By JONATHAN LANDRUM Jr. and ANDREW DALTON
LOS ANGELES — Coolio, the rapper who was among hip-hop’s biggest names of the 1990s with hits including “Gangsta’s Paradise” and “Fantastic Voyage,” died Wednesday at age 59, his manager said.
Coolio, whose legal name was Artis Leon Ivey Jr., died at the Los Angeles home of a friend, longtime manager Jarez Posey told The Associated Press. The cause was not immediately clear.
Coolio won a Grammy for best solo rap performance for “Gangsta’s Paradise,” the 1995 hit from the soundtrack of the Michelle Pfeiffer film “Dangerous Minds” that sampled Stevie Wonder’s 1976 song “Pastime Paradise.”
He was nominated for five other Grammys during a career that began in the late-1980s.
Born in Monessen, Pennsylvania south of Pittsburgh, Coolio moved to Compton, California, where he went to community college. He worked as a volunteer firefighter and in airport security before devoting himself full-time to the hip-hop scene.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 1994, he credited firefighting for providing him an escape from the drug scene.
“I wasn’t looking for a career, I was looking for a way to clean up – a way to escape the drug thing,” he told the Times. “It was going to kill me and I knew I had to stop. In firefighting training was discipline I needed. We ran every day. I wasn’t drinking or smoking or doing the stuff I usually did.”
His career took off with the 1994 release of his debut album on Tommy Boy Records, “It Takes a Thief.” It’s opening track, “Fantastic Voyage,” would reach No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100.
A year later, “Gangsta’s Paradise” would become a No. 1 single, with its dark opening lyrics:
“As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I take a look at my life and realize there’s not much left, ‘cause I’ve been blastin’ and laughin’ so long, that even my mama thinks that my mind is gone.”
Social media lit up with reactions to the unexpected death.
“This is sad news,” Ice Cube said on Twitter. “I witness first hand this man’s grind to the top of the industry. Rest In Peace, @Coolio.”
“Peaceful journey brother,” Questlove tweeted.