Coolio, the rapper best known for his hit “Gangsta’s Paradise,” has died, report TMZ and Rolling Stone. Citing his longtime manager, TMZ alleged that the rapper passed away unexpectedly while at a friend’s house on Wednesday night (September 28). He was 59 years old.
Born Artis Leon Ivey Jr. on August 1, 1963, Coolio moved from his hometown of Monessen, Pennsylvania to Compton, California where he then attended the local community college. Coolio was a crack addict and juvenile offender, but decided to become a volunteer firefighter and picked up a job as security at the Los Angeles airport to kick the habit and pursue a better future. It was then that he turned to music as a way to escape his problems.
When he was 24 years old, Coolio recorded his first-ever single, “Whatcha Gonna Do?” and followed it with “What Makes You Dance (Force Groove)” the following year. After befriending others in the Los Angeles scene, Coolio eventually joined the hip-hop group WC and the Maad Circle and contributed to their 1991 debut album, Ain’t a Damn Thang Changed.
Riding local success, Coolio signed to Tommy Boy Records in 1994 and released his debut solo album, It Takes a Thief. Lead single “Fantastic Voyage” launched him into a new tier of fame, thanks in part to the song’s music video landing heavy rotation on MTV. It peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and helped the album reach Platinum status.
In 1995, Coolio dropped his most famous single, “Gangsta’s Paradise,” for the movie Dangerous Minds. It topped the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks and became a staple on MTV and radio stations. The following year, “Gangster’s Paradise” earned Coolio a Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance and helped spawned one of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s most popular parody songs, “Amish Paradise.” Coolio’s sophomore studio album, Gangsta’s Paradise, included the titular song upon its release in 1995 alongside the singles “1, 2, 3, 4 (Sumpin’ New)” and “Too Hot.” The album earned him two more Grammy nominations in 1997, including Best Rap Album and Best Rap Solo Performance for “Sumpin’ New.”
After releasing his third album My Soul and its single “C U When U Get There” in 1997, Coolio would go on to release five more studio albums, the most recent being 2009’s From the Bottom 2 the Top. Although he fell under the genre umbrella of gangsta rap, Coolio bristled with the term and its implications. “Gangsta rap is a derogatory label,” he told the Independent. “We was rapping about our reality. They should have been calling it reality rap, or street rap, inner city rap. They just chose to call it gangsta rap to make people afraid of it. I don’t consider myself a gangsta rapper. But I’m probably more qualified to be a gangsta rapper than people who call themselves that. I’ve been through that life.”
Coolio took on additional work in TV throughout his career, making appearances on shows like Martin, Dangerous Minds, the Nanny, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Futurama, and Gravity Falls. (“I love cartoons,” he once said in an interview. “I’m just a big kid.”) He also famously rapped the theme song for the Nickelodeon series Kenan & Kel, “Aw Here It Goes.” Later on, Coolio pursued a career as a chef, releasing the cookbook Cookin’ With Coolio and creating a 2008 web series of the same name.
After learning of his death, Coolio’s friends and peers took to social media to pay tribute to the late rapper. “Coolio is a legend who has inspired a generation of artists to unapologetically share their visions with the world. We are beyond grateful Coolio shared his talents with us, and at the same time, we are extremely saddened to be a bookend on his amazing musical journey,” wrote Casual, the label who released Coolio’s last single, in a statement. Ice Cube, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Snoop Dogg, Martin Lawrence, Ice-T, Flavor Flav, Questlove, Blondie, and MC Hammer have also shared tributes.