It's been 18 years (wow!) since antenna-braided Compton rapper Coolio released "Gangsta's Paradise," the dark, chorus-heavy narrative about repenting for a thugged-out life in the hood. And on August 1, Mr. Cool himself will turn the big 5-0, partying down the next night at LIV Miami.
Weaved through a '90s head-nodding West Coast beat, Coolio's haunting remix of Psalm 23:4 on the aforementioned Dangerous Minds anthem -- "As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death/I take a look at my life and realize there's nothin' left" -- is forever linked to the street-life movie drama, wherein an overdetermined white lady (the endearing Michelle Pfeiffer) hooks a group of inner-city California kids on Dylan Thomas.
Since his run with WC and the Maad Circle, and over a catalog of both heralded and maligned albums (Cool's composed five flops since 1996's My Soul -- his last to rate on any Billboard chart), Coolio has stayed true to gangsta rap ideology. But he's always served hood wisdom with a signature weirdness.
See the campy video for the Lakeside-sampling G-funk classic "Fantastic Voyage" off his debut, It Takes A Thief, as the rapper teleports his crew from the ghetto to a pristine beach via the trunk of a shiny whip -- all to the indelible chorus "slide, slide, slippity slide."
But what has the man born Artis Leon Ivey Jr. been up to since his hip-hop glory days?
Well, for starters, Coolio is a staunch humanitarian. In 1996, he appeared on the compilation album America is Dying Slowly to bring awareness to the AIDS epidemic among young black men. He is also a spokesman for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
Meanwhile, he crooned the nostalgic Kenan & Kel theme song, and garnered a hefty filmography, starring in early 2000s flicks like the straight-to-video Leprechaun: In the Hood and the Kirsten Dunst-fronted Get Over It.
But most impressive is Cool's venture into cuisine. Dude's got a cookbook available on Amazon -- Cookin' with Coolio: 5 Star Meals at a 1 Star Price -- and a supplementary web cooking show. But unlike Emeril's trademark "Bam!," master chef Cool prefers an abrupt "Shaka Zulu!". He's called himself the "ghetto Martha Stewart," and he'll be your guide to "Salad-Eatin' Bitches" and "Pimpin' the Poultry."
This from the guy who was sued for bull-riding a woman's back, proclaimed himself to be a Juggalo, and voluntarily left the Celebrity Big Brother house after tampering with a transexual's wardrobe.
Happy Birthday, Coolio.
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.