Coolio on Turning 50: "The Average Lifespan of a Black Male Was 22 in My Neighborhood"
Photo by Maxin Trisano
His name is Artis Leon Ivey Jr., though he's better known by his stage moniker, Coolio. And in just a few days, the Grammy-winning pop culture icon will defy the odds for a 28th straight year.
Coolio turns 50 on August 1.
"I grew up during a time when the average lifespan of a black male was 22 in my neighborhood," he says. "I'm 28 years past due, bro. And I'm happy 'bout that."
As well he should be.
A native son of Compton, California -- a city that earned a reputation as one of the most dangerous in America during the 1980s due in large part to the gangsta rap movement and the rampant, real-life gang violence it depicted -- Coolio spent his formative years like so many others around him: addicted to crack and raising hell.
Unlike so may others around him, though, Coolio kicked the habit and rerouted his life in the mid '80s. He became a firefighter, working with different brigades around Southern California for about a year before dedicating his life to the rap game.
The move paid off.
Following a brief stint with the L.A. hip-hop collective WC and the Maad Circle, Coolio signed with Tommy Boy Records in the early '90s and released It Takes a Thief. The record earned a gold certification from the Recording Industry Association of America just two months after its release. A month after that, It Takes a Thief went platinum.
That was nearly 20 years ago. And a lot has changed.
"I don't even smoke pot no more," Coolio boasts. "Every time I smoke, I feel like coughing, my eyes get red. I get all stupid and sleepy, hella sleepy like I'm on heroin or something."
(He's not on heroin.)
Yet Coolio manages to thrive -- and stay relevant -- on a scene where drugs and decadence reign supreme. Ibiza, Spain, for example.
A day after celebrating his belated 50th b-day at LIV on August 2, Coolio will hop the Atlantic for a live gig in the Spanish party capital.
"It's kinda ill, man, to say I'm playing in Spain at the age of 50," he says, admitting that he's never been to Ibiza despite traveling through Spain several times before.
"I'm a little pissed off, though," Coolio says. "When you go to Ibiza, you're supposed to stay for at least five days. I'm only going to be there for, like, a day and a half, maybe two days. I want more. I hear it's a good time."
But time is money, and Coolio's schedule calls for a quick turnaround to ensure that the rapper's back stateside for a gig in Boston, and then Lansing, Michigan, a few days after his Ibiza debut. The dude's a serious workaholic, after all.
In addition to performing live in places like Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Plainfield, Illinois, Coolio is scheduled to perform one-off gigs in Beirut, Lebanon, and the Russian capital city of Moscow between now and the end of September. And if a 16-year-old gun charge hadn't crept up to keep him from entering Canada earlier this year, he'd probably be treating fans in that country to "Sumpin' New" too.
"Maybe they changed their policies about things," Coolio ponders. "I had that gun case in the beginning of my career and [have been] to Canada so many times [since then]...
"I hate that my Canadian fans don't get to be treated no more," he adds. "I've had some really great shows over there, had some good times, and I know some good people. But unless they come to the States, I probably won't see them again."
Coolio says that someone in the Canadian government would have to intervene on his behalf before he's allowed back. "I just don't know that if at this point anyone really gives a fuck to go out of their way to do that," he says.
However, it will take a lot more than a Canadian blacklist to sideline Coolio. His inability to slow down is precisely why the rapper has been able to reach audiences well beyond the prime of his musical career. And it's that same hustler mentality that will carry Coolio into the next chapter of his life.
We'll have part two of our interview with Coolio later this week, where the rapper opens up about his movie project, the possibility of a Las Vegas restaurant venture, Paul Deen, and Kenan and Kel.
Coolio's 50th Birthday and Live Performance. Friday, August 2. LIV, 4441 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. Doors open at 11 p.m. and tickets cost $40 to $60 plus fees via wantickets.com. Ages 21 and up. Call 305-674-4680 or visit livnightclub.com.
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