July 6, 2022

In The Quantity Ones, I’m reviewing each single #1 single within the historical past of the Billboard Scorching 100, beginning with the chart’s starting, in 1958, and dealing my method up into the current.

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The time period “gangster rap” dates again to 1989, when Robert Hillburn used it in an LA Weekly cowl story on N.W.A. At that time, it was only a descriptor. N.W.A, like Schoolly D and Ice-T earlier than them, rapped about doing gangster shit; considered one of their first singles was 1988’s “Gangsta Gangsta.” N.W.A and their contemporaries by no means used “gangsta” as a style title; they most popular to speak about what they did as “actuality rap.” However you couldn’t begin an ethical panic by speaking about actuality rap. With “gangsta rap,” the Newsweek editorials virtually wrote themselves.

The ethical panics in all probability began with N.W.A, who discovered nationwide cult fame by rapping bluntly and forcefully about medicine and intercourse and violence and hating cops. That panic bought louder after Ice Dice left N.W.A and positioned himself as a cold-blooded rap revolutionary. On the finish of 1992, shortly after N.W.A splintered, Dr. Dre, one other former member, launched The Power, an irresistible widescreen blockbuster that successfully turned actuality rap into pop music. Dre and his Dying Row comrades did nothing to water down their music, and the sheer magnetism of their sound made them pop-chart fixtures. “Nuthin’ However A ‘G’ Thang,” the lead single from The Power, bought as excessive as #2 on the Scorching 100. (It’s a ten.) However Dre made unreconstructed road music, and it didn’t get the type of radio airplay that its sheer reputation warranted on the time. For an extended whereas, Dre and his Dying Row labelmates couldn’t make all of it the way in which to #1. (Dre and a few different Dying Row artists will ultimately seem on this column.)

By 1995, just a few rap songs had managed to high the Scorching 100, however all of these conquering hits had been novelty songs in a method or one other. Vanilla Ice and Marky Mark had been goofy white boys making dance-rap. PM Daybreak had been starry-eyed, melody-loving neo-hippies. Kris Kross had been little children who wore their garments backwards. Sir Combine-A-Lot appreciated huge butts, and he couldn’t lie. None of these artists had a lot to do with the violent and profane near-nihilism that had come to suffuse an enormous a part of the rap panorama. For the second, that stuff was too harsh for pop radio. That lastly modified when Coolio, a Compton rapper who’d gotten well-known by making a cool good-time variation on Dr. Dre’s G-funk, recorded a sweeping, gothic street-life lament over a Stevie Marvel pattern, and when that street-life lament grew to become the theme for successful film.

Coolio didn’t use cuss phrases on “Gangsta’s Paradise,” and he didn’t actually glamorize the felony life. As a substitute, he delivered weirdly catchy road confessions over a melody that loads of radio programmers would’ve acknowledged. Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” grew to become a worldwide phenomenon. Within the course of, it acted as an important bridge document. Coolio by no means made one other #1 hit, however just a few unflinching street-rappers quickly adopted him to the highest of the Scorching 100.

Coolio was born Artis Leon Ivey, Jr. in Compton. (When Coolio was born, the #1 track in America was Jan And Dean’s “Surf Metropolis.”) Coolio was a sickly child with unhealthy bronchial asthma, however as he bought older, he began working with native gangbangers, and he spent just a few months in jail for larceny as a youngster. Later, Coolio studied at Compton Group School and found rap. He took his stage title from Julio Iglesias, and he launched a few native singles, however a cocaine dependancy derailed his profession. Afterward, whereas straightening himself out, Coolio labored as a firefighter and a safety guard.

In 1990, Coolio joined South Central LA rapper WC, previously half of the ’80s duo Low Profile, in a brand new group known as WC And The Maad Circle. Coolio was everywhere in the Maad Circle’s 1991 debut album Ain’t A Rattling Factor Modified, a minor West Coast traditional, and he rapped on the one “Gown Code.” (The Maad Circle’s highest-charting single, the 1995 Ice Dice/Mack 10 collab “West Up!,” peaked at #88, however Coolio wasn’t within the group anymore by then. As a solo artist, WC’s highest-charting single is 1997’s “Simply Clownin’,” which peaked at #56. As a 3rd of the supergroup Westside Connection, WC bought to #21 with the fuck-somebody-up 1996 traditional “Bow Down.”) The Maad Circle toured with Ice Dice, and one night time at First Avenue in Minneapolis, the group rushed out into the gang and beat the shit out of the soundman. For some time, Coolio was in all probability extra well-known for his function in that fracas than for any of the music that he made.

