From reality television to Gangsta’s Paradise, Coolio was a stern rapper who won hearts over.
Coolio the rapper had a distinctive hairdo with signature twists that rested on top of his head like Medusa’s snakes. Even though no one ever copied it, it was a style that epitomised 1990s hip-hop as much as Tupac’s nose piercing and Flavor Flav’s clock chain (perhaps only Coolio had the dexterity to thread those thin braids through the holes of his baseball cap).
The rapper, whose true name was Artis Leon Ivey Jr., passed away on Wednesday at a friend’s residence in Los Angeles, according to his management. The 59-year-old played a pivotal role in popularising west coast hip-1970s-inspired hop’s R&B sound, or what would later be called G-funk.
He was a natural emcee who spoke with the fervour of a man driving a lowrider through the city, another one of his pastimes. Despite his considerable talent, which is particularly evident in his early work (Coolio recorded his debut single in 1987), he can be summarised in one song: Paradise for Gangsters
That song ruled the airwaves and served as the lead single for a second album of the same name. It was also used on the soundtrack for the 1995 Michelle Pfeiffer movie Dangerous Minds. It was maybe the start of rap music actually becoming popular. On the route to becoming triple platinum,
It topped the charts in 14 different nations and occupied the top two slots on Billboard’s US Hot 100 list. The song video, which was produced by Pfeiffer and was directed by Antoine Fuqua of The Equalizer, dominated music television and has now topped 1 billion views on YouTube.
The song, which incorporates Stevie Wonder’s Pastime Paradise and a booming church choir, perhaps shows off Coolio at his most dejected. Still, it was too mesmerising to get away from. In reference to his hallmark song, which Entertainment Weekly named “the bleakest music to ever top the pop charts,” Coolio would explain, “It selected me as the vessel.” Idolator went even farther and dubbed it “rap rhapsody.”
Gangsta’s Paradise achieved more for Coolio than only outperform the competition and win a Grammy. Even “Weird Al” Yankovic’s spoof Amish Paradise, which had the satirist’s bespectacled face and Coolio-inspired hair on the album cover, reached No. 53 on the Hot 100 chart in 1996. In some respects,
It’s fitting that the target of this parody—Coolio, who first thought he was being clowned—became the source of his most prominent rap feud. It didn’t help that Dangerous Minds would later be seen as somewhat of a joke, however, with its overt white saviour undertones.
But over time, the rapper grew to view Amish Paradise as the ultimate ode after earning several royalty checks, according to Yankovic, who maintained his respect for Coolio throughout. He did Michael Jackson, after all. It was Prince. In an appearance on the YouTube programme Hot Ones in 2016, Coolio remarked, “You know, folks who were clearly more gifted than I am.
It isn’t given enough credit because Coolio, who produced eight studio albums and worked with artists ranging from Janet Jackson to Kenny Rogers, established the tone for artists like Snoop Dogg and Busta Rhymes.
He also doesn’t receive enough credit for creating G-funk classics like Fantastic Voyage, 1, 2, 3, and 4 (Sumpin’ New), which still pack dance floors today. He demonstrated that a rapper could be gangsta and outgoing with his hair, his bouncing lowriders, and his all-around laid-back attitude.
Since the late-Wednesday news of his death surfaced, condolences have flooded in from all around. Pfeiffer expressed her “heartbreak” over Coolio’s demise on Instagram, and Hillary Clinton called his passing “a tremendous loss.” Ice Cube tweeted, “I witness [sic] first hand this man’s slog to the top of the business.” He was recalled as a “great man who will be missed” by the musician Bret Michaels.