap between homeownership rates for African Americans and whites. Homeowners accounted for 44.6% of the Black population as compared to 74.2% for whites.

“Blacks have made little, if any, strides at closing the homeownership gap. Systemic discriminatory regulations and policies continue to thwart any meaningful effort at increasing Black homeownership,” Lydia Pope, NAREB’s president, said.

In California, the DOJ reports that over the last four decades, housing needs have outpaced housing production. It has caused a crisis that stretches from homelessness to unaffordable homes.

Despite significant effort, the DOJ stated that California continues to host a disproportionate share of people experiencing homelessness in the United States, with an estimated 150,000 Californians sleeping in shelters, in their cars, or on the street.

Bonta said that California’s 17 million renters spend a significant portion of their paychecks on rent, with an estimated 700,000 Californians at risk of eviction. High home purchase costs — the median price of a single-family home in California is more than $800,000 — have led to the lowest homeownership rates since the 1940s.

Due to decades of systemic racism, these challenges have continuously and disproportionately impacted communities of color. For example, Bonta said, almost half of Black households in California spend more than 30% of their income on housing, compared with only a third of White families.

In addition, less than one in five Black California households could afford to purchase the $659,380 statewide median-priced home in 2020, compared to two in five white California households that could afford to purchase the same median-priced home, the California Association Realtors (CAR) said in a February 2021 statement.

The percentage of Black home buyers who could afford to purchase a median-priced, existing single-family home in California in 2020 was 19%, compared to 38% for white households, CAR stated.

“Just as the price for a single-median home reaches a new record of more than $800,000 in California, everywhere you look, we are in a housing crisis,” Bonta said during the virtual news conference on Nov. 3.

“Among all households, one in four renters pays more than half of their income on rent.”

The Housing Strike Force will address the shortage and affordability crisis by enforcing state housing and development laws in the attorney general’s independent capacity and on behalf of the DOJ’s client agencies.

Earlier this year, Newsom signed Assembly Bill (AB) 215, enhancing the attorney general’s concurrent role in enforcing state housing laws.

AB 215 was designed for reforms, facilitating housing development and combating the current housing crisis.

Newsom also signed Senate Bill (SB) 9 and SB 10 in September, legislation designed to help increase the supply of affordable housing and speed up the production of multi-family housing units statewide.

Authored by Senate President Pro Tem Sen. Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), SB 9 allows a homeowner to subdivide an existing single-family residential lot to create a duplex, triplex, or fourplex.

In response to SB 9, homeowner groups have formed across the state to oppose it. The groups are citing challenges they anticipate the law will bring to their communities, from garbage collection to increased risk of fires.

Livable California, a San Francisco-based non-profit that focuses on housing, is one of the groups that opposes the new laws.

“Senate Bill 9 ends single-family zoning to allow four homes where one now stands. It was signed by Gov. Newsom, backed by 73 of 120 legislators and praised by many media. Yet a respected pollster found 71% of California voters oppose SB 9,” the Livable California website reads.

“It opens 1.12 million homes in severe fire zones to unmanaged density — one-sixth of single-family homes in California,” the message continues. “SB 9 could reshape, in unwanted ways, hundreds of high-risk fire zones that sprawl across California’s urban and rural areas.”

But Newsom says the laws are urgent and overdue.

“The housing affordability crisis is undermining the California Dream for families across the state, and threatens our long-term growth and prosperity,” Newsom said in a Sept. 16 statement.

SB 10 was designed for jurisdictions that want to opt-in and up-zone urbanized areas close to transit, allowing up to 10 units per parcel without the oversight of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

“Passing strong housing laws is only the first step. To tackle our severe housing shortage, those laws must be consistently and vigorously enforced,” said California State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), chair of the Senate Housing Committee. “I applaud Attorney General Bonta’s commitment to strong enforcement of California’s housing laws.”

The Housing Strike Force encourages Californians to send complaints or tips related to housing to housing@doj.ca.gov. Information on legal aid in your area is available at https://lawhelpca.org.

