Coolio to play at Omni on Nov. 18Written by Mike Bauman | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Though Coolio helped create one of the most well-known rap songs of all time, “Gangsta’s Paradise,” and has sold more than 30 million records, worldwide recognition and fame were not the reasons he got into music.
“I started rapping because I wanted to have a voice,” Coolio said. “I wanted to be heard. I had a lot to say and I was really opinionated, as I probably still am.”
On Nov. 18, Coolio will perform at the Omni in Toledo at a show that includes a meet-and-greet with the Los Angeles native for $20.
“I’ve always been one to touch my fans,” said Coolio, whose real name is Artis Leon Ivey Jr. “I hate arena shows.”
Man of many hats
From his unique hairstyle to his colorful personality, Coolio has lived a life that mirrors his eccentric aura. He’s had numerous creative pursuits in his 48 years. In addition to putting out eight solo albums since 1994, Coolio has a television and film career that includes work for Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, his own reality show on the Oxygen network and an online cooking show.
“I know how to do a lot of things,” Coolio said. “Over the years, I’ve become an expert in a lot of things. Ten-thousand hours in something makes you an expert.”
Those wide-ranging interests started in childhood for Coolio, who was a bright student and avid reader.
“I tested in the top one percentile of the State of California back then,” Coolio said of his grades. “I was a really gifted kid academically.”
That intelligence helped Coolio eventually find his way behind the mic. When he was a young teen, new neighbors from New York moved across the street from where Coolio lived in Compton, Calif., introducing him to the East Coast rap scene. At first, Coolio was trying to focus on school. Then one day as a young teen, he was challenged to write a better rhyme by another New Yorker who hung around his neighborhood.
“I wrote it in 10 minutes,” Coolio recalled of that moment. “I laid it on tape and it was better than his. And I think from that moment is when I fell in love with Hip-Hop. After that, it was every day. I was writing something every single day.”
15 years to fame
Though singles “Watcha Gonna Do” and “You’re Gonna Miss Me” in the late 1980s weren’t successful, Coolio had gotten enough exposure in the local rap scene that he landed a spot in the group WC and the Maad Circle and was part of its 1991 debut album “Ain’t A Damn Thang Changed” on Priority Records. Once his solo deal with Priority Records fell through due to controversy surrounding the man who signed him, Coolio spent years in limbo wondering if his rap career would ever take off.
After working on a demo and shopping it for six months, Coolio continued to get rejection letters until Paul Stewart took a listen.
“Within three weeks, I had three offers [from record companies],” Coolio said.
Coolio signed to Tommy Boy Records in 1994, releasing his debut record “It Takes a Thief” that same year. The single “Fantastic Voyage” peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart while the album itself peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard 200 chart and went platinum. After 15 years of rapping, Coolio was happy he finally had a steady means to provide for his family.
“I just asked God; I just said, ‘I want to make one album,’” Coolio said. “I said, ‘I put 15 years into this, man. I deserve to make one album and let people hear it.’ And it happened.”
The success that followed for Coolio in the next year was unforeseen. One day he went to go pick up a check from his manager, who had a home studio. Doug Rasheed was there working on the beat from Stevie Wonder’s “Pastime Paradise” and Coolio liked what he heard.
“Now this is real crazy right here,” Coolio said. “I sat down. I started writing ‘Gangsta’s Paradise.’ I never picked up the pen. It all came out all at once.”
Featuring R&B singer L.V., Coolio said Tommy Boy Records initially thought the song was too dark. He ended up licensing it for the soundtrack to the film “Dangerous Minds,” and the rest is history. “Gangsta’s Paradise” shot all the way up to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, became the No. 1 single across all genres in 1995 and reached No. 1 in 13 countries. The song was the title track on Coolio’s next album, which was certified two-times platinum by the RIAA.
“It was almost like a fluke,” Coolio said. “Like I said, it was just a random series of events that ended up being my legacy.”
Coolio said his crossover success did not earn him respect from many in his genre.
“The United States where I was born and raised, the country I call home, I get more love from other places,” Coolio said. “I get more love from people that don’t even speak my language than I do from my own people.”
Coolio feels slighted that his musical achievements have yet to receive recognition from VH1 Hip Hop Honors and that he gets labeled a one-hit wonder for “Gangsta’s Paradise.” Having performed in places such as Africa, Australia, Brazil, Europe, Israel, Japan and Thailand, Coolio said he still does between 75 and 100 shows each year.
“The biggest compliment I ever got — even more than the Grammy [for Best Rap Solo Performance in 1996] — I won the World Music Award,” Coolio said. “I think that was so much more important than the Grammy.”
A father of six, Coolio’s nephew and all three of his sons rap. His eldest son, Artis, goes by the stage name A.I. and travels with him.
“You love it, but still with a ton of apprehension because if you know what you’ve been through, I see that it’s going to be just as difficult for him as it was for me,” Coolio said of A.I.
Coolio’s eccentricities have earned him both the fruits of his labor as well as run-ins with the law over the course of his career, transgressions he owned up to.
“I honestly have to say most of the things I’ve been through, man, I could’ve avoided,” Coolio said. “I actually could’ve. With that being said, a lot of s— that happened to me was absolutely my fault.”
And, he also wants fans to know he’s still in the game for a reason.
“[Toledo’s] gonna be happy, and you gonna know Coolio’s still got it,” Coolio said. “Probably won’t never lose it.”
Doors for the show open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance. Visit omniwest.com to purchase tickets.