Goodbye Coolio, ‘C U when you get there’

Rapper Coolio

US rapper/actor Coolio performs at halftime of a game between the Connecticut Sun and the Las Vegas Aces at Michelob ULTRA Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on May 31, 2022. He died in Los Angeles aged 59 on September 28, 2022.

Photo credit: AFP

What you need to know:

  • He worked as a volunteer firefighter, before getting a job as a security guard in Los Angeles International Airport, before dropping his first bomb single Watchu Gonna Do? in 1987.
  • His album, with the title song Gangsta’s Paradise in 1995 not only went double multi-platinum but produced the top single hit across all genres in the USA, the 1995 number two hit in the UK, a global hit across all continents, and a great classic.
  • It also proved to be a darkly prophetic song as the rap world was then just getting caught up in the East Coast versus West Coast blood feud.


In 1997, one of the then most famous artists in the world – Artis Leon Ivey Junior – simply known as Coolio across the world – did a show at the Splash Waterworld in Nairobi.

The next day, a Sunday, he did a “family show” at KICC for excited Kenyan parents and kids.

The Saturday night show was a great success, but the Sunday made a splash for all the wrong reasons; though we the (then) youth thought it had been astounding and magnificent, comparable only to the Shaba Ranks show a few years before at City Stadium.

Using his usual colourful language, Coolio was on the tip of every tongue that Monday, especially as he had been featured in both the Young Nation as well as on Esther Bondo’s Rap Em programme as some kind of youth model, at a time when rap, alongside basketball and all things American – like trying the Green Card lottery – were all the rage in Kenya.

For this writer, as well as for the rest of the world, Coolio had first caught the world’s attention with his rap album, To Catch a Thief, and stolen it completely, pardon the pun, with the single Fantastic Voyage that came out in 1994.

In it, a friend phones Coolio for them to go to the beach and Coolio says that’s crazy because “we ain’t got a car”.

But then a fairy god-papa, who looks more like a cheap Los Angeles pimp in his over-the-top hat and outfit, transforms Coolio’s beat-up bike into a drop-top car, and three of his best buddies ...

What’s more, when they get to the beach, here come babes in bikinis pouring out of the trunk, alongside homeboys, fat folks, more bikini baes, white folks, a Mexican band, more bootylicious boos, African immigrants, a Sikh, a dog ... and in an era when 10 of us teens could pile into Ted Kivuvani’s 800cc Honda Civic to go from Nairobi West to party at Carnivore – a car that could carry an entire party from “da hood” to “da beach” made a certain type of rap sense.

Early life

But Artis Ivey’s life had been no Cindrella story or life on the beach.

Born in Pennsylvania in 1963, he moved to California to attend Compton Community College – which is like one of those Diploma in Photocopy Studies’ colleges that proliferate downtown Nairobi – worked as a volunteer firefighter, before getting a job as a security guard in Los Angeles International Airport, before dropping his first bomb single Watchu Gonna Do? in 1987.

But by 1991, he was known in the rap circles around Los Angeles, even as it went up in flames over the beating of Rodney King by racist cops, and he found success in 1994 after signing with Tommy Boy Records and producing that first Takes A Thief album that found a humorous and light-hearted niche in a hardcore gangster rap world dominated by rap thugs.

Ironically, it was his next album, with the title song Gangsta’s Paradise in 1995 that not only went double multi-platinum but produced the top single hit across all genres in the USA, the 1995 number two hit of the UK, a global hit across all continents, and a great classic.

I’m an educated fool with money on my mind

Too much television watchin’ got me chasin’ dreams

Got my ten in my hand and a gleam in my eye

I’m a loc’d out gangsta, set trippin’ banger

And my homies is down so don’t arouse my anger

Fool, death ain’t nothin’ but a heart-beat away

I’m livin’ life do or die, what can I say?

I’m 23 now, but will I live to see 24?

The way things is goin’ I don’t know ...”

Blood feud

It also proved to be a darkly prophetic song as the rap world was then just getting caught up in the East Coast versus West Coast blood feud that, two years later, would result in the loss of two of the greatest gangsta rappers, indeed of the greatest poetic lyricists in any genre, that have ever walked this planet.

The rap genius Tupac Shakur was assassinated in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas on September 13, 1997, after watching his friend Mike Tyson regain his world title after a stint in prison.

He was barely 25 years old. The East Coast maestro Notorious BIG was killed in a ‘revenge’ drive-by six months later – he was just 24 years old.

C U When You Get There, the hit single from Coolio’s album My Soul came out in mid-June 1997, three months before the demise of Tupac, and it packed an inspirational punch.

I’m gonna scuffle and struggle until I’m breathless and weak/ I just strived my whole life to make it to the mountain peak/ always keep reaching, be sure to grab hold of something ...

It’s not a song one should expect to hear at State House any Sunday soon, but it is the ultimate hustler’s song, no offence to the fellow who said “mi sipangwingwi”.

Coolio didn’t know it then, but with the death of Shakur, it wasn’t only “gangster” rap that had ended, soon to be taken up by the crass genius of Eminem and commercial genius of Jay Z, but the entire mid-nineties – basketball, Jordan bald cool hairstyles, big shorts and ‘America is God’ would give way to pants, hair-is-hot, the whole pervasive football culture of EPL that is still with us today, as well as the 1998 US Embassy bombings in Nairobi that showed the world that the USA had enemies.

It was also the zenith of Coolio as a music magnate.

Artis Leon Ivey Junior, 59, was found dead at a friend’s house on Wednesday. Cause: Cardiac arrest, for the lyrical gangster who brought us paradise with his fantastic voyage into music.

And whom we’ll see one day when we get there. If we ever get there!

Tony Mochama is the writer of the poetry collection ‘What If I’m a Literary Gangsta?’

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