Music icons pay tribute to Compton rapper Coolio

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By Shirley Hawkins

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — Coolio, the colorful rapper who grew up in Compton, was remembered by many of his fellow rappers and other celebrities after his death was announced Sept. 28.

Rapper Ice Cube took to Twitter after learning of his death, writing, “This is sad news. I witnessed first hand this man’s grind to the top of the industry. Rest in peace.”

M.C. Hammer wrote, “One of the nicest dudes I have known. Good people. R.I.P. Coolio.”

Snoop Dogg simply wrote: ‘Gangsta’s Paradise. R I P.’

LL Cool J wrote: ‘Rest in power, my brother. @Coolio Love and Respect.’

Even Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, a huge rap fan, weighed in posting “Exactly where he is now! GANGSTA’s PARADISE” on his Instagram page.

Coolio, whose iconic rap tunes encapsulated West Coast hip-hop from the 1990s, died at a friend’s house in Los Angeles. His manager told that Coolio — whose real name was Artis Leon Ivey Jr. — collapsed in a bathroom at a friend’s house. When he didn’t come out of the bathroom, the friend went inside and found the rapper on the floor.

According to the website, paramedics were called but were unable to revive him, and he was pronounced dead at the scene. He was 59.

He is survived by his ex-wife, Josefa Salinas, and his 11 children. His family said he did not want a funeral and asked to be cremated.

His family and management team posted a message to fans on his Facebook page Oct. 1 that said: “On behalf of Coolio’s family and team, we wish to thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers during this difficult time. Sharing music with a world audience was his passion and we thank all of you for your love through the years. Please take a few moments to crank up your favorite tune and dance. This is the true power of music and is the greatest tribute you can give.”

The rapper was born Aug. 1 1963 in Monessen, Pennsylvania, but moved with his family to Compton as a child.

His first two albums, “Gangsta’s Paradise” and “It Takes a Thief,” were massive commercial successes that catapulted him to international fame.

“Gangster’s Paradise” had religious overtones with its somber gongs playing in the background over lyrics about a gun-toting 23-year-old who kneels in the streetlight wondering if he’ll live to see age 24. Coolio would later claim that the song ultimately came from a source outside of himself.

‘“Gangsta’s Paradise’ wanted to be born; it wanted to come to life, and it chose me as the vessel,” he once said.

“Gangsta’s Paradise” topped the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks and won Coolio a Grammy award for best rap solo performance in 1996. It was used as the theme song to the 1995 film “Dangerous Minds.”

The song also won two MTV Video Music Awards for Best Rap Video and Best Video from a Film and a Billboard Music Award for the song/album.

After attending Compton Community College, Coolio worked as a volunteer firefighter and security guard at Los Angeles International Airport before entering rap contests that launched his career.

Widely recognized for his trademark twisted braids that sprouted like tree branches from his head, Coolio recorded the singles “Watcha Gonna Do” and “You’re Gonna Miss Me” in the late 1980s, before joining group WC and the Maad Circle in 1991.

Three years later, he had his breakout moment as a solo artist with the single “Fantastic Voyage,” from his debut album “It Takes a Thief,” which was released by Tommy Boy Records. The single itself sold more than six million copies worldwide and came from his four-time platinum-selling, Grammy-nominated album of the same name.

The versatile Coolio wore many hats. Not only was he a rapper, but he also was an accomplished chef, a record producer and an actor.

He was featured in more than 100 movies, according to the Internet Movie Database.

Younger audiences might better know him from his theme song and intro to the hit Nickelodeon comedy series “Kenan and Kel” followed by a reality show about parenting called “Coolio’s Rules.” He also provided a voice for an episode of the animated show “Gravity Falls.”

Actress Michelle Pfeiffer, who appeared with Coolio in the video “Dangerous Minds,” the lead single on the film’s soundtrack, said, “I remember him being nothing but gracious. Thirty years later I still get chills when I hear [‘Gangsta’s Paradise’]. Sending love and light to his family. Rest in Power, Artis Leon Ivey Jr.”

New York rapper Flava Flav lamented the loss, writing: “Coolio was the West Coast Flavor Flav. … He loved telling everyone that. We were supposed to perform together this Tuesday. RIP my friend. Rest in Gangsta’s Paradise my friend.”

Locally, several residents expressed their shock and grief over the death of the beloved rapper.

“Coolio was one of the founding members who put Compton on the map when he was with a group called WC and the Maad Circle,” said Inglewood resident Lonye Tucker. “Then he went off on his own and recorded ‘Gangsta’s Paradise.’ One of my favorite songs he did was ‘County Line,’ which describes the experience of spending all day in the welfare building to get your food stamps. I thought that (song) was hilarious.”

Mobelini Williams, a music producer, rapper and songwriter and a friend of Coolio for 29 years, recalls that “Coolio would sign autographs and talk to every fan, no matter where he was in the world.” Williams said he performed the song “Gangsta’s Paradise” with the rapper on stage “over a thousand times.”

“Coolio had just completed an extensive tour in Europe at the beginning of the summer where he performed in Switzerland, Germany and France,” Williams recalls.

Coolio had been due to perform in Europe in the coming weeks, with performances in Germany booked for October.

“Coolio was a hell of a performer and a great entertainer,” Williams said. “He had a sense of humor that came out of nowhere. He always had great energy and always had something positive to say. I will miss him.”

Shirley Hawkins is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers. She can be reached at


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