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Interview: Coolio says "Right now, I'm on fire"

IN CONTROL: Coolio is working on a number of new projects, including a second cookbook

SPEAKING AT length with Coolio, three things now jump to mind – 'resilient', 'deep' and 'uber polite'. The Voice became privy to a more sensitive, super-personal side to the Compton, California rapper.

After selling out arenas across America, he recently headlined the UK leg of the I Love the '90s tour alongside some of the most iconic names in music – Vanilla Ice, Salt-N-Pepa featuring Spinderella, Color Me Badd, Tone Loc and Young MC.

Don’t you remember the 90s well? It was a time when club culture was at its peak, electronic influences from US R&B, soul and hip-hop artists reverberated across all corners of the world, taking the charts by storm in the process.

For Coolio, whose popular hits include Gangsta’s Paradise, Fantastic Voyage and 1 2 3 4 (Sumpin’ New’), the era marked a voyage of self-discovery and musical purpose.

“It was actually the time where I found myself, who I was, what I was made of and when I figured out what my career choice would be, through trial and error.

"I always wanted to have a voice, to be able to speak to people and have them have a reason to listen to me. I started off thinking I’d be a social activist, which I actually became through music – but I didn’t plan it that way.”


BACK IN THE DAY: From left - Coolio alongside Shara Nelson, Vanessa Mae and Noel Gallagher for the BRIT Awards nominations back in 1996

Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise was the biggest-selling single of 1995, hitting the number one spot across the world and cementing his place as one of the decade’s most prominent stars. It’s a widely-documented fact that he wrote the track in one sitting – but did he anticipate that it would go on to become one of the most enduring rap songs of all time?

“I had no clue! I didn’t write Gangsta’s Paradise – it wrote me. It was its own entity, out there in the spirit world, trying to find its way to the world, and it chose me as the vessel to come through.

“I thought it was going to be a hood record; I never thought it would crossover the way that it did – to all ages, races, genres, countries and generations.”

It wasn’t long after he burst onto the scene that Coolio made a remarkable transition to the big screen, playing roles in Batman & Robin (1997), Judgement Day (1999) and Charmed (2002), to name a few. He also featured in – and rapped the theme song for – Kenan & Kel (1996-2000) on Nickelodeon.

While the rapper’s real name is Artis Leon Ivey Jr; his unique stage name came about in an interesting way.


RARING TO GO: Despite being in his mid-50s, Coolio says he feels as good as he did in his 30s, and plans to release a new album

“My friends taking the mick out of me – going hard on me. I used to try and play guitar.
The only thing I was decent at playing was Jose Feliciano’s version of Light My Fire.
I was picking through it while my mother let my friends in the house. I had the guitar up quite loud, so I didn’t hear them come in. They were standing in the doorway and I had my head down looking at the guitar, and I stopped playing and looked up they were standing there and all started laughing. One of my friends said, ‘Look at him, he thinks he’s Julio Englesias’ (the Spanish singer). My other homeboy said, ‘That’s not Julio, that’s Coolio!’, and they started laughing. Before I knew it, everyone started calling me that, and it stuck from there.”

Among his many achievements over the years, and in spite of a highly publicised battle with drug addiction, Coolio has successfully branded himself as a chef, releasing his first cookbook, Cooking with Coolio in 2009 and later launching a web series.

“I am working on the second cookbook as we speak. We are in the process of doing new episodes of Cooking with Coolio, and some other things, as well.

“The big thing I want to do is a frozen food range that tastes really good, is really healthy and sold at a reasonable price, so everybody can afford to eat it.”


IN HIS ELEMENT: Coolio wants to make history as the oldest hip-hop artist to go platinum or gold

Coolio, who often refers to himself as the ‘Ghetto Martha Stewart’, first got into cooking at the age of eight years old after getting home from school. His mother Jackie gave strict instructions before she left for work: ‘Don’t touch my stove and don’t be in here, doing nothing silly’. He didn’t listen.

“She said, ‘If you get hungry, there’s some tuna in the refrigerator, make you a tuna sandwich’.

"My stepfather was in his room sleeping because he worked late, so he came home in the morning and went to bed, to go back to work that night.

“For some reason, I decided that I wanted to have a fried tuna sandwich. So I got a skillet, turned it on, and made my first grilled tuna sandwich with some melted cheese on top. Being a little boy and not having much sense, I left the pan that I cooked it in in the sink – I didn’t wash it out and put it away. That’s what got me caught.”

An ‘a*s-whooping’, as Coolio described it in his Los Angeles drawl, ensued.

“After that, one day, my mother was chopping some onions. She looked at me and said, ‘You wanna cook, huh?’ – she brought me in the kitchen and taught me how to chop onion, garlic...I became her kitchen slave. I had to sweep and mop and wash the dishes, chop, take out the trash, stir the pot and whatever other menial tasks she asked me to do. Throughout that process, I was always in the kitchen with her, and I learned the basics from that.”

SELF-THERAPY

When Coolio’s beloved mother died in the 1980s, grief and depression had a devastating impact.

“I went through this period where I didn’t enjoy food because I missed her cooking so much. Nothing tasted right; I’d just wolf my food down like a dog. I ate to live, really.

“Of course, black people don’t get therapy much. I didn’t. But I did self-therapy. I sat down, looked at my problem and decided the only thing I could do was figure out how my mother used to cook things and recreate her meals.

“Throughout that process, I realised cooking was like music. It’s creation and imagination – that’s right up my alley. It’s something I was naturally good at.”

The father of six – three sons and three daughters – is very dedicated to his family. He proudly spoke about of his middle daughter’s pending nuptials and his youngest child’s enrolment at NYU university. At heart, he seems to be quite the traditionalist.

“I haven’t got any grandchildren yet. My daughters and I have this little pact. They promised that they wouldn’t have children until they were married. They said they were gonna at least try and give it a shot with a guy, without taking chances, by having children without having both parents in the home.

TOO OUTSPOKEN

“If I could, I would arrange all of my children’s marriages (to make sure they’re with the right person). Of course, my daughters are way too outspoken and too independent to let me get away with that!”

Coolio is all loved-up himself at the moment.

“There’s a special lady in my life. She’s stood the test of time; I put her through a lot and she will not, under any circumstances, leave me. She won. This is somebody that’s been around for a long time.”

The 54 year-old, who became a pescatarian three months ago, is loving his new lifestyle.

“I feel absolutely different. I am lighter on my feet, I’m more more aware of things, think faster and I’m actually writing better – like I did when I was in my 30s. It’s an amazing feeling. Not to mention my libido – it’s like my 17 again. If the wind blows, I’m ready to go!”

And of course, new music is underway.

“Right now, I’m on fire creatively. I’ve got some really good stuff going on. I am looking to release a new album and I’m leaning towards calling it Ol’ Man River. That was a song from a movie back in the day.

“If I release a new record, I will probably be the oldest successful hip-hop artist to release an album in history. I’m 54 years old – who releases a hip-hop album at 54? Nobody! I would love to be the first rapper, over 50, to go platinum or gold, even. I am looking forward to the challenge.”

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