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After Ain’t A Rattling Factor Modified, Coolio left the Maad Circle and joined one other crew known as 40 Thevz. In 1994, Coolio signed a solo take care of Tommy Boy, and he launched his debut album It Takes A Thief. That LP’s huge single was “Incredible Voyage,” a goofy and pleasant tackle West Coast G-funk that grew to become an surprising crossover smash, thanks partially to a cartoonish video from director F. Gary Grey. Coolio’s distinctive coiffure — braids tangled up in order that they’d shoot in each course — in all probability helped, too; it made Coolio one of many few rappers who might be recognized by silhouette alone. “Incredible Voyage” peaked at #3, and it pushed It Takes A Thief to platinum gross sales. (It’s a 7.)

Earlier than “Incredible Voyage,” Coolio was one LA rap journeyman amongst many. After “Incredible Voyage,” he had a reputation, and loads of the musicians in his scene needed to work with him. On the time, Coolio’s supervisor Paul Stewart was roommates with a producer named Doug Rasheed. Their home had a recording studio, and it grew to become a hub for rappers from that scene. Certainly one of Rasheed’s collaborators was Larry “LV” Sanders, a singer who was a part of South Central Cartel, a rap group with a Def Jam deal.

In the future, whereas placing collectively beats, Doug Rasheed pulled out his copy of Stevie Marvel’s 1976 blockbuster masterpiece Songs In The Key Of Life and went to work on “Pastime Paradise,” a deep lower that had by no means been launched as a single. “Pastime Paradise” had been a massively superior observe in its day. Marvel constructed the track with synthesizers, utilizing them to imitate the sound of the string part that he might’ve simply afforded to rent. In its authentic kind, “Pastime Paradise” is a lament in regards to the individuals who idealize the oppressive previous. Marvel makes it sound bleak and epic, and because the observe builds to its finale, he harmonizes with a wailing gospel choir.

When Doug Rasheed sampled “Pastime Paradise,” he took it to LV, who was making an attempt to get a solo deal on the time. LV sang over the observe, utilizing Stevie Marvel’s melody however singing a couple of gangsta’s paradise as an alternative. LV needed a rapper to hitch him on the track, and he supplied it to fellow South Central Cartel member Prodeje, who declined. However whereas they had been engaged on the track, Coolio stopped by the home to select up a examine from his supervisor, and he heard what they had been making. It transfixed him instantly. In a 2015 Rolling Stone oral historical past, Coolio remembers basically demanding to take the observe for himself: “I walked into the studio and requested Doug, ‘Wow, whose observe is that?’ Doug mentioned, ‘Oh, it’s one thing I’m engaged on.’ I mentioned, ‘Properly, it’s mine!’” Since Coolio already had successful and a reputation, Rasheed and LV knew that this might prove nicely for all of them.

Impressed by that beat, Coolio wrote his “Gangsta’s Paradise” lyrics in a single sitting. The track is a piece of first-person fiction. Coolio himself was previous 30 on the time, however his “Gangsta’s Paradise” narrator is 23, and he doesn’t know if he’ll stay to see 24. He sees dying throughout him, and he is aware of that his recklessness has alienated all of the folks in his life. He’s been blasting and laughing for therefore lengthy that even his mama thinks that his thoughts is gone. He tries to elucidate his circumstances: He can’t stay a standard life! He was raised by the road!

Typically, Coolio’s narrator sounds proud and menacing. He’s a loc’ed-out gangsta, set-trippin’ banger, and his homies is down, so don’t round his anger, idiot. However when Coolio’s narrator takes a have a look at his life, he’s full of despair, and the data of his personal toughness solely makes it worse. He is aware of that he’s a seductive determine, and he is aware of that’s a foul factor: “I’m the kinda G the little homies wanna be like/ On my knees within the night time, sayin’ prayers within the streetlight.” As darkish as these lyrics could be, they’re additionally catchy, stuffed with memorable little hooks: “Energy and the cash! Cash and the ability! Minute after minute! Hour after hour!” It’s a straightforward track to be taught, and my complete generational cohort in all probability nonetheless has each lyric dedicated to reminiscence.

“Gangsta’s Paradise” is a stark departure from the party-funk antics of “Incredible Voyage,” and Coolio’s supply is totally completely different. He raps it in a chesty baritone increase, stretching out his vowel feels like a preacher, and he sounds greater than just a little bit like Tupac Shakur, one of many defining West Coast rap figures of that period. (Pac will ultimately seem on this column.) Whether or not or not it’s imitation, that supply locks in properly with the pounding drama of the “Pastime Paradise” pattern. LV’s refrain ups the drama much more, as he howls out that slightly-flipped Stevie Marvel hook over wordlessly wailing choirs. There are larger rap songs than “Gangsta’s Paradise,” and there are bleaker ones, too. (UGK’s “One Day,” one of many saddest songs ever written, got here out a 12 months later.) However “Gangsta’s Paradise” hits a type of pop candy spot. It’s arduous and pathos-riddled sufficient to sound credible, nevertheless it’s additionally huge and anthemic sufficient to echo round a stadium.

