Interviewed and written by Aaron Robinson [IG @iamcomprehend]
Founding member of the legendary Pop/R&B group Kool and the Gang, Robert “Kool” Bell continues to reveal the availability of his elegant champagne, Le Kool Champagne where he is in a partnership with the House of Bertholot, France’s longtime vineyard, due to the result of a 2016 meeting between him, his partner Mohamed Morretta and Valerie Berthelot. This new champagne has an amazing taste and is made up of 80 percent Pinot Noir and 20 percent Chardonnay.
Over the course of Kool’s career, with the seven-time Grammy award-winning and multi-platinum-selling group Kool and the Gang, they have earned many American Music Awards and sold over 80 million albums worldwide. Some of their hit songs include “Ladies Night”, “Get Down On It”, “Jungle Boogie”, “Fresh”, and the world known song “Celebration”, which marks its 40th year anniversary. The iconic group that started in 1964 now has 25 Top Ten R&B hits, 9 Top Ten Pop hits, and 31 gold and platinum albums.
For many countries, Kool is the US ambassador of music and the arts. He is also a successful entrepreneur who is involved with multiple ventures and developments around the world. His humanitarian interests include him being a part of REACH (Renewable Energy Applications to Conserve Humanity) where he was appointed as its Global Ambassador for Sustainable Energy at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.
Also joining Mr. Bell on the interview is his talented son DJ Prince Hakim. As a successful DJ, Prince Hakim has mastered the art of Dj-ing which has led him to DJ at events for The Clinton Foundation, Tommy Hilfiger, Whoopi Goldberg and so on. Outside of DJ-ing, Prince Hakim is also a record producer and songwriter. He recently released the song “R.O.Y.A.L.T.Y.”, which is available on all digital platforms. Currently, he is working on a new music project where he features R&B artist Joe, along with a host of eminent talents. When it comes to giving back to the community, he heads the family foundation, Kool Kids Foundation.
I was honored to have interviewed the legend and his son together. Here is what Robert “Kool” Bell and his son DJ Prince Hakim has to share to the readers regarding their endeavors and latest happenings.
Aaron Robinson: Mr. Robert Bell, as an extraordinary and such a successful founder of an extravagant band, Kool and the Gang, can you briefly describe your musical and artistry journey over 40 years.
Robert ‘Kool’ Bell: We started back in 1964, and we called ourselves the Jazzy Act. Then from there the name was changed to The Soul Town Band. We were backing up a lot of local talents, and they were trying to be like Motown. So, we had to learn a lot of the Motown hits. After that, we changed the name to Kool and the Flames. We were working in a club in Newark, New Jersey, and one of the Master’s of Ceremony for the Soul Town Review had a poster in the window and it said Kool and the Flames. We met our first manager and realized James Brown group was called James Brown and the Famous Flames. So, we didn’t want any problems with the Godfather, so we changed the name and we became Kool and the Gang in 1968. Our very first record came out in 1969, 51 years ago as of now.
Aaron: Was JT Taylor the original lead singer of the group?
Robert “Kool” Bell: No, I will continue. The first record, “Kool and the Gang”, became a top 40 hit record. It surprised us because the record was instrumental. People thought it was a Spanish band. We released the album with Kool and the Gang. We had territorial hits since that time period, and we had signed with Red Coach Records who had a deal with Universal Records. Back then they were called Mercury Records/De-Lite Records. We started off with Red Coach Records with De-Lite Records. We went on to create an album because we had some pressure from the record company about not coming up with any major hits. So, they wanted a producer, Mr. Douglas. We decided that we didn’t really want to do that, so we went into the studio one morning at 8:00am and by midnight we had cut “Hollywood Swinging”, “Funky Stuff” and “Jungle Boogie”. Thereafter, there were no more problems from the record company.
We had great big records. “Hollywood Swinging” and “Jungle Boogie” were top 5 records, and they were all number one on the R&B records for weeks. We had the big song “Summer Madness” which was in the Rocky movie. We got on tour with the Jackson’s. A guy by the name of Dick Griffey, who also owned Solar Records said, “You guys are doing great on the tour, but I think you guys need a lead singer.” We had never thought about that, but then we thought about it. (Laugh) We gave JT Taylor an audition. We didn’t audition anyone else. It was only him. He came to the studio in New Jersey called the House of Music. My brother had him to sing some ballots and some jazz. After that we said, ‘hey, you’re the guy’. That brings you up to date with the JT question.
JT joined the band in 1979. We went on to have big hits. My wife and I were hanging out in New York and we realized that every weekend there was a ladies night. I came back to the band and said ‘I have a great idea for the first song for our new album.’ They said ‘what’, and I said, ‘Ladies Night’. Everybody said ‘wow, you’re right’. (Laugh) The album was called Ladies Night and JT was the lead singer. Then after that came “Celebration”, “Fresh”, “Joanna”, “Get Down On It” and you can go on and on. That went on for about 8 years, and then in 1987 JT Taylor left the band. He wanted to do a solo career. After that we traveled around the world building the name Kool and the Gang. JT Taylor came back again in 1995. We thought that was going to be a nice run, but it ended up being only 4 years. He left the band again in 1999. Every since then, everything has been Kool and the Gang, because we are a band first that happened to have singers. We went back to where we started back in 1964. This year is a 40 year celebration for the song “Celebration”. “Celebration” came out 40 years ago. So, we’re pushing a big campaign on 40 years of “Celebration.”
Aaron: DJ Prince Hakim, what is it like to have a legendary celebrity and famous dad who has made an international impact on the world music?
DJ Prince Hakim: It’s cool man, to be able to grow up in a musical family. It’s cool.
Aaron: Has it made an impact on your life as a producer and DJ?
