The entertainment world came to a halt on Wednesday with the news that hip-hop icon Coolio had died at the age of 59. At one point he was the biggest rap star in the world, and his streak of singles in the ’90s achieved a level of ubiquity few achieve, most notably the LV-supported “Gangsta’s Paradise” from the “Dangerous Minds” soundtrack . The song was written at a time when public interest in film music was at an all-time high.
But Coolio’s artistic success aside, his status as a hip-hop legend is one that bridges the pop culture divide without being accused of compromising his credibility. He wasn’t just an entry point for a generation of hip-hop fans; he also built the bridge over the chasm and crossed it with them.
Adequate contextualization of Coolio requires at least looking back at the impact of his 1994 album It Takes a Thief before Gangsta’s Paradise. The LP was released at the height of gangsta rap’s most brooding and stigmatized. It included a massive hit on “Fantastic Voyage,” which firmly established Coolio as someone with verifiable street cred who could canalize Lakeside’s 1980 true-school hip-hop/R&B single of the same name and rework it with cutting-edge aesthetics. It was a track that could – and would – cross over to pop audiences without trying to cross it; MTV’s 1994 Year in Review even singled it out as one of the year’s most important singles, able to look back on the genre’s recent past without sounding dated or overly nostalgic.
It was “Fantastic Voyage” that brought Coolio onto the stage of Nickelodeon’s hugely popular children’s sketch show All That – part of Saturday night’s time-defining “Snick” line-up. Reflecting on his performance today, the way Coolio has engaged with the program is very special.
Though some acts visibly called out or had reservations about appearing on a kids’ show, Coolio put it all into his pre-performance skit featuring Kel Mitchell’s recurring Ed from Good Burger character, and then rocked the crowd of youngsters, many of whom probably experienced her first live rap show. But its influence stretched far beyond the famed Nickelodeon Studios at Universal Studios in Florida — it was a generation that saw its hip-hop awakening in front of televisions.
Which made Coolio’s performance even more special in the end was his timing and the relationship he forged with Nickelodeon’s young viewers. Later that year, as “Gangsta’s Paradise” and its subsequent album and subsequent singles became the biggest things in hip-hop and pop music, Coolio continued to appear on Nickelodeon.
Most importantly, he did it without turning to a kid-friendly corporate network. He was a hip-hop megastar who, in between appearances on Saturday Night Live and the Grammys, did the theme music for Nickelodeon’s sketch comedy series Kenan and Kel and was featured in the network’s annual fundraiser, The Big Help occurred in the 1990s. Same trademark, same fashion, same songs — he was always so effortlessly but undeniably coolio.
But it wasn’t just Nickelodeon — Coolio’s charisma was so disarming that even the most family-friendly media outlets featured him without needing to water down or apologize for who he was. He was on the pages of Disney Adventures and The Source at the same time. Since hip-hop was still part of the counterculture back then, its ambassadors often faced fights or criticism, but Coolio somehow balanced rapping with Muppets and appearing on The Rosie O’Donnell Show. while fueling his 1997 album My Soul and his hit CU When You Get There.
Perhaps it’s this ubiquity that has allowed Coolio to hold a place in the hearts of millennials for so long. Then, around the turn of the century, when Coolio became one of the first hip-hop stars to cross over to reality television, we needed to continue being a part of his life and grow up with him in a new way.
Perhaps that’s why Coolio cameos were a must during the weekend home video rental era, including in “Leprechaun in the Hood” (2000) and the 2003 Ben Affleck film “Daredevil.” (The Director’s Cut was far better, with its restored subplot of Matt Murdock, the superhero’s attorney who defends Coolio’s character in court). Coolio always had time for us as children. In turn, as adults, we always had time for him when he made viral appearances on everything from the Gathering of Juggalos to Pornhub.
Coolio made music that kids loved without it being “kids music”. He was both edgy and warm, with a presence that bridged the gap for millennials from childhood to adolescence without having to focus on it.
Considering lineage from central hip-hop stars like Whodini, Run-DMC, Hammer, etc., Coolio rightly deserves an esteemed spot on this list.
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/music/story/2022-09-29/coolio-death-millenials-appreciation Why Coolio’s death is hitting millennials so hard