The most famous song from the late American rapper Coolio was “Gangsta’s Paradise”, featuring the singer L.V., released in 1995. It simply became the number one biggest-selling single of that year on the United States Billboard and he even won a Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo performance.
The song sold more than five million copies only in the United States, Germany and United Kingdom and was one of the most famous songs from the 90s.
But besides being composed by Coolio, Larry Sanders and Doug Rasheed, the legendary Stevie Wonder was also credited as one of the composers.
How “Gangsta’s Paradise” was created from a Stevie Wonder song
As many rappers have done over the decades, Coolio sampled the Stevie Wonder song “Pastime Paradise”, which helped him to compose the smash hit. The original track was written by Wonder and released in 1976 as part of his album “Song In The Key of Life”. It became a huge part of “Gangsta’s Paradise” success since the synthesizer was one of the key elements of the track.
Wonder’s indirect involvement with the track curiously affected the lyrics. Because he first rejected the song when the rapper sent to his approval. Stevie didn’t like his song being connected with any kind of cursing, swearing or bad language. So Coolio ended up changing a few parts of the lyrics. He recalled that in an interview with Billboard, saying: “I had a few vulgarities and he wasn’t with that. So I changed it. Once he heard it, he thought it was incredible”. It ended up being one of the few Coolio songs that did not had any cursing.
The idea of using the song came when Paul Rasheed, who was a producer, played the Stevie Wonder track to the DJ and producer Paul Stewart. Both were roomatees and Coolio recalled how he first heard the track in an interview with Rolling Stone in 2015. Although he was a big fan of Stevie Wonder he wasn’t familiar with that particular song.
“I had actually gone over that day to pick up a check from my manager. I was getting ready to go back to my car. (And) I remember this clearly — there was a Chevy Biscayne that was parked next door. I was looking at that, and I was asking the neighbor if he wanted to sell it.”
“And then I had to go to the bathroom, so I went back inside my manager’s house to use the toilet before I rolled out. That’s when I heard the track. I walked into the studio, and asked Doug, ‘Wow, whose track is that?’ Doug said, ‘Oh, it’s something I’m working on.’ I said, ‘Well, it’s mine!’” Coolio said.
As Stevie Wonder said in the documentary Classic Albums, when he recorded “Pastime Paradise”, his inspiration for the synthesizer parts was to try to recreated that “string feel” from The Beatles’ songs like “Eleanor Rigby”.
Coolio and Stevie Wonder performed a mashup of the two songs in 1995
Coolio and Stevie Wonder ended up performing a mashup of the two songs at the Billboard Music Awards in 1995. He recalled how that came to be in an interview with Yahoo back in 2020. (Transcribed by Rock and Roll Garage) “Man, it was like I was on drugs. It was a high. I had so much power that night in my voice. My breath control, my stage presence on 15, on 26, whatever. It was different.”
He passed away in the same day the Wonder track completed 46 years of its release
As one of those huge coincidences or not in life, Coolio passed away on September 28, 2022. He was only 59 and died from the effects of Fentanyl. It was the same day the Stevie Wonder track “Pastime Paradise” celebrated its 46 anniversary of release.
“Gangsta’s Paradise” was Coolio’s second album and during his career he released eight studio albums. A posthumous album called “Long Live Coolio” was released in 2023.