DJ Prince Hakim: Yeah! I’m sure it has without even knowing. Yeah, growing up in a musical family where everyone is musicians, you kind of follow in their footsteps. You catch the bug. A lot of my cousins are all singers and songwriters as well…mixing it up, and doing what we’re doing. As far as growing up in a musical family you get attracted to it at an early age and it kind of takes on its own path from there. Then you develop your own path from there, but it all starts with those guys though – my dad and uncle (Ronald Bell) for putting the music together and bringing the music into the family. When I DJ I spin their music a lot as well, along with some other 80s acts. So, it definitely had an impact on the family for sure.
Aaron: Mr. Bell, you have a champagne called Le Cool Champagne. How did this come into existence?
Robert “Kool” Bell: Well, I’ve drunk champagne through my career, as a young guy all the way up until today. I thought about, ‘why don’t I do my own champagne.’ Now there was a guy in Europe who came to me who was doing a champagne on the late Berry White; he was also doing some on one of the Bee Gees. He had asked me about doing my own brand of champagne, and I said ‘yeah, I had already thought about doing a champagne’. I wanted the champagne to come up out of Europe and then hit America at a later time. I didn’t want it to be right away. I wanted people to hear about the champagne and then it’ll come to America. That’s how I came up with the name Le Kool Champagne.
So, we decided to do it in France. I met one person who came to me who introduced me to the Berthelot family. The Berthelot family is my partner. We have a Grand Cru, which is one of the top of the line champagnes. The Grand Cru also has a vegan side to it based on where the grapes are at. So, now we are kicking it off and pushing heavy this year with Le Cool Champagne.
Aaron: Okay, I’m going to shift gears. DJ Prince Hakim, you and Jermaine Dupree are best friends. How did this come into existence?
DJ Prince Hakim: Yes, JD is a good friend. We’ve been friends since high school – a long time. We met at a Jack the Rapper convention. Do you remember that?
Aaron: Yes, that’s classic. Yes I do.
DJ Prince Hakim: Yes the classic Jack the Rapper. We met down there and we’ve been friends ever since. He’s doing good. He has a hot single out with Usher that he produced. He’s a great guy. We’ve been friends for a while. He’s the one that actually got me back into DJ-ing. When we met we were DJ-ing and producing, and he picked it back up in the last ten years. He inspired me to get back into it also. I have to give him a shout out for that.
Aaron: DJ Prince Hakim, you have a song with Joe. Would you like to tell us a little about this collaboration?
DJ Prince Hakim: Yeah, I’m working on my own project, a DJ producer project, and one of the songs is featuring Joe. Last year I put out a song called “R.O.Y.A.L.T.Y.” and the plan was to get a couple songs out this summer, but we have to see how things go. One of the songs is featuring Joe; it’s pretty good. It’s called “Impressive.” Joe should be releasing new music this year as well for his own project. So, be on the lookout for that.
Aaron: When it comes to inspiration or encouragement, what are some words-of-encouragement that each of you would like to share with upcoming artist who are looking to be successful in the music industry?
Robert “Kool” Bell: I think that they should be serious about what they are doing and learn as much as they can about the business. Make sure they get a good attorney. Make sure they pay their taxes and also make sure they create their own identity. In this business today it is very hard to do because everybody sounds like everybody. However, they should push to have their own identity. Back in the day we knew what each group sounded like; today, sometimes you don’t know what you’re listening to. Though, my hat goes off to them and much success. A lot of Kool and the Gang’s music have been sampled. We are one of the top sampled bands.
DJ Prince Hakim: I agree with him. I would say, just study the greats. Study people that are successful to see how they did it and to see their blueprint, and how they made it. Then follow what they did. You have to have talent. I would follow the blueprint of people that you respect and like, whether they started independent or had an investor…just try to figure out how they did it.
Aaron: Mr. Robert Bell, what have been some significant changes in the industry that you’ve encountered since you entered the music industry. DJ Prince Hakim, can you elaborate after that?
Robert “Kool” Bell: The music industry has changed so much. I’m from the old school days when you put out an album and you get a dollar a record on your vinyl, so you sold a million records you made a million dollars. The industry has changed a whole lot. (Laugh) Hakim can respond on this whole new wave. (Laugh)
DJ Prince Hakim: Well, R&B is pop now…so that’s changed. Soul R&B is having a hard time, but it’s slowly starting to come back. Pop is the new R&B and Melody Rap is the new rap. So, all of that has changed. For hip hop, it’s more like singing now, melody rap. So, those are the changes I’ve noticed.
Aaron: We do a lot of things in the community for non-profit organizations. Are you all attached to any non profits in the community or anything that you would like to talk about regarding giving back to the youth?
Robert “Kool” Bell: Yes, we have a foundation that my wife started many years ago called the Kool Kids Foundation, bringing music back into the schools. Hakim is the current President of the Kool Kids Foundation. Especially right now, the kids can’t go to school. So, we are going to try to get them books online. So, that’s some of the things that we will be doing. We have done a lot of different benefits and are a part of many foundations, and we will continue to do that. Our movement right now is world peace. The world right now needs to come together.
Aaron: I think we pretty much covered projects and so forth, but do you all have any other up and coming projects that you would like to talk about or anything else that you would like to add in closing before we conclude the interview?
Robert “Kool” Bell: Yes, the Le Cool Champagne, is one of the diversified projects that I have. Also, we are working on a documentary. We’re also working on a book, as well as a movie at some point.
DJ Prince Hakim Outside of my DJ Producer project, I’m going to release some music under the Prince Hakim brand with more songs and singles like the one with Joe and different other people. That’s really it for now.
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Last modified: June 27, 2023