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Activism

Facebook’s “We the Culture” Panel Discusses Black Portrayals in Mainstream News

The increase in Black representation in the news media was discussed when the topic turned to controversy surrounding Rachel Nichols, an NBA sportscaster on ESPN. In a July 2020 leaked recording, she appeared to be uncomfortable sharing hosting duties with Maria Taylor, another ESPN personality who is African American. In the recording, Nichols, who is white, suggested Taylor had been promoted because she is Black.

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A 2019 Pew Research Center analysis revealed that Black media professionals only make up 7% of newsroom staffers nationally.

By McKenzie Jackson, California Black Media

When Erica Cobb, co-host of the Daily Blast Live, first stepped into the world of mainstream news over two decades ago, she overheard a conversation in which an industry person considered Cobb the perfect minority for a particular role because, although she is Black, to them she “didn’t come across like a Black person” based on stereotypes in their head.

“Those convos now are few and far between because we have more seats at the table,” said Cobb, who is also a podcaster with a background in radio. She was referring to the growing numbers of Black faces appearing regularly in the news media. “The pipeline has opened for more people of color.”

However, Cobb said, the news industry still needs more African Americans.

Independent journalist Georgia Fort, the founder of BLCK Press, said the lack of Black professionals in newsrooms across the U.S. contributes to African Americans being portrayed in a negative way.

“The media industry since its inception has capitalized on exploiting our stories and disproportionately portraying us in a negative light,” said Cobb, who identifies as biracial.

“You can go back to blackface; even modern-day newscasts are saturated with Black mug shots,” she said.

The current state of Black representation in the mainstream media was the subject of a recent online discussion hosted by Facebook’s “We The Culture,” a content initiative created and managed by a team of Black Facebook employees focused on amplifying content from Black creators.

The social networking giant launched the platform in February with an inaugural class of over 120 creators specializing in news and social media content.

Cobb and Fort were panelists on We The Culture’s video chat on how Blacks are depicted in mainstream media.

The third panelist was Zyahna Bryant, a student activist, community organizer, and online content creator who is known for spearheading the movement to take down a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in in Charlottesville, Va.

The 53-minute discussion was moderated by Rushadd Hayard, a freelance web producer.

The quartet’s webcast happened a year after the murder of George Floyd, an African American man who died after Derek Chauvin, a white former Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Video of Floyd’s death shined a light on the aggressive tactics law enforcement officers sometimes employ when engaging Black Americans. The horror of his violent murder sparked national conversations on racial inequity, motivating many businesses and organizations in the U.S. to support African American causes and take steps to increase diversity, equity and inclusion in their organizations.

The increase in Black representation in the news media was discussed when the topic turned to controversy surrounding Rachel Nichols, an NBA sportscaster on ESPN. In a July 2020 leaked recording, she appeared to be uncomfortable sharing hosting duties with Maria Taylor, another ESPN personality who is African American.

In the recording, Nichols, who is white, suggested Taylor had been promoted because she is Black.

“A privileged woman like Nichols,” Fort said, “refusing to support — or even accept — the advancement of a person from a disenfranchised community like Taylor is a problem.”

“You have people like Rachel, she wants something to be done as long as it doesn’t require her to make a sacrifice,” Fort continued. “In order for our nation to be more equitable, it is going to require all the Rachels to step aside and make space. Performative ally-ship is the best way I can describe her.”

Cobb noted that Nichols, who has since been pulled from appearing on the sporting network but continues to be paid, put herself in the forefront of a perception in the industry that ESPN had a diversity issue.

Bryant said media groups’ desires to increase the number of Blacks as employees are empty gestures if they don’t come with institutional change.

“I noticed we needed more Black voices after the George Floyd incident,” she said. “After the entire summer of organizing and moving into the election cycle, I felt that there was a disconnect. Not just with white people talking about Black issues, but the media altogether not having their ear to the ground.”

Hayard cited a 2019 Pew Research Center analysis that revealed that Black media professionals only make up 7% of newsroom staffers nationally.

Cobb said she first realized more Black representation was needed in the media when former President Barack Obama, began his initial run for the country’s highest office and a controversy ignited around him attending the church of controversial pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

“I was the only one speaking out in defense of Obama,” she said. “I remember my co-host turning off my mic and people calling in saying I was racist. I left in the middle of the show. A Black reporter from the Chicago Tribune called me and first asked if I was OK and secondly, what happened and how it went down, and if I thought it was racist.”

