The iconic video starring Michelle Pfeiffer because of her role in Dangerous Minds, is a bit harder to come by these days, due to copyright. but that doesn’t mean we should forget all that this song—which changed Coolio’s career trajectory and the lives of young people in the 90s forever—embodied. Now, the facts, intended to be randomly blurted out at trivia nights or throwback parties at the clubs, naturally:
1. The song samples Stevie Wonder’s 1976 song Pastime Paradise. If you’re fan, you probably knew that. Or if you were sitting in front of your TV during the 1995 Billboard Music Awards performance with Coolio, Gangsta’s Paradise singer L.V. (the guy behind the vocals, if you’re new to all this), and Stevie Wonder. The sample is actually the reason why this is one of few Coolio tracks without profanity, as Wonder would not allow it. Coolio said in an article, “I had a few vulgarities… and he wasn’t with that. So I changed it. Once he heard it, he thought it was incredible.”
2. It was actually singer L.V. who first changed the word “pastime” to “gangsta’s” introducing the idea for a song called Gangsta’s Paradise to producer Doug Rasheed. LV asked Prodeje to rap, but that didn’t work out—so it went to Coolio. From there, Coolio started writing out the lyrics and pretty much whipped up the whole thing in one afternoon.
3. There have been about a bazillion covers of this song over the years, but the one that debuted just last year is one of the most popular—and recent—featuring a 1920s gangster vibe via music collective Postmodern Jukebox. Basically, it’s 90s California rap meets 20s New York jazz.
4. Gangsta’s Paradise is a song that most everyone knows as least the name of, but you could say that about a lot of pop songs. However, this wasn’t just a US hit—it reached number one in 13 other countries too, in addition to being the first rap single to sell over 1 million copies in the UK. This of course, sent Coolio rapping all over the globe. Hey, you never know who will relate to your song.
5. The song has appeared in at least 8 feature films, starting with Dangerous Minds in 1995 (this song is arguably in part the reason behind the film’s success—especially due to the video) to Melissa McCarthy’s Tammy in 2014. Not to mention countless TV shows and probably hundreds of other lesser known performances.
It’s kind of amazing all that started from a producer who loved Stevie Wonder, a singer who added a word, and a rapper who knew he had to write this song. Coolio often cites divine intervention for this one… Who else?