Charismatic New Jersey native Hakim Bell, known professionally as Prince Hakim, is an increasingly in-demand DJ who enjoys national popularity. He is also the son of musical royalty, as his father is Kool & the Gang bassist and co-founder Robert “Kool” Bell. But what Hakim may take most pride in these days is his role as president of the Kool Kids Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to improving and/or re-introducing music programs in schools, by providing students with instruments and lessons.
We spoke to Bell ahead of his organization’s largest annual fundraiser, its Celebrity Golf Outing, which takes place at Cedar Hill Golf & Country Club in Livingston, July 12.
Q: Hakim, we’ve seen you just about everywhere lately.
A: (laughs) Yeah, I’m out there moving. It’s been good.
Q: You’ve made appearances on various television shows, released a few singles, and have been doing gigs all over the map. However, you are intimately involved with another entity that is growing quickly, and that’s the Kool Kids Foundation. A featured quote on the foundation’s website says, “We are instrumental in influencing children to find their rhythm and melody, so that we can all live in harmony.” That’s beautiful and it gives people an instant idea of where your organization’s heart is at, but can you put a finer point on what Kool Kids is and what it does?
A: Kool Kids started as something that my mom thought was necessary, and she brought my dad in on the idea and said, “We need to do this.” This is her brainchild. For years, she recognized there was a lack of funding for music in schools and that it would be a good cause for a foundation — helping to raise money to purchase instruments for kids, and helping the programs in schools stay alive. Being that my dad’s a known musician, it all kind of tied in. She wanted to start with schools in Jersey City and Newark and other inner city communities — the types of schools that really need it badly, and my parents both came up out of. She’s unfortunately no longer with us (Sakinah Bell died in 2018), but my brother (Muhammad) and myself and my Dad keep it going now, and are trying to grow it.
Q: When I speak with celebrities who do great work for causes like homelessness or ALS or autism, I’ll ask about their personal connection to the cause. Sometimes there isn’t one, and they’re simply doing it because it’s a problem for civilization that they would like to help solve. In regard to your organization, you actually have great testimony from your own life as to the power of music.
A: Music has done everything for me, man! I come from a musical family, I make my living in music, and I am music. Your heartbeat has a pulse, you know? A rhythm. So life is musical and it supplies you with so many important emotions. I’m a writer and producer, so I always have melodies and musical things floating in my head that I want to get out. I know how important loving it and creating with it can be for someone.
Q: I’m sure you received much of your musical education at home, but did you have music instruction in school?
A: I went to both public and private schools, but we didn’t really have much music instruction. We had choir, you know? But I didn’t come up taking music lessons in school. Our parents put us in piano lessons outside of school, and there was always an instrument around. We were always playing drums and messing around with DJ equipment and all of that stuff, but never in school. We’re trying to change that situation.
Q: You mentioned that you often have melodies in your head — things you have to get out. How important do you think it is for a young person to have a creative outlet to express him or herself?
A: Very. We think exposing them to music when they are very young is important not only for everyone’s development, but to find the geniuses and masters early. This way we can encourage them to seek lessons or join band early so that they can really spark their gift. And at its most basic, it also keeps them off the street and out of trouble.
Q: You mentioned that your parents’ upbringing — hailing from an urban environment in Jersey City — had an influence on their thinking in regard to the type of kids who would really benefit the most from your efforts.
A: Definitely. The inner city community is what they saw and knew coming up, you know? I mean, we want to help everybody — all areas and all races, because we are all God’s children — but my mom wanted to start in the inner city because they need so much. A lot of their budgets get cut first and obviously there are a lot of other issues there. But if we can change one kid, you know, by putting an instrument in their hand or getting them lessons, maybe they’ll go on to do great things. Maybe form the next Kool & the Gang, but in their own way. We need as many people like that as we can help.
Q: One of the many things that I love about your foundation is that even though money is greatly needed — and the more, the better — Kool Kids seek out smart solutions to individual problems. You help cultivate groups of supporters in the entertainment and sports industries, you create educational and literacy programs, and you petition celebrities to promote the “It’s Kool to Stay in School” initiative. You don’t just throw money at problems.
A: Yes, we also do a lot for individuals as well. For example, we met a young lady out of Boston who has a gift for playing piano. She needed a new piano and lessons and her parents couldn’t afford them, so we got her both. She’s 12 years old and now she has an opportunity to learn and practice, so it felt really good to do that. We get excited doing things like that. Currently, I am working with the principal of Weequahic High School (in Newark) so that we can buy them new instruments for their band. I’m just waiting for him to get me the list of what they need. Now, if we can do that around the entire state of New Jersey and then beyond? I mean, that would be great. And that’s the plan.
Q: This isn’t your father’s first foray into trying to give back.
A: No doubt. In the ’80s and ’90s, as Kool & The Gang toured different cities, they would visit schools and promote something called “It’s Kool to Stay in School,” where they would talk to kids about the importance of getting your diploma. They would do Q&A’s and, at one stop, I believe in Oklahoma, some of the kids that came to that program formed the group Color Me Badd, who became very successful. So that sparks the brain, you know? Some talented young kids were part of this program and were able to go on and develop success.
Q: One of the ways that you obtain much needed funding to do all this good work is through an annual golf classic. It’s being held at the Cedar Hill Golf & Country Club in Livingston on July 12. What are the different ways that people can use this occasion to support Kool Kids, whether it be in person or at home?
A: They can help in several ways. They can donate. They can play in the golf tournament, where we can pair them up with a celebrity. They can sponsor a golf cart with their business displayed on the side. Or they can sponsor a table, or even a DJ. You can also hang out at one of the holes and pass out flyers for your business and talk to the guys as they go around. So there are a lot of cool ways you could support the event, or you can just donate through the website. Five dollars, $10, $100,000 … It’s all love, and all appreciated.
Q: People can see pictures from last year’s event on the website, and all the celebrities that were involved.
A: Yes, last year Chris Tucker came out. Ja Rule. Lawrence Taylor. John Starks. Ken Griffey Sr. It was great fun. Everyone had a really good time. The food’s amazing, the drinks and the band are great. We have a DJ on holes No. 5 and 7, and food on No. 8 (laughs). We really do it up, man. People love it.
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