The same realization came to Fort when she was assigned to cover the shooting of a Black man by a police officer for a news station. She was directed to pull up the criminal history of the man, but Fort also investigated the officer and found he had a litany of complaints against him, including racial-profiling ones.

“This was omitted from the five o’clock news because my white superiors didn’t feel it was relevant to the story,” she said. “I found myself being characterized in the newsroom as the angry Black woman.”

Cobb said for more African Americans to be present in front of news cameras, more Blacks need to be in positions of power behind the camera, beyond just the editor and producer roles.

Fort said a change in culture could also be helpful.

“The industry standard is AP-Style English and a certain image,” she said. “Not all Black people or people of color use AP English as their natural dialect, and we need to stop expecting people to conform to that. Allow people to be their authentic selves. Why are we saying we want diversity, but we want people to conform? To me that’s not diversity.”

When Bryant began her drive to get the Confederate statue removed, a Black reporter interviewed her. She said talking with a person from the same race, from possibly a similar background, and who was empathetic helped the interview go smoother

“I’m looking forward to seeing more journalists with their Blackness on display,” Bryant said.

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Bay Area

COMMENTARY: Abuse Is Not Love

Domestic violence is the No. 1 violent crime in Marin. Women account for 85% of the victims of intimate partner violence, and men for 15%. Half of the men who assault their wives also assault their children. Adults in same-sex relationships suffer abuse at the same rate as heterosexual couples.

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photo from www.itv.com.
photo from www.itv.com.

By Godfrey Lee

The Mental Health Advocacy Team of First Missionary Baptist Church (FMBC), along with the Marin City Mental Health Services, and the Center for Domestic Peace, conducted a training called “Working Together to End Domestic Violence” on October 25.

Rev. Ronald Leggett, FMBC’s pastor, hosted the Zoom program.

Cynthia Williams, a domestic violence advocate for peace, and a friend of FMBC, introduced the presenter and facilitator, Meghan Kehoe, from the Center for Domestic Peace.

photo from left: Rev. Ronald Leggett, Meghan Kehoe

photo from left: Rev. Ronald Leggett, Meghan Kehoe

Kehoe says that domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior used to exert power and control over an intimate partner. The abuser may use a variety of types of abuse to make sure that they have and maintain control over their partner. These types of domestic violence include physical, emotional, economic, sexual, spiritual abuse as well as stalking and strangulation.

Domestic violence can be physical, but the greatest impact is through verbal and emotional abuse. How victims have been abused and how they feel about themselves will always be present in their mind.

Domestic violence is the No. 1 violent crime in Marin. Women account for 85% of the victims of intimate partner violence, and men for 15%. Half of the men who assault their wives also assault their children. Adults in same-sex relationships suffer abuse at the same rate as heterosexual couples.

Survivors need unconditional support from their friends. Many of those who stay in an abusive relationships have probably lost a lot of friends who love and support the victim but don’t understand the pattern of abuse, and do not understand why the survivor leaves, then returns to the abuser.

Children witness and experience the domestic violence and fear it just as much as the survivor does, if not more, and 60% of them are also victims of the physical violence as well.

The children, youth, and young adults are also being traumatized and affected by the violence. They may not know how to articulate what is happening to their family, or how to feel when their parents are hurting each another. So, talk to them and see if they want to talk to their parents or a safe person in their life.

Even if children know that they are not the cause of the violence, they still feel it in their hearts. Tell them that it is not their fault, and nothing they did caused the violence.

Young people who survive need good information, programs and services to help them find and maintain healthy relationships.

There is never a wrong time to reach out to someone who is being abused in a relationship. And you should also go with them to get help. Connect them to professionals, or a domestic violence agency. Offer them unconditional support a friend who will look out for them no matter what happens to them, what choices they make, whether or not they go back to their abuser, and be there for them in a non-judgmental way, Kehoe said.

For more information, go to centerfordomesticpeace.org. If you are in need of emergency assistance or wish to make an appointment with Center for Domestic Peace, please contact their 24-hour hotline: (English/ Spanish) 415-924-6616.

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