Born Artis Ivey, Jr., August 1, 1963, in Los Angeles, CA; son of Artis (a carpenter) and Jackie (a factory worker; maiden name, Jones) Ivey; married Josefa Salinas, 1996; children: six (two with Salinas). Addresses: Record Company--Tommy Boy, 902 Broadway, New York, NY 10010.
Unlike other rappers out there just saying what they see, Coolio offers solutions."Just because you're from the west coast, and you talk about some real s---, you get labeled a 'Gangsta Rapper,'" Coolio complained in Rap Sheet. "I'm not a political rapper. I don't rap about love all the time and s--- like that. I rap about all of it. I'm a well-rounded person and I might say anything." It is important to Coolio that he makes that clear, because there are messages he does want to send, and they are positive. Although his "Gangsta's Paradise" was the best selling single of 1995, Coolio is just telling it like it is.
Artis Ivey, Jr., never pictured himself as the rapper Coolio when he was a kid. If anything, he dreamed of going to Harvard University. He was one of the four smartest kids in his elementary school, and although he was small and had asthma, he learned to take care of himself despite the violence of inner city life. His father had left the family when Coolio was two, and his mother moved them to Compton, California, when he was eight. The library was just a block away, and Coolio read every book he could.
Coolio's life started getting sidetracked when he was promoted from fifth to seventh grade. The older kids bullied him. At about the same time, Coolio's mother and stepfather broke up. At first her paycheck kept the family going, but when she lost her job she started drinking. Suddenly the boy did not have that family foundation under him anymore. That is when he started running with the neighborhood gangs, creating a sort of crazy man role for himself.
Either a case of mistaken identity, or taking the rap for a friend, landed Coolio in jail for ten months when he was accused of trying to cash a money order stolen in an armed robbery. He turned 18 while incarcerated. Coolio learned his lesson, never wanting to go to jail again, and tried to get out of that scene. But by 1985 he was addicted to crack cocaine. When he finally saw his life spiraling out of control, Coolio looked for help.
Coolio went up north to San Jose, California, and moved in with his father. He got a job with the California Department of Forestry fighting fires in the mountains. Between will power and faith in God he came back out of those mountains 18 months later clean and sober. Coolio had already turned to rap for solace in the early 1980s and even had a single out that got some local airplay. With the death of his mother of a brain hemorrhage in 1987, Coolio immersed himself fully in the burgeoning rap scene.
As a kid, Coolio's mom had always called him Boo. He even had it tattooed on his arm in eighth grade. Although Boo or Artis is still what the family calls him, the street name Coolio came about in a more amusing fashion. Sitting around one day in Compton in his 20s playing guitar, one of Coolio's friends came up and said, "Who do you think you are, Coolio Iglesias?," referring to Latin crooner Julio Iglesias. The name stuck.
Over time, Coolio recorded music with his friend Spoon under the name NuSkool. Then he joined WC and the MAAD Circle, whose album, Ain't a Damn Thing Changed, came out on the Priority label in 1991 and sold about 150,000 copies. Coolio still did not have it made though. He had to experience the ignominy of being recognized by fans while in line for his welfare check. But in 1993, Coolio's manager sent a four song demo tape to Tommy Boy Records in New York. They liked what Coolio had to offer, but at first only signed him to do a single. But when they heard what he had done in the studio, Tommy Boy signed him on for a full album.
The result was 1994's It Takes a Thief, and that record put Coolio on the map. The album went platinum with the help of the inviting, dreamlike crossover hit single "Fantastic Voyage." He proudly calls himself a thief--his own management company is called Crowbar. Their motto is "We're getting in, one way or another"--he acknowledges using samples of others' work in his own music. As Mike Rubin put it in Spin, "Coolio has mined a vein of multi-platinum ore by combining his slightly wooden vocal delivery with vintage, test-driven grooves."
In 1995 Coolio wrote "Gangsta's Paradise" for the soundtrack of the film Dangerous Minds. The song sold millions, paving the way for the album of the same name. If people thought his first hit record was a fluke, Gangsta's Paradise proved them wrong. In Spin Barry Walters wrote, "[Coolio] has the power to appeal to folks alienated by '90s hip hop insularity because his lyrics are about things that concern everybody--Aids, family love, respect, daily life, revolution."
Coolio has got a conscience and a definite drive to help make the world a better place through his lyrics. He is the father of six children and knows he is responsible for molding them into good people. Coolio feels it is high time for other folks in this world to start setting a good example.
by Joanna Rubiner
Became involved with South Central Los Angeles rap scene, early 1980s; recorded music with friend Spoon under the name NuSkool, 1980s; joined group WC and the MAAD Circle and appeared on their album Ain't a Damn Thing Changed, 1991; signed as a solo act by Tommy Boy Records, 1993; released first major label solo album, It Takes a Thief, 1994.
- Selective Works
- (With WC and the MAAD Circle) Ain't a Damn Thing Changed, Priority Records, 1991.
- It Takes a Thief (includes "Fantastic Voyage"), Tommy Boy Records, 1994.
- Gangsta's Paradise (includes "Gangsta's Paradise"), Tommy Boy Records, 1995.
- Entertainment Weekly, November 10, 1995; Year End Special, 1995.
- People, January 29, 1996.
- Rap Sheet, December 1995.
- Rolling Stone, December 14, 1995.
- Source, February 1996.
- Spin, January 1996; March 1996.
- USA Weekend, August 16, 1996.
- Additional information for this profile was provided by Tommy Boy Records press materials, 1995.