Synopsis of Pop Music

"Been spending most our lives,
Livin' in a gangsta's paradise..."

In the mid-1990’s, West Coast rap became very popular on both the r&b and pop charts. A lot of these West-Coast rappers tended towards dark lyrics and a hard-edged sound that soon became known as ‘gangsta rap,’ but a notable exception to this style was provided by Coolio. This shock-haired rapper scored some big hits in the mid-90’s with smooth, lush-sounding rap hits like “Fantastic Voyage” and “Gangsta’s Paradise.” His ability to be truthful to street roots while remaining upbeat and socially conscious made him one of the most popular and critically-praised rappers of the 1990’s.

Like many West-Coast rappers, Coolio was born and raised in Compton, California. He was always into music and began rapping when it became a popular trend in the late 1970’s. After high school, he chose to pursue his music at a community college. Once there, he earned his distinctive moniker when a fellow student saw him dressed in a country-style shirt and playing a guitar. The student said “Who do you think you are, Coolio Iglesias?,” unknowingly giving this future star a catchy name that was easy to remember. The newly-named rapper became a part of L.A.’s growing rap scene during the 1980’s, working alongside other future rap stars like Dr. Dre in the rap collective The World Class Wreckin’ Crew.

On his own, Coolio recorded “Whatcha Gonna Do?,” one of the first L.A. rap records. As he recorded other songs like “You’re Gonna Miss Me” and “County Line,” he developed a smooth rap style that downplayed grimness and machismo in favor of a sense of mellow good humor. This style paid off in 1994 with the release of It Takes A Thief, a fun collection that mixed smooth electronic grooves and well-chosen samples with Coolio’s smooth raps. It also spawned a major hit in “Fantastic Voyage,” a song that took its sample from the Lakeside classic of the same name. This spacey jam became a #3 smash as It Takes A Thief went platinum.

Coolio consolidated the success of It Takes A Thief by opening for r&b megastar R. Kelly on his successful tour in the fall of 1994. The next year, Coolio scored another smash hit when he recorded a song for the soundtrack of the film Dangerous Minds. “Gangsta’s Paradise” was a socially conscious critique of ghetto life and attitudes that borrowed its unique Middle Eastern-flavored sample from the Stevie Wonder classic “Pastime Paradise.” It was further fleshed out with powerful guest vocal from gospel singer LV and full-blooded background harmonies from a gospel choir. The effective combination of all these elements made “Gangsta’s Paradise” a #1 hit and the biggest rap single of the year.

At the end of 1995, Coolio released an album entitled Gangsta’s Paradise, which was as successful as the single that gave it its title. The next year, Coolio won the Best Rap Solo Performance Award honor at the Grammy Awards for “Gangsta’s Paradise.” This influential rap song also inspired a memorable parody tune from "Weird Al" Yankovic entitled “Amish Paradise” (which Coolio, whose label had given permission for the parody without Coolio's consent, resented greatly).

In 1997, Coolio released his next album, My Soul. He remains active as a recording and touring artist and also makes the occasional appearance on television shows like The Hollywood Squares. There is no doubt that the influence of his silky grooves will be felt in the rap world for a long time to come.

Artist Release History

1994 - It Takes A Thief
1995 - Gangsta’s Paradise
1997 - My Soul

Pop Sub Categories

hip hop

Essential Music Albums

Gangsta’s Paradise (Tommy Boy)

Band Members

Coolio  vocals

Other Pop Music Links