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Finding huge success in the 1990s with the hit, “Gangsta’s Paradise,” Coolio (born August 1st, 1963) helped pave the way for hip hop’s mainstream popularity.
Hailing from Compton, California US, Coolio (born Artis Leon Ivey Jr.) grew up in a poverty-stricken environment, eventually falling foul to the life of violence and crime that surrounded him. Despite showing promise at school, Coolio drifted into the world of gangs, winding up in jail by 17 and addicted to crack cocaine. Despite these issues dampening his creativity, Coolio still became a regular on L.A. radio station, KDAY, through which he displayed promise as an artist.
Upon recovering from addiction, Coolio was determined to get his career back on track. A string of early singles and collaborations led to a deal with Tommy Boy Records, who recorded his debut album, “It Takes a Thief” in 1994. The release featured sociopolitical commentary that dealt with urban life, finding a number three hit with “Fantastic Voyage.” His album climbed the charts into the Top Ten, becoming certified Platinum. Coolio had arrived, finding mainstream success and critical acclaim for his refreshing sound that moved away from the harshness of West Coast gangsta-rap.
Coolio next teamed up with gospel vocalist, L.V. to record “Gangsta’s Paradise,” a track based on Stevie Wonder’s “Pastime Paradise.” A profound statement about life in the Ghetto, the darkly haunting track appeared on the soundtrack for “Dangerous Minds.” After being released as a single in 1995, the song rocketed to the top of the charts, becoming his first number one single, also breaking into the UK market and topping the singles charts there. “Gangsta’s Paradise” set new records for most weeks at number one, becoming one of the biggest singles of the year. The track later appeared on Coolio’s album of the same name that same year, winning ‘Best Solo Rap Performance’ at the Grammy Awards.
The album went on to sell triple-Platinum, bolstered by further hits, “1, 2, 3, 4 (Sumpin’ New)” and “Too Hot.” World tours followed before his third record, “My Soul” saw release (1997). However, a changing musical landscape meant it failed to live up to its predecessor’s success, overshadowed by the Biggie/2-Pac deaths that occurred the same year.
Coolio then found trouble with the law, having being charged by German authorities for his involvement in a shop altercation in 1997. At home in California, US, Coolio was also arrested for dangerous driving and for carrying a concealed weapon. Yet Coolio continued to progress his music career, setting up his own label, Crowbar. Coolio also appeared in a number of film roles, helping to branch out from the world of rap, establishing his presence as an actor.
Coolio continued to release albums, to which he found moderate success, maintaining his prominence in hip hop. As well as his musical efforts, Coolio also became involved in charitable causes later in his career, acting as a spokesperson on issues of climate change and environmental justice, as well as supporting the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.