Born Artis Leon Ivey, Jr., Coolio recorded two singles in the late 80s, titled "Watcha Gonna Do" and "You're Gonna Miss Me." Neither single was successful, but Coolio had made connections in the Los Angeles rap scene, and ended up joining the group WC and the Maad Circle in 1991.
WC was the group's lead rapper, but Coolio had a few verses on the group's debut album, Ain't a Damn Thang Changed, including on the single "Dress Code." The album was regionally successful but didn't make much impact on a national scale.
Three years later in 1994 Coolio signed to Tommy Boy Records and released his debut solo album, It Takes a Thief. The album contained the single "Fantastic Voyage" which became Coolio's breakout song. It peaked at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it one of the biggest rap singles of the year.
The album also contained a few minor hits in "County Line" and "I Remember." Overall the album was very successful peaking at #8 on the Billboard Hot 200 and being certified Platinum. The album received praise for bringing a humorous and lighthearted perspective to often violent and profane themes of typical gangsta rap.
After the success of his in 1995 he contributed the song "Gangsta's Paradise" for the movie Dangerous Minds, which featured R&B singer L.V. It became one of the most successful rap songs of all time, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 3 weeks.
It was LAO the #1 single of 1995 for all genres, and was a global hit, as it reached #1 in the U.S., U.K., Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Austria, Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, Australia, and New Zealand. At the 1996 Grammy Awards the song won Coolio a Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance.
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The song also created a controversy when Coolio claimed that parody artist Weird Al Yankovic had not asked for permission to make his parody of "Gangsta's Paradise," titled "Amish Paradise."
Originally "Gangsta's Paradise" wasn't meant to be included on one of Coolio's studio albums, but its success led to Coolio not only putting it on his next album, but also making it the title track. The album Gangsta's Paradise was released in 1995 and with the mega-hit was certified 2X Platinum by the RIAA. The album also contained two other major hits in "1, 2, 3, 4 (Sumpin' New)" and "Too Hot."
Despite no longer being an official member of the group, Coolio also made an appearance on the second WC and the Maad Circle album, Curb Servin', on the song "In a Twist." In 1996 Coolio had another top 40 hit with the song "It's All the Way Live (Now)" from the soundtrack to the movie Eddie. He was also featured on the song "Hit 'em High" from the soundtrack to the movie Space Jam with B-Real, Method Man, LL Cool J, and Busta Rhymes.
In 1996 Coolio appeared on the Red Hot Organization's compilation CD, America is Dying Slowly, alongside Biz Markie, Wu-Tang Clan, and Fat Joe, among many other prominent hip hop artists. The CD raised awareness of the AIDS epidemic among African American men. That same year, he recorded the theme song and appeared in the opening sequence of the Nickelodeon TV series Kenan & Kel which ran for four seasons.
After the massive success of the Gangsta's Paradise album, Coolio had problems recording a suitable followup. His third solo album, titled My Soul came out in 1996. Although it did contain the major hit "C U When U Get There," the album was considered a disappointment.
Subsequently Coolio was dropped from Tommy Boy Records and his albums since then, 2001's Coolio.com, 2003's El Cool Magnifico, 2006's The Return of the Gangsta, and 2008's Steal Hear have not been successful, as none has charted on any Billboard chart. He did have a minor hit in the UK in 2006 however in "Gangsta Walk" (featuring Snoop Dogg) which peaked at #67 on the UK pop chart.
Coolio and jazz saxophonist Jarez were enlisted in July 2008 as spokespersons by the group Environmental Justice and Climate Change to educate students at historically black colleges and universities about global warming. Coolio is a spokesperson for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. He says that he and his children are asthma sufferers. As a child, he was taken to the hospital several times due to asthma complications.
Coolio was a contestant on the television program Celebrity Big Brother 2009 (UK) 2009 and and The Surreal Life. During March 2009 he was detained at Los Angeles airport for possession of crack cocaine.