Have you ever felt like you’re in the presence of a musical genius? Does music bring you to another level of “feeling”? Do you remember the first concert you ever went to? What’s that one song you always turn on, when either you’re feeling blue, or happy as hell? These are some things that people tend to never forget, and I recently had an interview, with someone I’ll surely never forget, and his name is Hakim Bell.
Now, I’m sure you have all heard about this “little” band from the 70’s/80’s, through today really, called Kool & The Gang. Celebrate good times, c’mon!!! Yeahhhh, you know who I mean!! Well, I had the honor, of meeting the son of Kool, from the band. His name is Hakim Bell, some may know him as DJ Prince Hakim, as he’s known for spinnin’ in the clubs, parties, events … you name it!!
When I finally found my parking spot on Church Street, in Montclair, I breathed in a big breath, and I said to myself, “You got this!”. I’m not gonna lie, I was nervous. Once I found Hakim’s office, I really felt the jitter bugs, which is a good sign, because it meant that I was really excited with what was about to transpire! Here. Goes. Nothing … (knock knock)
Hakim immediately made me feel comfortable. I could tell that he knew I was very new at this, and his patience and kindness will honestly, never be forgotten. We took our respective seats, in his conference room. We sat across from each other, me with my notes, recording device, and he with his computer, and phone not too far away (always working). He was so chill, so cool, so ready to delve in, and just do it. The sign of a true professional, yet so easy to speak with.
So Hakim, growing up, who was your biggest inspiration, other than your father, of course?
“Oh, well RUN DMC, of course. Then, I mean, it changes. As a teenager, it was Run DMC, LL (Cool J), New Edition. I could go on and on.”
If you could eternally be stuck in one year musically, or decade, let’s say, which one?
“The seventies, the eighties were good too, but to be stuck, definitely the 70’s. The music is so amazing. The songs, the instruments … everything.”
What is one subgenre that, in your opinion, doesn’t get the attention it deserves?
“Oh. That’s an interesting question. Umm, I’d say Indie, that’s a good one. The acoustic, the sound … A band called Haim, they are 3 sisters … They’re Indie and have a cool sound, they’re dope, actually.”
What is your opinion regarding old school DJ’ing, where you were spinning on real vinyl, versus today, where technology plays a HUGE part?
“There’s nothing like touching that piece of vinyl, and looking at the grooves, or the scratches in the record, that you make… when you play a record over and over, and you get those grooves… It’s like this … When you first buy a record, it’s nice, it’s shiny, it’s clean, but after you play on it for a year, you know what I mean, those things get nice and grooved. Then looking at the artwork on the cover, flipping it over, and reading who produced it, etc.. Man, there’s just nothing like vinyl! As a matter of fact, I’m giving DJ lessons, out of our Montclair office, on Church Street … Get in contact with me, if you want to learn how to rock the party!! All ages are welcome!!” (Information will be provided below)
Do you think it has hurt the exclusivity for DJ’s having a certain sound, by not using old school vinyl to scratch and tear it up on, versus the use of technology today?
“Ummm, not really, I know what you mean, but not really, because it’s really about what records you’re using in the mix, not the record, itself. So it still comes down to your own vibe, and how you blend your song choice and how you scratch and mix these records in. So you still find your song on iTunes. I think your sound can evolve even more now, because you have access to every song out there, when back then, you had to find the song you wanted, go buy it, etc.. So, I think your sound can evolve, for sure.”
What is one song, that never gets old, no matter how many times you’ve heard it?
“Ohhhh man … ummmm … Jungle Boogie. Yeah, Jungle Boogie NEVER gets old. Master Jammin’ by Stevie Wonder, Off the Wall by Michael Jackson … MAN, we can go on forever. Hall & Oates, I Can’t Go For That. So many, so many.”
When did you go from DJ’ing to Producing/Managing?
“So, while DJing, we were PLAYING the beats that other artists and rappers made. So you start DJ’ing, and now, we want to MAKE the beats, you know, it’s just second nature. Now I want to make these beats, that I’ve been spinnin’, so alright, leave these turntables alone, for a little while, and start producing for the next 10-15 years. And that’s pretty much how I got into that. You know my uncle, co-founder of Kool & The Gang, Ronald Bell, he wrote Jungle Boogie & Celebration, he’s a producer. So, I used to be at his house, as a kid, you know with my cousins, and I would watch him produce. I grew up in the studio.”
Is it fair to say that producing and managing go hand in hand?
“No. Management … man, I got into management, and I only manage one artist, Victoria Skie. I usually sign an artist, in the past, to my production company, meaning … I would take them, find their sound, produce their demo, at my own expense. I would do artist development, meaning, teach them how to walk, how to sing, how to conduct an interview, you know, all that stuff, and put together their sound, identify their sound, put together a demo, all at my expense, that’s what a production company does. So, I left that alone, because we would get so close to getting these artists deals, and then something … either an attitude problem, or they decide not to do it anymore, or they just didn’t cut it for a record label. You know, there was just something they were missing. So, you know, that’s a lot of time and money, so I kinda fell back from doing that, I kinda left messin’ with other artists alone.”
(And then there was Victoria, who in my own opinion, has the voice of an angel.)
