It’s hard to fathom now how big of a hit Compton rapper Coolio’s song “Gangsta’s Paradise” was back in 1995. While Tupac and Suge Knight were beefing with the Notorious B.I.G. and Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs for supreme dominance over the rap game, Coolio was cleaning up in the charts with his near-ubiquitous hit. It beat out two of the greatest songs in rap history, “Big Poppa” and “Dear Mama,” to nab the Grammy award for Best Rap Solo Performance, was prominently featured in the film Dangerous Minds—Michelle Pfeiffer later appeared in the song’s music video—was the basis of one of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s greatest songs, “Amish Paradise,” and went on to become the best-selling song of the entire year.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of “Gangsta’s Paradise,” Rolling Stone has put together an extensive oral history of the song with insights from many of the principles involved including producer Doug Rasheed, singer L.V., Antoine Fuqua who directed the music video, “Weird Al,” and Coolio himself.
Some of the more interesting revelations in the piece include the compromises that were made in order to get Stevie Wonder to sign off on using his riff from “Pastime Paradise” for the rap track’s hook. “When Stevie heard it, he was like, ‘No, no way. I’m not letting my song be used in some gangster song,’” Coolio remembers. “It just so happened that my wife, she knew Stevie’s brother—I guess he had been trying to tap that for years. She made a call to him, got a meeting with Stevie and talked him into it. His only stipulation was that I had to take the curse words out. I had two places where I had the N-word in it, and two places where it was, like, “Fucked in the ass,” or something like that. And Stevie said that if I’d take that out, he would sign off on it. Unbeknownst to me, the other condition was that he wanted 95 percent of the publishing! Had I known that, I’m not sure I would have went ahead with that—but I don’t know, maybe I would have.”