Born Artis Leon Ivey Jr. in Monessen, Pennsylvania on August 1, 1963, the rapper grew up in Compton, Calif., and served as a volunteer firefighter before turning to a full-time music career. His stint with a fire crew in the San Jose area was “a way to clean up,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1994.
“In firefighting training, I needed discipline. We ran every day. I didn’t drink or smoke or do the things that I usually do,” Coolio told the newspaper.
His big breakthrough would come that year with “Fantastic Voyage,” followed by “Gangsta’s Paradise” – a No. 1 single that was featured in the 1995 film “Dangerous Minds,” starring Michelle Pfeiffer. The song eventually won Coolio a Grammy in 1996 and catapulted him to the top of hip-hop.
The rapper’s long career included hits like “CU 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 have witnessed this man’s rise to the top of the industry firsthand. Rest in peace.”
Pfeiffer credited “Gangsta’s Paradise,” which she called a “brilliant song,” for turning “Dangerous Minds” into a smash hit in 1995.
“I remember he was nothing but gracious. 30 years later I still get chills when I hear the song,” she wrote on Instagram. “Sending love and light to her family.”