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The late rapper Coolio made a career for himself with the hit record “Gangsta’s Paradise”, which became a cultural phenomenon. But after years investing in the rap industry, Coolio was almost finished making music.

But after observing the state of hip-hop at one point, he realized the genre needed him too much to retire.

How Coolio became a rapper

Coolio rapping on stage.
Coolio | Frans Schellekens/Getty Images

As a child, Coolio didn’t initially have aspirations of being an emcee. In his formative years he found himself a part of classes for gifted youths, with his sights set on more traditional professions.

“All my life, I thought I was gonna be a doctor, or a lawyer, or a pilot, something where I could put my intelligence to good use,” he once said in an interview with LA Times. “I had some detours, but as a rapper I ended up becoming something better than that. A doctor touches lives, and saves some, but as a rapper I’m able to touch and influence millions.”

He got his first big break when he handed in his demo tape to hip-hop manager Paul Stewart. From there, he was signed to Tommy Boy Records, and released his debut album To Catch a Thief. The record was enough of a hit to ensure Coolio’s success in the rap industry, which led to him becoming a millionaire.

His manager, Stewart, offered his own theory as to why people were so drawn to Coolio.

“Everybody loves him,” Stewart said. “It isn’t just because he is so crazy looking, but because he seems approachable. He’s a positive person. When people hear him speak, they can see he is articulate. Little kids meet him and act like he’s their best friend. He’s an underdog.”

Coolio wasn’t planning on making any more records until he noticed a decline in hip-hop

Coolio has enjoyed a long and fruitful career in the music industry. Since the 80s, he’s been releasing a variety of music reflecting his beliefs, his life experiences, and the problems facing others like him.

With the amount of time he had already put into the music industry, the Kenan & Kel rapper was about ready to leave hip-hop be. But at one point, the quality of hip-hop motivated the emcee to continue spreading his music.

“I didn’t plan on making any more albums,” he once said in a 2017 interview with News-leader. “I was still making music for myself. But the balance has been upset so bad — people need me, people like me. A lot of people don’t want to hear it, but hip-hop is hurting right now, especially if people want to hear intelligent-style music.”

Coolio said this at a time when he felt the majority of hip-hop wasn’t putting out anything of substance.

“They’re not saying anything intelligent, but the media doesn’t want them to,” he continued. “Radio has abandoned the listeners. They don’t give a (expletive redacted) about what people’s children are listening to and how it’s going to affect their minds in an actually mental way… I don’t have any little kids anymore, but I tell you what: If I’m the average consumer, radio listener, TV, I would be up in arms right now. And I mean up in arms. I’d have my pistol out.”

Coolio didn’t consider himself a ‘gangsta rapper’


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In the early 90s, a portion of rap music was stirring a bit of controversy in the media. Many were turned off by the content of hip-hop that focused on the harsher aspects of living in the streets. But Coolio didn’t enjoy the “Gangsta Rap” label that came with the content.

“Gangsta rap is a derogatory label,” he once told The Independent.

The late emcee felt other terms more appropriately defined the kind of music Coolio and other artists made.

“We was rapping about our reality. They should have been calling it Reality Rap, or Street Rap, Inner City Rap. They just chose to call it gangsta rap to make people afraid of it. I don’t consider myself a gangsta rapper. But I’m probably more qualified to be a gangsta rapper than people who call themselves that,” he said.