This is a reworking of Stevie Wonder's 1976 song "Pastime Paradise." It wasn't Coolio's idea to use Wonder's song; a singer named Larry Sanders - who goes by the stage name L.V. (Large Variety) - started working on it and sent a demo to Collio, who was looking for a song to record for the 1995 movie Dangerous Minds.
Starring Michelle Pfeiffer, the film is about a troubled school and the challenges faced by the students and the idealistic teacher played by Pfeiffer. Coolio wrote a lyric to express the feelings of despair and abandonment felt by the kids at the school, putting it to the track Sanders created. Along with the song's producer David Rasheed, Coolio and Sanders crafted the song, with Sanders singing the hook.
They still had to clear the sample from Stevie Wonder, and this proved difficult, as he rejected the first version of "Gangsta's Paradise" because it contained swearing. After Coolio rewrote the lyric, Wonder gave his approval.
Having grown up in Compton, California, Coolio could certainly relate to the gangsta lifestyle (so could the song's co-writer Larry Sanders, who survived a shooting), but he says that the song is not about him, but about the kids portrayed in Dangerous Minds who feel they don't have control of their lives.
This won the Grammy in 1995 for Best Rap Solo Performance.
Coolio's first hit came a year earlier with "Fantastic Voyage," a party jam that made #3 in the US. His record company, MCA, was hoping he would stay in that groove and release more upbeat songs - when they heard the brooding "Gangsta's Paradise" they were afraid it would alienate his fans.
The song first appeared on the Dangerous Minds soundtrack, and when it became the basis for the movie's marketing campaign - heard in trailers and commercials for the film - MCA knew they had a hit on their hands. The song was released as a single, going to #1 in both the US and UK, and included on Coolio's second album, which was titled after the song.
Weird Al Yankovic recorded a popular parody of this called "Amish Paradise." Coolio did not give him permission to use it and claimed Al "desecrated" his song. They eventually made peace and appeared together at the 1996 American Music Awards.
Weird Al wasn't the only one to parody the song: "Shepherd's Paradise" is the parody version performed by ApologetiX, while "Algore Paradise" is a parody by Paul Shanklin satirizing Al Gore and Bill Clinton.
The video took a novel approach, with Coolio appearing in a dialogue with Michelle Pfeiffer, who was in character as the teacher she portrayed in the film. Scenes from the movie were also used, but Coolio's original footage was shot so it would integrate those scenes, making the clip a united work as opposed to the typical approach of intercutting concert footage with film clips. Having the photogenic Pfeiffer (who also appeared in the gangsta favorite Scarface) in the video certainly helped the song's fortunes, while Coolio's song and appearance in the video brought the film to a much wider audience.
The first line of this song comes from the bible, Psalm 23:4: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me."
While King David praises God's protection like a shepherd to his flock, Coolio realizes that he walks alone in his valley - a volatile "gangsta's paradise."
Joined by the New York Boys Choir, Stevie Wonder performed this song with Coolio and L.V. at the 1995 Billboard Music Awards, where it won for Single Of The Year. A new arrangement was need to extend the song so Wonder would have room to sing, so Coolio joined Stevie at his studio to work it up before the performance. Wonder came on stage about halfway through the song to a rousing ovation. Later in the performance, he sang the "living in a gangsta's paradise" line while L.V. acknowledged the original by singing "living in a pastime paradise."
For 22 years, this held the record for the longest running #1 single in Australia since the first ever ARIA Chart was listed on July 10, 1983. It sat on the throne for 13 weeks, beating the likes of Eminem's "Lose Yourself," which stayed at the summit for 12 weeks. Coolio's tune was eventually usurped by Ed Sheeran's "Shape Of You," which spent 15 consecutive weeks atop the listing in 2017.
This was the first hard-core rap song to hit #1 in the UK. It was also the best selling rap single in the UK until Puff Daddy's "I'll Be Missing You" displaced it two years later.
Fourteen years after this song first appeared on the UK charts, it returned to the British Top 40 as a result of Coolio featuring in the 2009 series of Celebrity Big Brother.
Fulu from South AfricaThis song takes me back 2 my childhood, mmm it made the 90's memorable.
Miles from Vancouver, CanadaThe "In The Air Tonight" of rap songs...most non-rap fans love this mind-bending song the same way with Phil Collins and his song...besides, if you listen to the lyrics, they really are bone-chilling.
