WASHINGTON — Coolio, the rapper who was among hip-hop's biggest names of the 1990s with hits including “Gangsta's Paradise” and “Fantastic Voyage,” died Wednesday at age 59, his manager said.
Coolio, whose legal name was Artis Leon Ivey Jr., died at the Los Angeles home of a friend, longtime manager Jarez Posey told The Associated Press. The cause was not immediately clear.
Coolio won a Grammy for best solo rap performance for “Gangsta's Paradise,” the 1995 hit from the soundtrack of the Michelle Pfeiffer film “Dangerous Minds” that sampled Stevie Wonder's 1976 song “Pastime Paradise."
He was nominated for five other Grammys during a career that began in the late-1980s.
Born in Monessen, Pennsylvania south of Pittsburgh, Coolio moved to Compton, California, where he went to community college. He worked as a volunteer firefighter and in airport security before devoting himself full-time to the hip-hop scene.
His career took off with the 1994 release of his debut album on Tommy Boy Records, “It Takes a Thief.” It's opening track, “Fantastic Voyage," would reach No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100.
A year later, “Gangsta's Paradise” would become a No. 1 single, with its dark opening lyrics:
“As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I take a look at my life and realize there’s not much left, ‘cause I’ve been blastin’ and laughin’ so long, that even my mama thinks that my mind is gone.”
Social media lit up with reactions to the unexpected death.
“This is sad news,” Ice Cube said on Twitter. “I witness first hand this man’s grind to the top of the industry. Rest In Peace, @Coolio.”
“Peaceful journey brother,” Questlove tweeted.
He would never again have a song nearly as big as “Gangsta's Paradise,” but had subsequent hits with 1996's “1, 2, 3, 4 (Sumpin’ New)” (1996), and 1997's “C U When U Get There."
His career album sales totaled 4.8 million, with 978 million on-demand streams of his songs, according to Luminate. He would be nominated for six Grammys overall.
And with his distinctive persona he would become a cultural staple, acting occasionally, starring in a reality show about parenting called “Coolio's Rules,” providing a voice for an episode of the animated show “Gravity Falls” and providing the theme music for the Nickelodeon sitcom “Kenan & Kel.”
He had occasional legal troubles, including a 1998 conviction in Stuttgart, Germany, where an boutique shop owner said he punched her when she tried to stop him from taking merchandise without paying. He was sentenced to six months probation and fined $30,000.
He was married to Josefa Salinas from 1996 to 2000. They had four children together.
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