Rapper Coolio, has died age 59; pushed back against “gangsta rap” label

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The rapper with distinctive braids and even more distinctive voice, Coolio has died. According to reports, the 59-year-old rapper collapsed suddenly in Los Angeles while visiting a friend. What is known is the impact Coolio had on modern music and America’s popular culture.

Coolio and 1990s rap

Coolio, whose real name is Artis Leon Ivey, Jr., changed the feel, the energy of so-called “gangsta rap” in the mid-1990s. Reportedly the rapper had begun to make a name for himself in the 1980s. He became an underground sensation. By the 1990s, mainstream audiences would know who Coolio was.

Many audiences would remember that in 1992, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg began transforming rap to hip-hop. Even though the music was several years removed from the heyday of NWA, the label “gangsta rap” stuck. And, Coolio’s work ended up bearing the same label.

Coolio’s music was at home on the dance floor. Instead of the laidback bravado that permeated the popular Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg singles through the use of heavy bass mixed with a classic soul sample, Coolio’s music was often characterized by a thumping energy, and even when the theme was serious, there was an insistence in the chorus and verse that made songs like “Gangster’s Paradise” impossible to ignore.

Coolio had songs included in movies that were popular in the 1990s, helping to ensure his place in popular culture. The movie “Clueless” made effective use of “Rolling With the Homies.” “Gangsta’s Paradise” was featured prominently in the Michelle Pfeiffer movie “Dangerous Minds.”

While people might know Coolio for his most famous songs, they might not know the struggle the star underwent to arrive at stardom. Numerous reports exist of the rapper quitting drugs and drinking before becoming a firefighter.

Coolio also became famous for fighting with parody performer, Weird Al Yankovic. Yankovic had created a parody of “Gangsta’s Paradise” called “Amish Paradise,” and it became publicly known that Coolio was not happy about it. A reaction that the West Coast rapper ultimately regretted. In an interview recounted on ShowbizCheatSheet.com, he reflected that Yankovic had done parodies of Michael Jackson songs, and was reported to have said, “Michael Jackson didn’t get mad.” Coolio seemed to have chalked his reaction up to egotism.

While information about Coolio’s death is still forthcoming, his passing at the relatively young age of 59, creates a dark day for the history of hip-hop.

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