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Coolio’s A&R at Tommy Boy didn’t hear “Gangsta’s Paradise” as a single, so his supervisor shopped it round to completely different film studios for soundtracks. It virtually ended up in Unhealthy Boys, the hit buddy cop car for future Quantity Ones artist Will Smith, nevertheless it discovered its solution to Disney’s classroom drama Harmful Minds as an alternative. Harmful Minds is pure cliché-riddled mid-’90s studio fare. Michelle Pfeiffer performs a former Marine who takes a job as a instructor at a troublesome inner-city highschool, and she or he ultimately reaches her hardass college students with karate classes and Bob Dylan lyrics. The upper-ups on the college don’t approve of her strategies, and considered one of her college students dies tragically, however by the point the film’s over, she’s absolutely bonded with these children. The movie relies on a memoir with the frankly hilarious title My Posse Don’t Do Homework, and it’s precisely the type of well-meaning cringey ’90s middlebrow fare that no one actually misses.

Within the Rolling Stone oral historical past, Coolio says that Harmful Minds producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer gave him $100,000 for “Gangsta’s Paradise,” however he first wanted clearance from Stevie Marvel for the pattern. At first, Marvel turned him down. Marvel didn’t wish to be related to gangsta rap. However Coolio had a solution to contact Marvel: “It simply so occurred that my spouse, she knew Stevie’s brother — I suppose he had been making an attempt to faucet that for years.” Coolio arrange a gathering with Marvel, who mentioned that he might use the pattern so long as he took all of his curses off the track. That demand in all probability helped make “Gangsta’s Paradise” a lot much less threatening to pop-radio programmers, and so Marvel in all probability did Coolio an enormous favor there. Marvel’s different demand, nonetheless, didn’t assist Coolio an excessive amount of: “Unbeknownst to me, the opposite situation was that he needed 95% of the publishing!”

As soon as Coolio and Stevie Marvel made a deal, Jerry Bruckheimer determined to make “Gangsta’s Paradise” the lead single from the Harmful Minds soundtrack. This was name. The Harmful Minds soundtrack, like so many different soundtracks from that point, is a bizarre combined bag of the rap and R&B of its period. It’s bought a few Rappin’ 4-Tay tracks, a solo track from former Man chief Aaron Corridor, and “Havin’ Thangs,” a minor traditional from the New Orleans rapper Massive Mike. Missy Elliott’s outdated lady group Sista are on there, and so are Wendy and Lisa, the previous members of Prince’s Revolution. The album’s second single is “Really feel The Funk,” a reasonably generic observe from the kiddie-rap group Immature; it peaked at #46.

Within the context of that soundtrack, “Gangsta’s Paradise” stands out starkly. The track ultimately drove the Harmful Minds soundtrack to the #1 spot on the Billboard album charts and to triple-platinum gross sales. Jerry Bruckheimer recruited the younger music-video director Antoine Fuqua, who was nonetheless three years in the past from making his personal cinematic debut with the not-as-good-as-it-should-be Chow Yun-Fats motion flick The Substitute Killers. Afterward, Fuqua directed Denzel Washington to an Oscar in Coaching Day.

Fuqua requested Michelle Pfeiffer to be within the “Gangsta’s Paradise” video, and she or he agreed. Her presence within the video felt like an enormous deal, and Fuqua made it look slick and intense. The “Gangsta’s Paradise” video is just about simply Coolio and Pfeiffer mean-mugging one another whereas the digicam spins round them, however the two of them make a hanging pair, and it appears cool. (Two years later, Coolio had a cameo as a man who runs road races in Batman And Robin. I suppose meaning he adopted Michelle Pfeiffer into the ’90s Batman cinematic universe.)

Bruckheimer and Simpson used that video to closely market Harmful Minds, and so they put the track in each trailer. It labored. Harmful Minds bought middling opinions, however the movie earned about $89 million on the home field workplace. It was 1995’s Thirteenth-biggest film, touchdown on the year-end box-office checklist proper between Waterworld and Mr. Holland’s Opus. “Gangsta’s Paradise” bought a Document Of The 12 months Grammy nomination, and Billboard ultimately named it the 12 months’s greatest hit. (“Gangsta’s Paradise” solely spent three weeks at #1, nevertheless it additionally racked up 9 weeks at #2.) At that 12 months’s Billboard Music Awards, Coolio, LV, and Stevie Marvel carried out the track collectively.

