Born Artis Leon Ivey Jr. in Monessen, Pa., on Aug. 1, 1963, the rapper grew up in Compton, Calif., and served as a volunteer firefighter before pivoting to a full-time music career. His stint with a firefighting crew in the San Jose area was “a way to clean up,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1994.
“In firefighting training was discipline I needed. We ran every day. I wasn’t drinking or smoking or doing the stuff I usually did,” Coolio told the newspaper.
His big break would come that year with “Fantastic Voyage,” followed by “Gangsta’s Paradise” — a No. 1 single that was featured in the 1995 movie “Dangerous Minds,” starring Michelle Pfeiffer. The song would eventually earn Coolio a Grammy in 1996 and catapult him to hip-hop’s top ranks.
The rapper’s long career included hits like “C U When U Get There” and “1,2,3,4 (Sumpin’ New),” collaborations with other artists and even a cooking series.
As news of his death spread, star-studded tributes began to pour in.
“This is sad news,” fellow rapper Ice Cube wrote on Twitter. “I witness first hand this man’s grind to the top of the industry. Rest In Peace.”
Pfeiffer credited “Gangsta’s Paradise,” which she called “a brilliant song,” for turning “Dangerous Minds” into a smash-box success in 1995.
“I remember him being nothing but gracious. 30 years later I still get chills when I hear the song,” she wrote on Instagram. “Sending love and light to his family.”