50th Anniversary of Hip-Hop: The Influence of Kool & The Gang
with Robert "Kool" Bell
2023 marks the 50th anniversary of hip-hop — a musical genre that emerged as a cultural phenomenon in 1973.
Robert “Kool” Bell of the Grammy Award-winning Kool & the Gang joins host Tetiana Anderson for a conversation on the group’s influence on the musical genre, then and now — as one of the most sampled groups in hip-hop history.
July 31, 2023
Anderson: In 1973 at a house party in The Bronx, New York, the style, movement, and culture we now know as hip hop was born. In the decades that followed, hip hop has topped the charts, shaped fashions, inspired visual arts, and empowered social justice movements. The musical genre has produced legendary figures who've made significant contributions to the art form and their global influence can still be felt today in the work of contemporary artists. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Sampling is a musical technique where a snippet of an existing recording is cut and reused in a new piece of music. It's a vital part of hip hop and Kool & the Gang is one of the most sampled R&B bands in hip hop music history. With their signature sound, the group has sold more than 70 million albums worldwide, with hit songs like "Celebration," "Ladies Night," "Jungle Boogie," and "Get Down on It." The band has won Grammy Awards, American Music Awards, and several gold and platinum albums. Joining me today is one of the group's founding members, Robert "Kool" Bell. And, Robert, thank you so much for being here.
Bell: Thanks for having me. Anderson: So, you know, Kool & the Gang is one of the most sampled groups worldwide. How powerful has your group's influence been on the world of music and the world of hip hop?
Bell: Well, there's been several samples, like with Will Smith, with "Summer Madness." He came up with "Summertime." Diddy and Mase, they recorded the song bad boy, bad girl. There's been a lot of samples. I was told 1,800. I don't -- I had to put somebody on sample patrol because I can't believe it's that many. But we are the most sampled band in the world, so, we're thankful for that.
Anderson: So, the 50th anniversary of hip hop is upon us, so, I've got to ask you about the new music versus the old music and it seems that new music is, somehow, always influenced by the old. I mean, what does that tell you about the timelessness of old hip hop, when it comes to the rhymes, the stories, and the beats?
Bell: Well, they taking the samples and created their own style and sound, but at the same time, when doing that, you have to honor where it came from. And I think a lot of the parents will say, "Well, you know, that guitar part sound came from the song “Get Down on It” or “Ladies Night” or “Summer Madness.' So, we're thankful for that, to be around 50 years.
Anderson: So, you've gone from R&B sensation to a man who has influenced a whole genre of music, to, today, being a philanthropist and somebody who is giving back. Tell us a little bit about the work that you're doing today.
Bell: We have a project called the Kool Kids Foundation, that my wife founded before she passed, and she wanted to bring music back into the schools. And so I was able to help her with that before she passed it to my sons, Hakim and Muhammad, who's running the Kool Kids Foundation. It's been very successful. I also did a project called The Children of Africa and that was before the late Nelson Mandela. We brought the awareness of our children in Africa and around the world. So, we feel that's very important, you know?
Anderson: It's extremely important. Your work really focuses on the preservation of music across the country within the education system. What is so dangerous? What would be so dangerous if children no longer had that access to music education? What's your fear?
Bell: Well, I think that having music education helps the children because, you know, I have been told that they learn singing different songs and it kind of helps them in studying or reading or dealing with history and et cetera, et cetera.
Anderson: You, obviously, are doing a lot of philanthropic work now, but you have not lost your passion for music. In 2023, you released a new song called "Let's Party." Tell us a little bit about where you go, personally, from here with your music.
Bell: Well, "Let's Party," my partner, George Brown, came up with that song and the title of an album that we have coming out, which is called "People Just Wanna Have Fun." Now, before that, we had a song called the "Pursuit of Happiness" in "Perfect Union." I think we need that in the world today, too.
Anderson: And why do you think we need that today, especially? I mean, we're coming out of COVID. Is there something that, you know, your listeners are demanding that you want to supply for them?
Bell: Yeah, like, you know, people just wanna have fun, you know, after two years of COVID and, make it quick, we did a big concert last year. We played, we did 20 shows all throughout Europe and people just wanted to have fun. They wanted to hear "Get Down on It" and "Celebration." Let's have a good time.
Anderson: And I cannot let you go without talking about the future of music and the future of hip hop, specifically. Where do you hope that it evolves in the future?
Bell: Well, hip hop is involved in just about a little bit of everything. I mean, you look at Snoop Dogg or you look at Jay-Z and look what he's doing, you know. They're building their own little empires, you know. So, 50 years, I think it's still going to be around, maybe 50 more, who knows?
Anderson: Robert "Kool" Bell, founder of Kool & the Gang, thank you so much for being here.
Bell: Thanks for having me.
Anderson: And thanks to you for watching as well. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, visit... I'm Tetiana Anderson.