Coolio, rapper known for Grammy-winning song 'Gangsta's Paradise,' dead at 59

Coolio, the Grammy-winning rapper best known for the 1995 single "Gangsta's Paradise," has died, his manager confirmed Wednesday. He was 59.

"We are saddened by the loss of our dear friend and client, Coolio, who passed away this afternoon," Sheila Finegan said in a statement to The Times. "He touched the world with the gift of his talent and will be missed profoundly.

"Thank you to everyone worldwide who has listened to his music and to everyone who has been reaching out regarding his passing. Please have Coolio's loved ones in your thoughts and prayers."

The musician was found unresponsive Wednesday afternoon on the bathroom floor at a friend's house, manager Jarez Posey told TMZ, which first reported the news. No official cause of death has been determined, but cardiac arrest was suspected, Posey told the website.

Finegan said no additional details were being released at this time.

Coolio, whose real name was Artis Leon Ivey Jr., was born Aug. 1, 1963, and grew up in Compton. Throughout his career, he was a lot of things — a musician, reality TV star, cook and cookbook author and, for a moment, the potential mayor of his hometown.

In the early '90s, years after he released his first single, “Whatcha Gonna Do,” in 1987, Coolio began building his network in Los Angeles’ rap scene, collaborating with hip-hop group WC and the Maad Circle. In 1994, he debuted his first album, “It Takes a Thief,” which included his breakthrough hit “Fantastic Voyage." The song, which earned Coolio his first Grammy nomination, for best rap solo performance, and peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, sampled the 1981 R&B song of the same name by the funk group Lakeside, creating the template for his career-defining hit.

The rapper released his sophomore album, “Gangsta’s Paradise,” in 1995. The title song, which sampled Stevie Wonder's 1976 cut "Pastime Paradise," climbed up the charts to become Billboard’s No. 1 single of 1995 and sold more than 6 million copies. It transcended mediums, landing a spot in the 1995 film “Dangerous Minds” starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Courtney B. Vance and George Dzundza. In a sign of the song's ubiquity, "Weird" Al Yankovic famously remade it as "Amish Paradise."

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"'Gangsta's Paradise' shows that this pop-friendly rapper is no one-hit wonder," The Times wrote in its review of the album. "His most mature work yet, 'Paradise' looks beyond the apathy, anger and hopelessness that most post-N.W.A rap groups have institutionalized. While Coolio certainly doesn't dodge these difficult issues — the title song is perhaps the most depressing crossover pop hit in history — he also uses the narrative side of his poetic gift to prove that there's more to life in the 'hood than drive-bys and drug deals: There are people living regular lives."

The title track was nominated for record of the year and won for best rap solo performance at the 1996 Grammy Awards. That year, he married Josefa Salinas. They divorced in 2000.

He was nominated for three more Grammy Awards in 1997, including for best rap album for "Gangsta's Paradise." "1, 2, 3, 4 (Sumpin' New)," from "Gangsta's Paradise," would be his final Top 10-charting song, peaking at No. 5 on the Hot 100.

Two Black musical artists perform together onstage.
Stevie Wonder, left, and Coolio perform at the 1995 Billboard Music Awards. (Mark Lennihan/AP)

Adding to his mid-'90s fame, Coolio created the theme song for Nickelodeon's "Kenan & Kel," starring Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell.

In 1997, he released his third album, “My Soul,” featuring the top 20 hit "C U When U Get There." The Times praised the LP, saying that “many of the songs prove that despite his success, he cares deeply about his position as a rapper and a spokesman.”

“The best songs are those where Coolio takes the mask from different sides of society and takes a look inside,” Cheo Hodari Coker wrote. “Whether it’s displaying a hustler’s guilt and paranoia in ‘Knight Falls’ or an all-encompassing hope for peace, compassion, and a better life with ‘C U When You Get There,’ Coolio proves himself an artist who’s still worth listening [to.]”

Coolio told The Times in 1998 that in 10 years he wanted to run for mayor of Compton.

"If I became a politician, I’d probably get killed, because I wouldn’t take any bribes, I wouldn’t compromise my integrity and I wouldn’t cheat," he said.

Instead of pursuing those political aspirations, Coolio found himself 10 years later in a reality series on Oxygen, "Coolio's Rules." The six-episode series starred him, his family and Posey. The turn to reality TV was an unexpected one for the Grammy winner, but he said it wasn't "a midlife crisis."

"I think I already had my midlife crisis. I’m divorced for about eight years," he said during the show's Television Critics Assn. presentation in 2008. "I’m still having trust issues with women. Put it this way, I got robbed by my ex-wife. I’m comfortable with being 44. I really am."

A rapper poses in a square in Italy.
Coolio flashes a peace sign after he performed in Venice, Italy, in 2008. (Luigi Costantini/AP)

His time in the television spotlight also extended to "Celebrity Big Brother" in 2009, "Ultimate Big Brother" in 2010 and "Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off" in 2012. In 2014 he guest-starred in the "Gangsta's Paradise" episode of Adult Swim's "Black Jesus."

The rapper was arrested in September 2016 at Los Angeles International Airport after authorities found a loaded, stolen firearm in his carry-on bag at a security checkpoint. He avoided jail time — getting three years of probation and 45 days of community service instead — by pleading guilty to possession of a concealed weapon.

He told reporters outside the courtroom that he was confident he could follow the rules of probation, saying, “I don’t do crime and I am not into anything illegal, so it should be easy." He said the whole thing was a misunderstanding: "I do not condone the use of firearms legal or illegal. I was very worried.”

In 2020, Coolio released a remastering of "Gangsta's Paradise," 25 years after it first came out. In recent years, he performed in Australia, Denmark, Germany and Sweden.

He is survived by 10 children. He was married only once, to Salinas.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.