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As artists pay tribute to Coolio, the rapper’s impact on music is recognized

Coolio’s heightened success in the ’90s occurred “when rap wasn’t really respected as art,” said AllHipHop.com CEO Chuck Creekmur.
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Musicians and entertainers are paying tribute to rapper Coolio, who died Wednesday in Los Angeles. He was 59.

Born Artis Leon Ivey Jr., Coolio was best known for his megahit “Gangsta’s Paradise,” which was used in the 1995 film “Dangerous Minds,” starring Michelle Pfeiffer. The song won him a Grammy for best reap solo performance in 1996. He also had hits with “Fantastic Voyage,” “1,2,3,4 (Sumpin’ New)” and “It’s All the Way Live (Now).”

Among those who remembered Coolio on social media were “Weird Al” Yankovic, who was involved in a feud with the rapper when he released the song “Amish Paradise.” They later mended fences. Ice Cube, Questlove, Debbie Harry, Martin Lawrence and M.C. Hammer also paid tribute.

As the hip-hop community reflects on his music and impact, Chuck Creekmur, the CEO of AllHipHop.com, said Coolio was more than just a rapper: He was one of the griots of hip-hop who shared the harsh realities of his community. 

“If you listen to the lyrics, it’s not glorifying the [gangster] life, but it’s actually someone that’s really working their way out of it — or at least trying to explain their point of view,” he said. “And so it resonated with so many people.”

Creekmur said Coolio won his Grammy “when rap wasn’t really respected as art.” Coolio also showed other artists there was a “pathway to do music that’s adjacent to gangster rap,” he said. 

While Coolio accomplished much, winning an American Music Award and multiple MTV Video Music Awards aside from his Grammy, Creekmur said he was often underappreciated as an artist. 

“I think that in music generally, in hip-hop specifically, far too often we use up artists and we spit them out,” he said. “And I think that once you’re spit out, you’re left in the wilderness to fend for yourself.”

Creekmur said Coolio found ways to stay relevant by journeying into television. He created the theme song for “Kenan and Kel,” appearing in the show’s intro, and also starred in “Cooking with Coolio” and “Coolio’s Rules.” Coolio also appeared on the big screen in the 1997 movie “Batman & Robin” and in “Dracula 3000” in 2004, among others. Coolio’s singular style, like his signature stand-up braids, was one of the many traits that made him unique. Creekmur also said Coolio spoke intelligently about his artistry and created music that had truth.

“He spoke about things like HIV and the ramifications behind promiscuity,” Creekmur said.

As for “Gangsta’s Paradise,” released over 25 years ago, Creekmur said it remains a treasure in the hip-hop community.

“We’re going to be listening to ‘Gangster’s Paradise’ forever,” Creekmur said. “There’s no questioning that.”