Jul 13

COOLIO ft LV – “Gangsta’s Paradise”

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#729, 28th October 1995

Coolio was 32 when “Gangsta’s Paradise” came out, but the man he’s voicing is 23 – born in ’72, then, the year Stevie Wonder released Talking Book. For some critics, to draw a line from Stevie Wonder to hip-hop was to trace a decline: to tell the story of black American pop’s lost soul, from a 70s full of hope, warmth and conscience to a present day of seeming aggression and amorality. With that reading, Coolio using Stevie Wonder’s beautiful “Pastime Paradise” so fully was flaunting rap’s supposed lack of creativity. But those critics were wrong. Isolating musical developments is a luxury: it means ignoring music’s social and economic context. And “Gangsta’s Paradise” deliberately forces Stevie Wonder’s conscious, anti-materialist soul music into dialogue with that more brutal context. It wants you to remember how sweet soul could be in the early 70s, and then it wants to tell you, as straight as it can, why it can’t be that way now.

If “Gangsta’s Paradise” were only didactic it wouldn’t be effective, and it wouldn’t be great pop. The stern, basic backbeat makes Wonder’s strings hit hard, the bassline gives the track a sinister momentum “Pastime Paradise” never had. They turn the 1976 track from sermon to single. This song earns its sample, in other words. But what really makes it work is Coolio’s storytelling and self-justification. Researchers and other interviewers have a well-known – and no less effective for that – technique for getting the most out of their subjects. They simply shut up, letting the interviewee carry on, expanding their story, filling in blanks, turning back on and contradicting themselves. And that’s what happens to Coolio’s character here. He’s playing a man whose first impulse is to self-knowledge and self-analysis, but whose second impulse is always to anger, and each verse leaves him long enough to see the one switch to the other. “Me be treated like a punk, you know that’s unheard of”: he knows a bad role model, a screw-up, but he’s got his pride.

Two other examples: the top of the second verse, where he jumps from glib explanation to glib explanation – welfare, peer pressure, TV, money – none of them ringing completely false or true: he doesn’t sound quite like he believes them himself. By the end of the verse he’s shrugging them off – “what can I say?” And the final, hopeless conclusion he comes to about the establishment who want him to change: “They say I gotta learn but nobody’s here to teach me / If they can’t understand it, how can they reach me? / I guess they can’t / I guess they won’t / I guess they frontin’” – the verse running rapidly through the gears, from despair to anger. It’s a nod to the film “Gangsta’s Paradise” comes from , Dangerous Minds, in which Michelle Pfeiffer plays the tough but fair white teacher redeeming hood kids with Bob Dylan lyrics. But the contempt with which Coolio spits “frontin’” makes it more like a slap.

This makes “Gangsta’s Paradise” sound nihilistic – but it’s only uncompromising or chilling in the context of the rest of pop. Its success – the first really satisfying hip-hop Number One – and the gulf between its subject matter and anything else in the Top 40 does suggest how weak and backwards the charts might have sounded to anyone interested in rap. But this is far from hardcore hip-hop, nothing like the paranoid tabloid take on ‘gangsta rap’. Instead “Gangsta’s Paradise” is grand pop theatre, without much subtlety but with a clear moral stand. LV’s sorrowing chorus – “the ones we hurt are you and me” – lays it down, the gothickry of the horrorcore choir piles it on. Whatever sympathy we feel for him, however well he tells his story, Coolio’s character is a lost soul.



  1. 1
    Tom on 23 Jul 2013 #

    (My knowledge of Dangerous Minds is straight outta Wiki, of course. Did anyone see it, and can they confirm it’s as groansome as the synopsis makes it sound?)

  2. 2
    taDOW on 24 Jul 2013 #

    it’s fairly groansome – not quite the end of the line of a bunch of stand & deliver knockoffs (the awesome/hilariously bleak samuel jackson vehicle 187 is probably the end of the line there). kinda shocked to see the ‘9’ there, for the longest this was example a for me of moments when critics or the ‘industry’ (‘gangsta’s paradise’ the first rap song to get serious grammy attention iirc) went vaguely popist but overreacted. stateside it was kinda the first straight rap song to achieve that #1 omnipresence of yr mariah/whitney/boyzIImen #1’s (there had obviously been massive crossover rap hits prior – ‘u can’t touch this’, ‘ice ice baby’, ‘nuthin but a g thang’ the 3 obv ones – but none had achieved that ‘dear god plz go away already’ stature. i greatly preferred the coolio hits both before ‘gangsta’s paradise’ (‘fantastic voyage’, which i believe did almost as well as ‘gangsta’s paradise’ in pazz & jop) and after (‘1-2-3-4’ the pinnacle but even ‘too hot’ as ‘message coolio’ goes and ‘c u when i get there’ as ‘coolio w/ strings’ goes). maybe it sounds much better than i remember (it was a massive hit for a reason) but i just remember a guy i knew djing where i lived in italy at the time moaning about having to play this even though it was a lousy song to dance to. eventually either thru inspiration or just ‘fuck the audience’ frustration he started playing a inadvertently awesome sped up version only w/ coolio’s vocals pitch corrected or whatever so he sounded normal, non-chipmunk (chorus was all helium though, in retrospect it was a kinda proto-kanye move, down to the obnoxiousness even). ‘7’ for me.

