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The late Coolio may not have had the most consistent career over the years. But the rapper’s ’90s hits, which include “Fantastic Voyage,” “Gangsta’s Paradise,” and “1, 2, 3, 4 (Sumpin’ New),” certainly helped hip hop further enter the mainstream.

While his music career represented the shift toward rap music, Coolio’s personal life saw him embrace volunteer firefighting as a “way to clean up” from drugs and alcohol.

Coolio experimented with drugs early on in his career

At the height of his fame, Coolio’s popularity was so widespread that — even though his music was considered “gangsta rap” — the rapper also performed the theme song for the popular Nickelodeon show Kenan & Kel, which aired from 1996 to 2000. However, Coolio admitted that he had a history involving run-ins with the law and drug use before fame came his way.

“The way we was raised in our neighbourhood and the things we was taught, the things that we saw, and were programmed to do… Man, I should be dead, in jail or on dope,” Coolio told the Independent in 1997. “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. I’ve been through that life.”

Coolio committed to firefighting to escape drugs and alcohol

Indeed, Coolio spent time as a gang member and illegal drug user back in the day. But as he told the LA Times in 1994, he found solace in the most unlikely place as part of his journey to earning a fresh start: volunteer firefighting for crews in San Jose, California.

“Up to the mid-’80s, I was into cocaine. I was a wild man then — real crazy. I had a reputation for doing crazy things — like hitting people over the head with bottles and stuff like that. That happens when you grow up in Compton … you survive how you can. Drugs are just one of the pitfalls. I fell in deep. … [With firefighting,] I wasn’t looking for a career. I was looking for a way to clean up — a way to escape the drug thing. It was going to kill me, and I knew I had to stop.”

Firefighting provided the discipline Coolio needed to focus on getting healthy. Then when he finally got his life back on track, Coolio pursued hip-hop with a renewed passion. Although he began rapping around 15 years old, he didn’t release his first album until age 31, making him older than many of his peers.

Coolio holds his son outside of his trailer in 1997
Rapper Coolio with his son in 1997 | Bill Tompkins/Getty Images

Coolio’s death inspired stars like Michelle Pfeiffer to pay tribute

Coolio’s career led him to stand out as one of the most well-known rappers of the 1990s. Thanks to “Gangsta’s Paradise,” he won a Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance in 1996.

Beyond that, he continued to independently release new albums until as recently as 2009. Although the cause of death is unclear as of this writing, Coolio was found dead at a friend’s house on September 28, 2022. 


Coolio Believed He Would Die If He Ever Took Cocaine Again

Among those who paid tribute to the late rapper was Michelle Pfeiffer, star of the 1995 movie Dangerous Minds; its soundtrack featured “Gangsta’s Paradise.”

On her Instagram, the actor wrote, “Heartbroken to hear of the passing of the gifted artist @coolio. A life cut entirely too short. … I remember him being nothing but gracious. 30 years later I still get chills when I hear [“Gangsta’s Paradise”]. Sending love and light to his family.”