Is Victoria your only client, and how did you find her?
“So, I was here, in my office, and I got a call from Joann Smalls, who is the head of Montclair Center Stage, she said, “Hakim, you have to come hear this girl sing”, and I was like “Ohhhhhh, c’mon, what, why”, and she was like, “You HAVE to come hear her!” You know, you hear it allll the time, this trash, lol. So she finally convinced me.. I’m walking down the street, right here on Church Street, and I’m hearing this girl sing, and I get up there and I sat there the whole time (in awe), like WOW! This girl’s got something. So from there, I talked to her parents, and I said, “We need to meet NOW!” So, Joanne told them who I was, and we had a meeting, THAT DAY, and the rest is history … you know, we made a deal, and now I manage her, and of course, it’s based on a couple things, cause I don’t like to promise anybody, anything. I know people think I’m crazy, but I’ll put together a deal, where, look, I’ll say, let’s put together an agreement, XYZ, and it doesn’t go into full effect, unless I deliver on my goal, but I want a certain amount of time to do that. I mean, I’m getting her some major things right now, an interview with you, she sings at BB King’s, I have her booked at the State Fair, etc … So I am doing a lot of managerial stuff, but we’re not makin’ a lot of money, YET!! 🙂 Let’s keep it real, surrounding her with the best team, getting a record deal, and yes, making money … that’s the bottom line. For me personally, it’s to be a part of an artist’s’ career that can be a major star in the world and influence culture, and I believe she can. So, yeah, that’s why I got into the management side of it. You know, I’m not looking to manage a bunch of artists. I’ll be fine with just Victoria, and myself, for now.”
What does it take, to make it in today’s industry? How do you KNOW, when someone has that “IT” factor?
“I just know. I just know. Well, I think I know. You can just tell. It’s good to have a great sounding demo, you know, a great sounding recording, but if you’re talented, a seasoned manager or executive, should be able to recognize great talent, just from a voice recording of you singing your songs. A seasoned executive will recognize that talent right away, and then take that talent, and put it where it needs to be. So, there’s really no excuse. If you’ve got talent, and you’re taking the time to upload your stuff, persistently, they’ll find you, as long as you keep marketing yourself.”
Other than being “sellable or marketable”, meaning the way the artist just looks on the outside, what do you feel are other elements an artist needs, in order to be successful?
“Great body language, great songs, catchy commercial songs … I think you need to be a great songwriter, it’s very important to me, AND it’s YOU, you should want to tell your story. So like the fabulous “Rhianna’s”, or the amazing “Beyonce’s” out there, they may not write their songs, now they may co-write, but they might not fully write them. I think for a true artist, you know, someone like Lady Gaga, or even Victoria, you want to tell your story. Like if something happened to Lady Gaga last night, she’ll write about it today, get on her piano, and write a song about it. Now that’s dope.”
Hakim, your stage name is DJ Prince Hakim, where can we find you?
“I’m gonna start MC’ing … hosting events, and stuff. For right now, it’s DJ’ing, and I also tour with my dad. I used to do about 40 shows with them a year, ‘cause they do about 80, but now I do about 5 – 10 with them.”
I still can’t believe that, after all these years, they are doing 80 shows per year!!
“Yeah, man … you should see their list, and you know, they have guys that have been with them since the 70’s, they have some new guys with them, as well, they have good talent, and you know, my dad is just sitting there on bass, chillin’ in the pocket, he’s not out front spinning and dancing. Sometimes people think that he’s the singer, but ‘Kool’ is actually the bass player, and my uncle, is the original horn player. So, yeah, but even at that, with the planes, and the travel, it’s a lot, but they still look great, and they’re still kickin’ it, man.” 🙂
As a person, who just started my journey in the blog world at 41 years young, THIS motivates me more than ANYTHING, to never stop believing in myself, or my dreams. I hope this is just as motivating for you all. Anything can happen! Anything.
Tell me what else you have going on…
“So, some things I’m excited about this summer are: Booking more shows for Victoria, and putting the finishing touches on her record. Finding the right company to partner up with for her EP. I’ll also be DJ’ing on the 4th of July at Liberty State Park in Jersey City. I’ll also be making my Hampton debut, DJ’ing at the Surf Lodge, and I’ll be making my return Dj’ing at the popular speakeasy, called La Esquina in Soho. Of course, I also offer the DJ lessons, as well.”
Well, Hakim, I think you’re dope! I greatly appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule to sit, and have a wonderful conversation with me. I’m a huge fan of the arts, music especially… and opportunities that are being presented to me, are like a dream come true. I joke a lot about my “age”, and being “old”, but at the end of the day, there is no age to inspiration. I have been inspired beyond words, after this conversation. I am on cloud 9, pursuing my dream, my passion … there’s just nothing more “dope”, if you will!! 😉
Please do yourself a favor, and check out DJ Prince Hakim this summer. Whether it be at a Kool & The Gang Show, in the clubs, or taking some DJ lessons, you won’t be disappointed, that’s for damn sure!!
You can find more information on his website at www.djprincehakim.com, and in the words of Hakim, himself, “DON’T FORGET TO CELEBRATE LIFE!” Peace.