Coolio

Coolio
Release date
01 January 1970
Coolio
01 January 1970 |

Coolio was one of the first rappers to balance pop accessibility with gritty, street-level subject matter and language. Yet despite his nods to hardcore, his music was clearly more happy-go-lucky at heart; he shared the West Coast scene’s love of laid-back ’70s funk, and that attitude translated to his music far more often than Dr. Dre’s Death Row/G-funk axis. Most of Coolio’s hits were exuberant, good-time party anthems, and he created a goofy, ingratiating persona in the videos that supported them. He was also popular with younger audiences and became a favorite on Nickelodeon comedy shows thanks to the thin, spidery dreadlocks that stuck straight out of his head in all directions. In the process, Coolio took the sound of West Coast hip-hop to wider audiences than ever before, including those put off by the rougher aspects of G-funk. A combination of inactivity, legal troubles, and newly emerging rap stars stole Coolio’s thunder in the late ’90s, but by that point he’d helped lay the groundwork for an explosion of hardcore-themed pop-rap, and played an underappreciated role in making hip-hop the mainstream pop music of choice for a new generation.

After high school, he studied at Compton Community College; he also began taking his high school interest in rap to the stage and took his performing name from a dozen contests in which someone called him “Coolio Iglesias.” He became a regular on Los Angeles rap radio station KDAY and cut one of the earlier SoCal rap singles, “Watcha Gonna Do.”

Coolio cut another single, “You’re Gonna Miss Me,”. However, he began making connections in the L.A. hip-hop scene, meeting up with WC and the Maad Circle and guesting on their 1991 debut album, Ain’t a Damn Thang Changed. He then joined a collective dubbed the 40 Thevz and wound up landing a deal with Tommy Boy. Accompanied by DJ Brian “Wino” Dobbs, Coolio recorded his debut album, It Takes a Thief, which was released in 1994. The lead single, “County Line,” was a humorous recounting of the indignities of welfare, but the record really took off when “Fantastic Voyage,” a rap remake of the funk classic by Lakeside, was released as a single. Accompanied by a typically playful video, “Fantastic Voyage” rocketed to number three on the pop charts, pushing It Takes a Thief into the Top Ten and past the platinum sales mark.

Following up his breakthrough success, Coolio teamed up with gospel-trained singer L.V. on a tune based on Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life cut “Pastime Paradise.” “Gangsta’s Paradise” was a social statement about ghetto life, and the music was dark, haunting, and spellbindingly atmospheric. In other words, it was nothing like what the public had come to expect from Coolio, and a less than enthusiastic Tommy Boy discouraged him from putting it on an album, instead placing it on the soundtrack to the film Dangerous Minds, which starred Michelle Pfeiffer as a tough inner-city teacher.

Released as a single, “Gangsta’s Paradise” was a staggeringly huge hit; it became Coolio’s first number one pop single and also the first ghetto-centric rap song to hit number one in the U.K. Its chart longevity was such that, even with the Mariah Carey/Boyz II Men duet “One Sweet Day” setting a new record for most weeks at number one that year, “Gangsta’s Paradise” still managed to beat it out as the number one single of 1995. It was such a phenomenon that when Weird Al Yankovic recorded the parody “Amish Paradise”, the accompanying album Bad Hair Day became his biggest-selling record ever.

Naturally, “Gangsta’s Paradise” was featured on Coolio’s next album, released toward the end of 1995, and naturally, it was the title track. It later won a Grammy for Best Solo Rap Performance.
The triple-platinum Gangsta’s Paradise album kept the hits coming: the bright party anthem “1, 2, 3, 4 (Sumpin’ New)” hit the Top Ten in 1996, and the safe-sex anthem “Too Hot” was fairly popular as well.

Meanwhile, Coolio toured the world, contributed the theme song to the Nickelodeon comedy series Kenan and Kel, and began pursuing an acting career, making his screen debut with a cameo in the 1996 comedy Phat Beach; he would also land a small role in the following year’s Batman and Robin.
Coolio’s third album, My Soul, could well have been expected to be a major event, given his massive success last time out.