The Untold Truth Of Coolio

Although rap/hip-hop has been a thing for several decades now — and in recent years, the line between the once-niche genre and pop music has generally thinned quite a bit — there was a time when a rap single making the Top 40 was a rare feat. Rarer still was a rap single that reached No. 1. But in 1995, a Compton rapper by the name of Artis Leon Ivey Jr. pulled it off: his song, "Gangsta's Paradise," not only reached No. 1 but stayed there for several weeks, according to Official Charts. The gritty dirge about life in a city controlled by criminal gangs made its performer a star. Of course, as is the case with the overwhelming majority of rappers, the song's performer didn't use his real name but rather his stage name: Coolio.

Though Coolio's star dimmed somewhat after the 1990s, he never really went away, reinventing himself as a performer in a new genre. Sadly, he passed away suddenly on September 28, 2022, as per CNN. He was 59.

His stage name started out as a mild insult

Though there are exceptions (Kanye West, for example, or Obie Trice), by and large, performers in rap/hip-hop have used stage names for reasons that go back to the genre's beginnings in the late 1970s, as Katie Goodrich reports. Artis Ivey has, of course, been known as "Coolio" for decades, and as it turns out, the name began as something of an insult, but Ivey liked it and decided to use it.

The origins of "Coolio" depend on whom you ask, but various reports all share the same general structure. According to the Daily Mirror, Ivey got the name in high school when he was performing a Julio Iglesias song in a competition, and his friends nicknamed him "Coolio Iglesias." Another version of the story comes from Alt.Pop.Repeat and claims that Ivey was listening to a song by José Feliciano, and his friends — mocking him — gave him the nickname "Coolio Iglesias." Regardless of how he got there, Ivey didn't take the insults to heart and instead ran with them, using the nickname as part of his rap persona.

He might have overstated his gangsta cred just a bit

Coolio's most popular song, "Gangsta's Paradise," has the word "gangsta" (or "gangster," if you didn't get it) right there in the title. And Coolio certainly grew up on the rough streets of Compton, where poverty, hopelessness, despair, and gang violence were parts of daily life. But was Coolio ever a gangster? Well, yes and no. According to AllMusic, when he was a preteen, Artis Ivey started getting into trouble and wound up with the Baby Crips, a sort of minor-league version of the real thing. However, he apparently didn't fit in with the gangsters and was never formally inducted into the violent L.A. street gang. 

However, despite not being in a gang, Coolio did manage to run afoul of the law. As The New York Post reports, as a teen, he was busted for bringing a weapon to school and cashing a stolen money order. As an adult, Ivey also wound up on the wrong side of the law more than once. As The New York Times reported, in 1998, Coolio was busted for being an accessory to robbery, and in 2016, he and his crew were busted for having a loaded firearm inside of a bag at Los Angeles International Airport (via TMZ).

He didn't care at all for being spoofed by Weird Al

For most musicians, being spoofed by Weird Al Yankovic is a badge of honor. For example, Houston rapper Chamillionaire, whose "Ridin' Dirty" became "White & Nerdy," told Wired that the spoof meant he'd made it and called the spoof an "honor." However, when Weird Al turned "Gangsta's Paradise" into "Amish Paradise," Coolio wasn't feeling it.

Yankovic always made it a point to get the artist's permission before writing a parody, not because he's legally required to do so, but because he likes to maintain good relationships with his colleagues. In the case of "Gangsta's Paradise," Mental Floss reports that Yankovic got permission for the spoof from Coolio's record label, but apparently, Coolio himself wasn't behind that authorization. In fact, he was quite salty about his serious look at real problems being turned into a comedy bit and publicly called out Weird Al for spoofing him without permission. However, after a few decades, Coolio, um, cooled off and realized he was being a giant baby about it, according to Showbiz CheatSheet. "I've since apologized to [Weird Al]. Again, that was so stupid. ... That was a stupid thing for me to do. That was one of the dumbest things I did in my career," he said.

He tried, and largely failed, to keep his own kids on a short leash

By 2008, as The New York Post reported at the time, Coolio's star had dimmed quite a bit. Further, though far from broke, he wasn't the multi-millionaire he was in his heyday, having lost quite a bit of money to a divorce and a drug addiction, and decided to turn to reality TV to bring in some cash. The show was to focus on Coolio's relationship with his children, who at the time ranged in age from preteen to early 20s.

Despite having grown up poor and surrounded by gangs, Coolio tried to manage his own children a bit better. It usually didn't work, said Brandi, who was 19 at the time. "He's tried to ground me and Artesia by bein' like 'You can't go out for the weekend.' But he'd give us money and let us go anyway. He threatens us, but only with money," she said.

Of course, that's not to say that his children got off scot-free for their shenanigans. For example, when his daughters failed to clean the kitchen after dinner, Coolio punished them by dropping pots of spaghetti on their beds.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Now he's a chef

Growing up in poverty in a rough neighborhood in L.A., Artis Ivey didn't have access to quality food — a situation that would now be referred to as a "food desert." Nevertheless, Ivey did the best he could with what he was given, and by the age of 10, he was creating meals in his family's kitchen (via Cook Backstage).

By 2018, after his rap career was comfortably in the rear-view mirror, Coolio reinvented himself as a chef. Specifically, he's made his second career out of teaching his readers and viewers how to do what he did as a young boy: make delicious and healthy meals with inexpensive ingredients. His book, "Cookin' with Coolio: 5 Star Meals at a 1 Star Price," contains chapters with such titles as "How to Become a Kitchen Pimp" and "Pasta Like a Rasta." Further, his recipes include fusions that you're not likely to find at a Michelin-starred restaurant, such as Blasian (Black Asian) or Ghettalian (ghetto Italian).

In addition to his book, Coolio has taken his culinary career to the small screen, having appeared on the Food Network, as well as a web series, "Cookin' With Coolio."