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Coolio hadn’t deliberate to make use of “Gangsta’s Paradise” on his second album, however when the track blew up, he made it that album’s title observe. Gangsta’s Paradise got here out in November of 1995, after the one had already completed its run at #1, and that album ultimately went double platinum. (The “Gangsta’s Paradise” single, in the meantime, offered three million copies.) Coolio adopted “Gangsta’s Paradise” with the considerably sillier single “1, 2, 3, 4 (Sumpin’ New),” which peaked at #5. (It’s a 6.)

After “Gangsta’s Paradise,” Coolio fell out with Doug Rasheed and LV, and LV recorded his personal solo model of “Gangsta’s Paradise.” (As lead artist, LV’s highest-charting single is 1995’s “Throw Your Arms Up,” which peaked at #63.) Coolio did the theme track for the Nickelodeon present Kenan & Kel, and he adopted Gangsta’s Paradise along with his 1997 album My Soul. It went platinum, and lead single “C U When U Get There” peaked at #12, however that apparently wasn’t sufficient for Tommy Boy. The label dropped him quickly after.

Since My Soul, Coolio has been cranking out music on indie labels, and he’s been an everyday on actuality reveals: Concern Issue, Movie star Massive Brother, Spouse Swap. He had an internet cooking present for a short time, and he wrote a cookbook. He’s additionally been arrested for just a few instances, together with for cocaine, his outdated dependancy. However since “Gangsta’s Paradise” topped charts across the planet, Coolio by no means stops getting booked for reveals.

Coolio isn’t a one-hit marvel, however he by no means actually grew to become an A-list star, both. “Gangsta’s Paradise” is a little bit of an anomaly — a breezy party-rapper scoring a large earthshaking hit with a downbeat ode to the risks of road life. In its time, although, “Gangsta’s Paradise” was in all probability probably the most credible rap track ever to high the Scorching 100, and the observe’s success opened issues up. Within the years that adopted, the rap songs that reached the Scorching 100 weren’t the brilliant, pleasant hits of the early ’90s. They had been rougher and grimier, and Coolio had one thing to do with that transition. We gained’t see Coolio on this column once more, however a rappers that we are going to see in all probability owe Coolio some minor debt of gratitude.

GRADE: 8/10

BONUS BEATS: You get zero factors for guessing that “Bizarre Al” Yankovic would seem on this part. In 1996, Yankovic launched his “Gangsta’s Paradise” parody “Amish Paradise.” Yankovic had a coverage of asking artists for permission earlier than spoofing their songs, however he went by Coolio’s label, not by Coolio himself, and Coolio later mentioned that he was mad in regards to the parody. (It in all probability didn’t assist that Yankovic copied Coolio’s hairdo on the quilt of his Unhealthy Hair Day album.) Yankovic apologized, and he and Coolio are cool now. Within the Rolling Stone oral historical past, Coolio says that objecting to “Amish Paradise” is “one of many least good issues I’ve completed through the years.” Since then, Yankovic at all times goes on to artists, fairly than going by intermediaries. Right here’s the “Amish Paradise” video, the place The Brady Bunch‘s Florence Henderson performs the Michelle Pfeiffer function:

(“Amish Paradise” peaked at #53. “Bizarre” Al Yankovic’s highest-charting single, 2006’s “White & Nerdy,” peaked at #9. It’s a 7.)

BONUS BONUS BEATS: Right here’s Bubba Sparxxx flipping the “Gangsta’s Paradise” beat on his 2006 Sleepy Brown/Duddy Ken collab “That Man”:

(Bubba Sparxxx’s highest-charting single is the 2006 Ying Yang Twins collab “Ms. New Booty,” which peaked at #7. It’s a 6. As lead artist, Sleepy Brown’s highest-charting single is 2004’s “I Can’t Wait,” which peaked at #40. As a visitor hook-singer, Sleepy Brown will ultimately seem on this column.)

BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Right here’s the scene from the 2011 Michel Gondry movie The Inexperienced Hornet the place Seth Rogen and Jay Chou rap together with “Gangsta’s Paradise”:

BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Right here’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” soundtracking an attempted-heist scene within the 2013 Michael Bay film Ache & Acquire:

(Mark Wahlberg has already been on this column.)

BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Right here’s the dance scene from Trish Sie’s 2014 movement image Step Up: All In that’s partially set to an EDM remix of “Gangsta’s Paradise”:

THE 10S: The Luniz’ weightless, hypnotic people who smoke’ anthem “I Obtained 5 On It” peaked at #8 behind “Gangsta’s Paradise.” I bought 10 on it.