Coolio was always considered an icon and legendary artist in hip hop, and since his entry into the mainstream in 1987, Coolio brought us quality music. From It Takes A Thief to Gangsta’s Paradise, the Compton rapper has been around since the days of Nu-Skool and WC and the Maad Circle. As one of the many artists from Compton to rise to dizzying heights of fame during the 1990s, Coolio (real name Artis Ivey Jr) was considered to be one of the funniest and most humble rappers of all time.
Born and raised in the Compton area of South Central LA, Ivey was raised by his mother. Influenced by Ice-T, Ivey decided to pursue rap. However, he had many jobs before he made it big. As an adolescent, Ivey attended Compton Community College and, upon graduation, worked several jobs, including as a firefighter and a security officer at Los Angeles International Airport.
Influenced by older artists such as Ice-T, at the age of 24, in 1987, Coolio recorded his debut single titled ‘Whatcha Gonna Do?’. Following this trajectory and keeping an interest in local music, with a bit of networking, in 1988, Ivey managed to find himself working with rap group Nu-Skool for their single, ‘What Makes You Dance (Force Groove)’. Continuing to push and network, a young Coolio began making connections in the LA rap scene. With such a drive and talent to match, by 1991, Coolio ended up working alongside and eventually as a part of the group WC and the Maad Circle. Ivey is credited on the group’s debut album Ain’t a Damn Thang Changed.
Having built a small buzz in LA alongside the group and with such a ubiquitous presence within the LA rap scene, in 1994, Coolio signed to Tommy Boy Records, Coolio remained relatively low-key in Los Angeles until he released his debut solo album, It Takes a Thief. With its powerful and amazing lead single ‘Fantastic Voyage’, the album garnered local attention and received local airplay beginning in LA and spreading to the entirety of California, eventually becoming a track in regular rotation across the American airwaves. The single peaked at number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. This was the start of Coolio’s mainstream career.
Although Coolio’s debut album only peaked at number 8 on the billboard 200, it is now looked at as the rapper’s test-run. Coolio then went on to release an album in 1995. Gangsta’s Paradise.
This is when Coolio’s musical career reached new heights, and he became the Coolio everybody knew and loved. Not even intended for his own album, ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’, the single was recorded as a cut for the soundtrack of the film Dangerous Minds. In spite of 2pac, Snoop Dogg, Biggie Smalls and all the other prominent rappers at the time, Coolio surpassed them all as ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ became one of the most successful rap songs of all time, topping the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks. It is his most renowned single.
Gangsta’s Paradise samples the song ‘Pastime Paradise’ by Stevie Wonder, and tells the story of street life in Compton, however, there are religious undertones to the track with psalms referenced in the lyrics such as,” as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death”. The music video for the track won ‘Best Rap Video’ at the MTV Video Music Awards in 1996 and has gone on to be Coolio’s most popular songs and is heavily used in movies and television.
Coolio went on to produce six studio albums and even won a Grammy for ‘Best Rap Solo Performance’ in 1996, below, we have selected the rapper’s top five songs of all time.
Top 5: The five best Coolio songs of all time
5. ‘C U When U Get There’ – My Soul, (1997)
This track was the lead single from Coolio’s third studio album, My Soul. The track is based on the melody of the renowned classical composition ‘Canon in D Major’ by Johann Pachelbel.
Released in 1997, ‘C U When U Get There’ peaked at number 12 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and was Coolio’s last Top 40 hit in the US. However, it peaked at number three in the UK and was certified gold in the US and Silver in the UK.
4. ‘1, 2, 3,4 (Sumpin’ New)’ – Gangsta’s Paradise,(1996)
‘1, 2, 3, 4’ as it is commonly known, was the third single from Coolio’s most famous album Gangsta’s Paradise. The song, produced by James Carter and Coolio under the alias Poison Ivey, samples vocal segments from ‘Wikka Wrap’ by the Evasions.
The track was highly successful in the US and entered the chart in the top five position, landing and staying at number five for weeks. The track received favourable reviews, with Music Week’s James Hamilton labelling it as an “ultra infectious jiggly rap smacker”.
3. ‘Too Hot’- Gangsta’s Paradise, (1995)
The second single from Coolio’s all too famous second album Gangsta’s paradise. As a Compton native and fan of NWA, it hit Ivey hard when frontman Eazy-Er passed away from AIDS, so much so that the rapper decided to talk about it.
‘Too Hot’ lyrically consists wholly of Coolio preaching about AIDS and how to prevent oneself from getting it. It was released four months after Eazy E died, and despite its negative reviews as being too touchy and a bit commercial, it is heartfelt and genuine, deserving of a place in the top five.
2. ‘Fantastic Voyage’ – It Takes A Thief, (1994)
Coolio’s debut single from his debut album. A milestone in the artist’s career marking the beginning of a journey and a beginning of a legacy. The song produced by Bryan Dobbs samples the 1981 song, ‘Fantastic Voyage’ by Lakeside.
This tune, unlike other Coolio anthems, is not so gritty and akin to Ice Cube’s ‘It Was A Good Day’ is almost a song dedicated to escapism and the idea of mentally placing yourself outside of the hood and the dire situations you are surrounded by. The song charted highly at number three on the Billboard Hot 100 and was certified Platinum.
1. ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ – Gangsta’s Paradise, (1995)
‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ is Coolio’s defining single and one of his best. His only single to sit at the top spot, it was a nationwide anthem upon its release and is still popular to this day. referencing psalms and delving deep, the song is highly dramatic as well as introspective.
Borrowing heavily from Stevie Wonder’s 1976 song ‘Pastime Paradise,’ the track was made for the soundtrack of Dangerous Minds, but ended up winning Coolio a Grammy in 1995 for Best Rap Solo Performance.
With regard to live performances of the song, joined by the New York Boys Choir, Stevie Wonder performed this song with Coolio and L.V. at the 1995 Billboard Music Awards, where it won ‘Single Of The Year’. This song has certainly cemented its place in hip hop history and will still be remembered even though Coolio is no longer with us.