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RIP Coolio! How the ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ rapper won over Kenyan fans

By Hilary Kimuyu September 29th, 2022 3 min read

American rapper Coolio, who rose to the national spotlight in the 1990s with his Grammy-winning hit Gangsta’s Paradise, is dead.

He was 59.

The artist, whose real name is Artis Leon Ivey Jr, passed away at a friend’s house, his longtime manager, Jarez Posey, told the Associated Press and other outlets including TMZ, Rolling Stone and Variety.

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

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In 1997, the rapper made his debut in sub-Saharan Africa when he performed in Kenya at a sold-out concert.

When the internationally acclaimed rapper from East Los Angeles made landed in the country, he was struck by one thing – black people in power.

“This is the first time other than Brazil…I’ve ever been to a place that’s governed by blacks…a place where it’s normal to see a dark-skinned person,” he told reporters back then.

His sell-out performance in Nairobi confirmed his popularity as a rapper who’s won the rare combination of mainstream success and critical acclaim.

He said in interviews that he started rapping at 15 and knew by 18 it was what he wanted to do with his life, but would get to community college and work as a volunteer firefighter and in airport security before devoting himself full-time to the hip-hop scene.

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His first album It Takes a Thief contained the hit single Fantastic Voyage and sold over a million.

But it was Gangsta’s Paradise, which sold in excess of three million in the United States alone and was a top-selling album around the world, that broke Coolio onto the international stage.

For Artis Ivey, as his close family know him, it was a long hard struggle to get to the top of the music industry and one he almost gave up after nearly 20 years in the business.

Since the success of Gangsta’s Paradise, he went on to win a Grammy for Best Solo Rap performance, an American Music Award for Favourite Rap Artist and a World Music Award for Best Selling Rap Artist.

During his career, he campaigned to dispel myths about rap music glorifying violence and revenge.

But one incident threatened the artist’s otherwise faultless credentials as a street boy made good.

He was accused of assaulting a German shop assistant a few months after his Nairobi performance when she allegedly tried to prevent him and six band members from leaving a boutique with clothes they had not paid for.

The woman claimed that Coolio shoved her aside and elbowed her in the stomach.

Following his musical successes, Coolio branched out into business, opening his talent management company “Crowbar”.

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He’s appeared on several hit soundtracks and ventured once into acting and appeared in multiple movies and TV shows over the past two decades, including Judgment Day, Daredevil, The Green Hornet and Pain & Gain.

He also wrote and performed Aw, Here It Goes, the theme song for Kenan & Kel, the popular comedy sitcom that aired on Nickelodeon from 1996 to 2000.

But he’s turned down a host of TV roles, dismissing them as “bullshit gangsta parts”.

Coolio — so named after a friend who compared him to Spanish crooner Julio Inglesias. He was married to Josefa Salinas from 1996 to 2000. They had four children together.

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