Garrett from Nashville, TnI remember listening to this song when I was a kid. Hearing it now brings back a lot of memories. I've been watching a show called X Factor and a guy named Chris Rene did a cover of this song but remixed it a little. I think he did a really good job with it.
Jim from Long Beach, CaCoolio another rapper from my hometown of Long Beach,California(The LBC)....
Theresa from Murfreesboro, TnI used to listen to this song like crazy in junior high. Too bad Coolio could never recapture the magic.
Brad from Somewhere, GaQuote: "They were afraid the song was too graphic and would alienate fans who enjoyed his hit "Fantastic Voyage," which had much lighter subject matter."
Fantastic Voyage was about wanting to escape from the hood. He wants to move to "a place where my kids can play outside without living in fear of a drive-by.") He continues to rap about "running with a gang" and having to "stand on the corner and slang [sell drugs]."
Not exactly "much lighter subject matter," and not that much different from this song.
Fulu from Limpopo, South Africayankovic made such a hit song out of this gangstas paradise
S.d. from Denver, CoI always thought it was a little hypocritical of Coolio to complain about Yankovic having used the song without permission and having "desecrated" his song, when in fact, Coolio didn't exactly get permission to "desecrate" Stevie Wonder's low-key R&B classic about a life spent in poverty by recording a rap track over the music.
Bertrand from Paris, FrancePrior to 1995, Coolio was mostly known for lighter, more humorous rap that provided an alternative to West Coast gangsta rap. The rivetingly atmospheric "Gangsta's Paradise" was such a shift in focus that Coolio's record label decided to leave it off his own solo album and instead put it on the soundtrack to the film [i] Dangerous Minds [i]. When released as a single, "Gangsta's Paradise" became one of the biggest hits of the year spreading its social commentary on ghetto life from coast to coast.
Sara from Traverse City, MiI remeber back when this came out, I was about 9 or 10 and my sister use to play this all the time. And I loved it, still do in fact.
J-roc from South Boston, MaOne of my favorite hip-hop songs from back in the day.
Dave from Cardiff, WalesThe song was creditted to 'Coolio featuring LV' when released as a single in 1995. The first of four big UK hits for Coolio between 1995 and 1997
Brandon from Peoria, IlYou hit the nail on the head Sam. If Coolio wanted to look more gangsta, he should have taken that goofy lookin' spider off of his head :)
Gerald from Philippines, Otherim not of a hip hop kinda person, but this one here is rockin rap song! hell yeah!
Ralph from Newton, MaOne of the funniest things to me about the Weird Al flap is that Coolio said something like this ain't "Beat It." But isn't the subject matter essentially the same of gang warfare etc.? The big difference I see is that Michael Jackson is (was) a skinny black guy who sings like a girl. Coolio on the other hand, hired a fat black guy to sing like a girl on his song.
Ben from Nyc, MsAmish Paradise Is Better.
Kristina from Houston, Txthis song is awesome! it was my favorite rap song when i was in junior high. its the coolest!
Sam from Chicago, IlActually, I think Coolio's record company said Al could do the parody, but Coolio apparently diddn't know. I think he was just making it up to sound more "gangsta"
Jeannie from Bwood, TnYay! We sang this song in choir! isnt that crazy!?
Eric from Phx, Aztight song i think but weirld al made it more popular
Tom from Alma, GaIt would be somewhat of a relief to hear a rap song that WASN'T about "how rought life growin up on the streets" is, or killing someone, or all the money and cootchie they get.
Cap from Earth, United StatesEvan:
"this song paved the way for all the rappers that tell how hard life really is where they grow up."
So I'm guessing you never heard of Public Enemy, KRS-One and Grandmaster Flash then?
Mark from Montebello, CaFunny that Coolio got mad at Weird Al Yankovic for using "his" song. Yet, it's Stevie Wonder's song. Coolio "you" desecrated a great song.
Evan from Acworh, GaOne of my FAVORITE all time rap songs! If you are a rap fan, this song paved the way for all the rappers that tell how hard life really is where they grow up. David Banner, Fraiser Boys, they all tell the story of rough life growing up on the streets. Great song...just listen to the words
Eddy from Townsville, AustraliaWickidass song, one of my favourite rap songs of all time ; )