Coolio was once a gangsta.
He was also a crack addict.
He even did time for forgery at 17.
Now he’s a platinum-selling rapper, echoing the harrowing tales of life in the Compton ‘hood, better known today as “The C-P-T.”
But this street poet hasn’t cashed in by glorifying gangsta life, a lifestyle that played a part in the September slaying of Tupac Shakur.
Coolio (born Artis Ivey Jr.) uses his rhyming voice constructively. To this artist, there is a side of gangsta life, other than guns, women, money, cool threads and jewelry, that artists like Snoop Doggy Dogg and Dr. Dre don’t emphasize and that’s pain, death and life sentences.
Last year, Coolio recast Stevie Wonder’s “Pastime Paradise” as “Gangsta’s Paradise,” an honest and urgent portrait of the gang life. With lyrics like, “I’m 23 now/ but will I live to see 24/ the way things is going/ I don’t know,” it is the least gangsta-advocating song to top the charts.
As a person whose life once mirrored that of someone destined for an early grave, Coolio sees his role today as educator as well as entertainer.
“I’m trying to get rid of that jacket that’s been put on my back - that I’m a gangsta rapper,” Coolio said in a Rolling Stone article last year. “That’s not my thing. My thing is to be true to myself and try to educate and entertain kids.”
He promotes safe sex, respect for women, fatherhood and responsibility in his music, and he does it without sounding preachy and self-important.
This formula has reaped him three hit singles, the aforementioned “Gangsta’s Paradise,” “Too Hot” and “Fantastic Voyage,” and two multiplatinum albums, “Gangsta’s Paradise” and “It Takes a Thief.”
At 32, Coolio is a father of six and the owner of a Hollywood management company and recording studio called Crowbar. He no longer calls the ‘hood his home; he resides is an L.A. suburb.
But Coolio almost blew it.
In the 1980s, he became addicted to the ghetto’s drug du jour, crack cocaine, and rolled with the gangs.
To get himself clean, Coolio took an unconventional route: He got a job with the California Department of Forestry fighting brush fires. “Up in the mountains,” Coolio told People earlier this year, “you can’t get drugs.”
Coolio doesn’t believe his portraits of the ghetto will soften over time with him not living in it. “I know I’m always gonna be connected to the streets, because I’m a street person - mentally,” he said in the Rolling Stone piece.
“But it ain’t my physical thing no more. And I’m not a liar. I’m not going to sit here and say I’m doing the same things I used to do just to make songs.”
Coolio might never have had a voice if it weren’t for the ground-breaking Run DMC, which opens for Coolio Wednesday.
Run DMC, though absent from the scene in the last couple years, achieved a lot of firsts in the rap genre. The group - Russell Simmons (Run), Darryl McDaniels (DMC) and Jason Mitchell (Jam Master Jay) - scored the first rap gold and platinum albums, were the first rap group to receive airplay on MTV and the first to include Steven Tyler’s ugly mug in a video (OK, so they were the only combo to do that).
After a trio of landmark albums, “Run DMC,” “King of Rock” and “Raising Hell,” the threesome’s career flamed out. Poor albums, drugs and alcohol all attributed to their demise. With the rise of East Coast hard-core and West Coast gangsta in the late ‘80s, the old-guard rap was brushed aside.
1993 saw a revamped Run DMC return with a Christian-tinged album, “Down with the King,” a recording that featured guests Rage Against the Machine, Naughty by Nature and EPMD. Both Simmons and McDaniels are born-again Christians and ordained ministers in New York.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 color photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: CONCERT Coolio, Run DMC and the Main Attraction will perform at Eastern Washington University’s Pavilion at 8 p.m. Wednesday. Tickets are $19.50 general admission, available at G&B; Select-a-Seat outlets or call (800) 325-SEAT.