The ’90s was a time of high-top sneakers, velvet chokers, Tamagotchis, loads of denim and the most iconic rap song of its time, ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’.
Created by rap artist Coolio (formally known as Artis Leon Ivey Jr.), the 1995 track is in simple terms, a global phenomenon. This ultimate throwback track is a reflection of the life of a gangsta, combining rap, popular culture and inspiring lyrics.
Coolio made his mark in hip hop forever with this song in ’95, with an unprecedented response from the public which still resonates today. The song’s creation also helped people through the rough times in their life, with its original meaning changing from what it was intended – according to the rap artist himself.
“It was a long time ago anyway, I had one view of what it was; a ‘hood song. Then I found out that I couldn’t really do that anymore because it meant so many different things to so many different people that I just let it develop on its own and let it create its own space,” he says of the song which quickly became a social statement about ‘ghetto’ life.
“I actually believe that the song gave me some type of divine intervention because it just came, and I wasn’t something that I really had to think about. I wrote the song so quickly it was almost as if I always knew it.”
With the hit gaining worldwide attention, it comes as a surprise that it was written in just under two hours. “I wrote it in an hour and a half or so, I mean it was written and recorded within four hours of me hearing it. It just happened like that, I can’t really explain it.”
With Coolio’s thoughtful lyrics, distinct verbal flow and its hook lifted from Stevie Wonder’s 1976 track ‘Pastime Paradise’, ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ is powerful and impossible to ignore, earning it the name as the best rap song of all time. However, the 53-year-old straight outta Compton explains a few swear words were removed as a “conscious choice”.
“In the original, we did have a few curse words in there but in order for me to get Stevie Wonder to sign off on it, there was a list of words that after he listened to it, these were the words that he changed and that’s what I had to do. But it’s equally as strong, it didn’t need them. Not at all.”
With over 17 million records sold worldwide and eight studio albums behind him, Grammy award-winning and multi-platinum recording artist, the ’90s star cites today’s West Coast rapper Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy performance  as the “best Grammy hip hop performance of all time”, and reflects on his own Grammy award as just merely been part of something bigger.
“I thought my Grammy performance was pretty good. But I feel like his [Lamar’s] jumps over mine by leaps and bounds – he’s an important artist. There’s not one particular moment that stands out more than others, winning a Grammy was just another day for me. I don’t look at moments like that, I look at it as a whole. I try not to think about those in particular as more important than the others.”
With his holistic view on his music and career, Coolio proves he hasn’t given up on music, continuing to perform and tour worldwide with this year’s release of a five song EP ‘Long Live The Thief’. The first single released from the EP ‘Kill Again’ discusses gang violence with the intention of forcing the nation to talk about change.
“I don’t vary away [sic] from my beliefs very much and the things that I feel passionate about,” he says of his music, “Just because you might not see me doing them [sharing his beliefs] when you first hear about me or when you realise that I’m still around, I just do my thing and try to do it to the best of my ability. When it comes to recording, it’s kind of weird almost, being able to still be around at this time and still have a chance to be heard by the masses at any given point in time because of the internet.”
A survivor of tremendously challenging life lessons who is still embracing creating music, Coolio is not only an artist known around the world as a musical phenomenon, but also a cooking master of reinvention launching his book, ‘Cookin’ with Coolio: 5 Star Meals at a 1 Star Price’, in 2009 and filming his own cooking show ‘Cookin’ with Coolio’.
“The new cookbook is almost ready, and I’ve already started recording episodes for the new show. I am absolutely a gourmet chef and I have a refined palette. I like fusion – I fuse anything with black,” he laughs, “I be blazing, I do Blitalian [Black Italian], Blasian [Black Asian], I do whatever. There’s no rules for me.”
Taking time out from behind the stove, Coolio is returning to the Australian stage next month alongside a slew of other ’90s favourites, including Vanilla Ice, Salt N Pepa, Color Me Badd, Tone Loc and Young MC for the ‘I Love the ’90s’ Tour. However, this performance will be something different for the American rapper and those ready to reminisce, with the use of a live backing band performing both old hits and new ones.
“I chose to go with the live band feel more so than a DJ so it makes it a good combination, a good mix up I think. I try to do it as often as I can but it can get kind of hectic because you have to deal with more than just two or three personalities, I don’t really bring a lot of people on my own but because of how this tour goes we have absolutely need it, so we’ll figure it out as we go,” he says.
“The live format takes my show to the next level and I was always going to be doing that, I’m going to try and be on that next level.”
It probably goes without saying at this point, nostalgia will never die with this ’90s show.
Written by Talia Rinaldo
When & Where: Hisense Arena, Melbourne – Wednesday June 7
Tickets via ticketek.