by Dan O
When I visualize Coolio its hard for me to see him, which sounds strange, he was one of the most identifiable people in 90’s music. He passed at fifty-nine this week, collapsing at a friends house. Coolio is an important figure in my life. I followed him before Gangsta’s Paradise was a thing. It Takes A Thief was in heavy rotation for me in 1994. I was bumping track four ,Hand on My Nutsac, and head nodding like only a fourteen year old can. As a creator he was always someone who could take forge the charisma in his delivery into the verse, into the hook, into the very structural framework his music carried. We mourn his loss but I have to be honest, when I visualize Coolio I see white audiences laughing.
In 1996 Amish Paradise hit and in Maine it was beloved. When Coolio rejected it outright everyone turned. “I ain’t with that…I think that my song was too serious…I really…don’t appreciate him desecrating the song like that,” Coolio told a reporter at the 1996 Grammy Awards. I am still the only person I have ever met who took Coolio’s side at the time. I was everywhere in 1996 asking white people “Don’t you know what this song is about?!” 80’s babies are all children of Weird Al but that doesn’t mean we love everything Dad does. Coolio went from crack addiction to staring eye to eye with Michelle Pfeifer in a video that sailed around the world. Now Weird Al gets to make fun of his hair and clown that journey. Ok… why does Coolio have to love that? Why can’t you understand the aftertaste?
It was because a lot of the people I was talking to in 1996 enjoyed how funky and catchy the music was. They enjoyed his hairstyle, funny facial expressions. None of them knew he was in the Maad Circle with WC. They likely didn’t know what that was. That this was a real West Coast rapper through and through. One who was funny but wasn’t a joke. Coolio taught me that rap music has a high percentage of audience who care about the music without ever thinking about who made it.
The internet wasn’t around to shout counter narratives at the situation. Black Twitter couldn’t call out Weird Al for appropriating hairstyles linked to cultural significance he didn’t understand. Coolio was out. That audience who thought he was funny was already moving on to new rappers they could laugh at. I will be listening to Coolio for a while but I’m not going to listen to Gangsta’s Paradise for a while. As I write this, I’m listening to 1997’s My Soul. I want to hear him outside of the metanarratives that built and swallowed him. I’m on a voyage to visualize him again. Those privileged people that I argued with in 1996 are still around. I run into them sometimes and they are all very worried that you can’t say anything without getting in trouble anymore. It’s very possible that ,on some level, I was always building Freemusicempire as a coalition to stand against the audience he made me face.
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