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Al Jazeera
Al Jazeera

Rapper Coolio of ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ fame dies at 59

Singer Coolio performs on his Oxygen Network reality series Coolio's Rules in 2008 in Beverly Hills, California [File: Fred Prouser/Reuters]

Coolio, the rapper among hip hop’s biggest names during the 1990s with hits including Gangsta’s Paradise and Fantastic Voyage, has died at age 59.

Born Artis Leon Ivey Jr, the artist died at the Los Angeles home of a friend, longtime manager Jarez Posey said on Wednesday. The cause of death was not immediately clear.

Coolio won a Grammy award for best solo rap performance for Gangsta’s Paradise, the 1995 hit from the soundtrack of the film, Dangerous Minds, in which Michelle Pfeiffer starred, which sampled Stevie Wonder’s 1976 song Pastime Paradise and was played constantly on MTV.

In an interview more than 10 years later with Britain’s The Voice talent show, Coolio said he had “no clue” the song would go on to endure for so many years.

“I didn’t write Gangsta’s Paradise – it wrote me,” he said. “It was its own entity, out there in the spirit world, trying to find its way to the world, and it chose me as the vessel to come through.”

The Grammy, and the height of his popularity, came in 1996 during a fierce feud between the hip-hop communities of the two US coasts, which would take the lives of Tupac Shakur and The Notorious BIG soon after.

Coolio managed to stay mostly above the conflict.

Career takes off

Born in Monessen, Pennsylvania south of Pittsburgh, Coolio moved to Compton, California. He spent some time as a teen in northern California, where his mother sent him because she felt the city was too dangerous.

His career took off with the 1994 release of his debut album on Tommy Boy Records, It Takes a Thief. Its opening track, Fantastic Voyage, would reach No 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. A year later, Gangsta’s Paradise would become a No 1 single.

The rapper would never again have a song nearly as big as Gangsta’s Paradise, but had subsequent hits with 1996’s 1, 2, 3, 4 (Sumpin’ New) and 1997’s C U When U Get There.

His career album sales totalled 4.8 million with 978 million on-demand streams of his songs, according to Luminate, a music sales data provider. He would be nominated for six Grammys overall.

He later pursued an acting career including nabbing a part in 1997’s Batman and Robin and making a number of television cameos, including on the hit 1990s show The Nanny.

He had occasional legal troubles including a 1998 conviction in Stuttgart, Germany, where a boutique shop owner said he punched her when she tried to stop him from taking merchandise without paying. Coolio was sentenced to six months probation and fined $30,000.

He was married to Josefa Salinas from 1996 to 2000. They had four children together.

World reacts

Celebrities and fans were quick to react by posting their condolences on social media.

“This is sad news,” Ice Cube said on Twitter. “I witness first hand this man’s grind to the top of the industry. Rest In Peace, Coolio.”

“Weird Al” Yankovic tweeted “RIP Coolio” along with a picture of the two men hugging.

Coolio said in an interview at the time it was released that he was not happy with Yankovic’s 1996 Gangsta’s Paradise parody, Amish Paradise. But the two later made peace.

Rapper Vanilla Ice said he was “freaking out” over the news that his “good friend Coolio passed away”.

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