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Coolio, the Grammy-winning Compton rapper who was behind the global hit “Gangsta’s Paradise,” has died. He was 59.
His manager, Jarez Posey, told The Hollywood Reporter that Coolio died Wednesday afternoon at a friend’s house in Los Angeles. “He went to use the bathroom and never came out,” he said. No cause of death was given.
Indelibly associated with West Coast hip-hop and gangsta rap, Coolio reached worldwide success in the mid 1990s with three of his albums — It Takes a Thief (1994), Gangsta’s Paradise (1995) and My Soul (1997) — crossing over into the mainstream, driven by a clutch of more chart-friendly singles, including “Fantastic Voyage,” “1, 2, 3, 4 (Sumpin’ New)” and “C U When U Get There.” The single “Gangsta’s Paradise,” featuring R&B singer L.V., was boosted by its appearance in the 1995 Michelle Pfeiffer drama Dangerous Minds and went on to sell over 5 million copies worldwide.
Coolio composed the theme song for the 1996-2000 Nickelodeon sitcom Kenan & Kel, starring Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell; voiced the character Kwanzaa-bot on Futurama; and appeared in such movies as Dear God (1996), Batman & Robin (1997), Submerged (2000) and Stealing Candy (2003).
“This is sad news. I witness first hand this man’s grind to the top of the industry. Rest In Peace @Coolio,” rapper-turned-actor Ice Cube tweeted.
“Coolio was the West Coast Flavor Flav. He loved telling everyone that. We was supposed to perform together this Tuesday. #RIP my friend,” tweeted Flava Flav. A number of other hip-hop artists and entertainment figures have also responded to Coolio’s death.
Born Artis Leon Ivey Jr. in Monessen, Pennsylvania, on Aug. 1, 1963, Coolio grew up in Compton, California. In interviews, Coolio has said he became a fan of hip hop after hearing “Freedom” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. He was taken by the flow of rapper Melle Mel and said he tried to imitate his style. He was also hugely inspired by LL Cool J and Ice T. He penned his first song at 15.
A regular performer in the Los Angeles rap scene, Coolio joined the group WC and the Maad Circle in 1991 and recorded the album Ain’t a Damn Thang Changed.
He would then go solo and in 1994 signed with Tommy Boy Records which would release his debut studio album It Takes a Thief. The album, which featured classic G-funk beats of the era mixed with Coolio’s more lighthearted take on the gangsta lifestyle, would peak at No. 8 on the Billboard 200, eventually reaching platinum status, and spawned the hit single “Fantastic Voyage.”
The radio-friendly “Fantastic Voyage,” which sampled the 1981 song of the same name by Lakeside, would hit No. 3 on the Billboard singles chart and give the rapper his first crossover hit. F. Gary Gray, who would later go on to direct Friday, The Fate of the Furious and Straight Outta Compton, directed the music video for “Fantastic Voyage.”
Building upon the success and notoriety of It Takes a Thief, Coolio released his second album, Gangsta’s Paradise, in November 1995. At a time N.W.A. members Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and Eazy-E and Ice T were dominating the charts but attracting official opprobrium for glorifying gangsta culture, Coolio was able to find success with chart-friendly music that featured less confrontational lyrics.
Produced by Coolio, Christopher Hamabe, Devon Davis, Doug Rasheed and Bryan “The Wino” Dobbs, Gangsta’s Paradise‘s lyrics delved into the grimmer aspects of street life but maintained a sense of hope. It was a commercial and critical hit, achieving 4 Mics out of 5 in The Source‘s review. The album featured the singles “Gangsta’s Paradise,” “1, 2, 3, 4 (Sumpin’ New)” and “Too Hot.”
Released in August 1995, “Gangsta’s Paradise” interpolates Stevie Wonder’s 1976 song “Pastime Paradise” and begins with a line from Psalm 23:4 — “As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” — before Coolio adds, “I take a look at my life and realize there’s nothin’ left.” The song was a breakout global hit, soaring to No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and reaching the top spot in over 25 countries.
The song featured in the John N. Smith high school drama Dangerous Minds and the accompanying music video, directed by Antoine Fuqua, featured Michelle Pfeiffer reprising her role from the film. The music video has accrued over 1 billion views on YouTube.
The legacy and cultural impact of the “Gangsta’s Paradise” was wide-reaching, and it inspired a parody “Amish Paradise” by “Weird Al” Yankovic which initially Coolio objected to, but in later years the rapper admitted he regretted his early opposition. To this day, the song is included in many Greatest Songs of All Time lists.
On the back of the huge success of “Gangsta’s Paradise,” “1, 2, 3, 4 (Sumpin’ New)” reached No. 5 Billboard Hot 100, and “Too Hot” peaked at No. 24.
Gangsta’s Paradise, the album, peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard 200, and would go on to double platinum status with sales north of 2 million in the U.S. alone, becoming the rapper’s best-selling record. Buoyed by the hit singles, the album also broke through internationally, reaching the top 20 in major markets like Germany, Australia and the U.K.
In 1996, he won the Grammy for best rap solo performance for “Gangsta’s Paradise,” written with Kylian Mash, and received another nomination for Record of the Year. In a stirring rendition at the 38th Annual Grammy Awards, Coolio and L.V. performed the song with a full live orchestra and gospel choir.
The next year, Gangsta’s Paradise was nominated for best rap album. His first of six career Grammy noms was for best rap solo performance for “Fantastic Voyage.”
At the zenith of his success, Coolio’s third studio album, My Soul, quickly followed in August 1997. Despite warm reviews, the record, the rapper’s last on Tommy Boy, failed to recapture the success of Gangsta’s Paradise, and peaked at No. 39 on the Billboard album chart, reaching gold status. The lead single from the album fared a little better, with “C U When U Get There,” which featured the distinctive sample of “Canon in D Major” by Johann Pachelbel, hitting top 20 in the U.S. and numerous countries around the world. The follow-up single, “Ooh La La,” however failed to chart in the U.S. but did internationally.
Coolio would go on to release five more studio albums — Coolio.com (2001), El Cool Magnifico (2002), The Return of the Gangsta (2006), Steal Hear (2008) and From the Bottom 2 the Top (2009) — all independently released, but his star was on the wane as gangsta rap became less popular.
Outside of music, Coolio had a long list of film and television credits, often appearing as himself in genre films and comedies. He was the subject of the 2008 reality show Coolio’s Rules, which lasted six episodes.
He is survived by his six children.
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