  3. 3
    mintness on 24 Jul 2013 #

    Interesting to read that Coolio was 32 when this was released, given the “I’m 23 now but will I live to see 24?” line. Playing a character and all that, I know (albeit not one from the high school environment of the movie in question), but still – I can’t imagine an acknowledgement of the extra (near-)decade on his clock would have served the impact of the song particularly well.

    For me “Gangsta’s Paradise” has been harmed somewhat by what came next – it soon established itself as a queasy combination of student bar singalong (aaaargh) and The Rap Song Your Dad Likes (double aaaargh) – but at the time it felt like a perfectly logical place for hip-hop and pop to be butting horns, and its comparatively prolonged success was welcome. I’d give it an 8 adjusted for slight overfamiliarity.

  4. 4
    taDOW on 24 Jul 2013 #

    curious to what extent hip-hop and more specifically the hip-hop of this particular moment had breached brit pop – i know hip-hop was more successful than betty boo and zane lowe having to explain in hushed tones who jay-z is to bbc one listeners would suggest but at the same time i know that biggie smalls was relatively unknown there (which makes the success of a certain bunny track mystifying to me). in the states biggie and tupac were huge pop stars, dre and snoop megapopstars that probably came the closest during that era to producing a thriller/purple rain/bitusa type of megahit spawning unavoidable for a year and half type album. curious to see the bleakness respected here, among ppl i knew this song was at least a little corny (most gangsta rap reveled in and romanticised the life generally, there might be an occasional acknowledgement of the depressing reality but it was just as likely that a ‘serious’ turn would treat that depressing reality as an excuse for horror or thriller tropes – ‘murder was the case’, ‘natural born killaz’) and it being coolio’s ‘but seriously folx’ gesture didn’t help. not saying that that ‘cnn of the streets’ and ‘either they don’t know, don’t show, or don’t care about what’s going on in the hood’ element wasn’t there, esp initially, but by this point gangsta rap (which in 1995 nearly meant rap period) was about a gleeful almost nihilistic hedonism (a hedonism that could extend to violence) and ‘gangsta’s paradise’s message cloak was in many ways a pop crossover move done w/ the full awareness that an older white audience might be comfortable w/ it in ways they could never be w/ ‘real’ gangsta rappers.

  5. 5
    mapman132 on 24 Jul 2013 #

    First the stats: A massive hit in America, its three weeks at #1 actually understated its chart performance, as it was Billboard’s top single of 1995.

    Now the song: This is a perfect example of a song that I didn’t like at the time, because it was in a genre that I absolutely hated at the time, but that I’ve eventually come to appreciate on its own terms. Of course maybe this is what #3 means as “The Rap Song Your Dad Likes”, even though I actually was 23 in 1995 (unlike Coolio – didn’t know that until now). But overall in terms of cultural impact, chart performance, and iconic status, I’d consider this the defining single of gangsta rap, and rap in general in the 90’s. 8/10 for me, although 10/10 could be justifiable if you’re into this sort of thing.

    Of course, there’s also the classic Weird Al parody, but I’ll address that in a later post.

  6. 6
    Doctor Casino on 24 Jul 2013 #

    This is an interesting read about a song I’ve never really sat down and thought much about, though I like it decently enough. You hardly ever hear it anymore – might be interesting to suss out why. I do wonder a bit about the idea that the sampling is intended to point up some contrast between the Seventies and the Nineties; American black urban life was hardly a bed of roses when Wonder wrote his song, as he knew quite well (“Living For The City,” “Cash In Your Face,” and arguably “Pastime Paradise” itself). I don’t think the sample is so much “let’s take this happy thing and turn it dark” as it is trading on the associations that are already there for a certain audience. In the process maybe it also reminds us that the Seventies weren’t so different from the Nineties in certain ways.

  7. 7
    Doctor Casino on 24 Jul 2013 #

    To put it another way, if someone sampled “Ghost Town” for a song about troubled youth in 90s Britain it’d be pretty clear what they were trying to do. This isn’t as cut and dry as that, but still.

  8. 8
    Tom on 24 Jul 2013 #

    #4 I put the word “corny” in and deleted it in about 3 different places actually! I couldn’t find a way to make it sound positive, which it is. My final paragraph – no, this isn’t especially hardcore, it’s certainly not the nihilistic/brutal/funny end of gangsta rap – is an approximation of the point I was hoping to make. In fact, at the time – even though I listened to hip-hop a lot less than I do now, I think I’d only heard one Biggie track – I would have agreed with your comment, and I’d have given it a 7: kind of preachy, awkward; “but seriously folx” is a good way to put it.

    But a) Rap is still rare enough in the UK charts at this point, let alone the UK #1, that there’s a Rap Dividend paid to the marks – the sound of someone rapping well on a #1 hit is very pleasant indeed to me. (When does this actually wear off? Not for a long while yet.) As usual on Popular I’m comparing this mostly to the rest of successful pop.

    b) As gangsta rap this is – not a failure exactly but a lot more ‘worthy’, on-the-nose moral than what the genre had evolved into. But as big pop message rap it’s terrific, all the more so for recognising the bleakness. Which is what the charts were rewarding (Arrested Development were big here too). Method Man and Mary J Blige’s “You’re All I Need To Get By” had been a pretty big song that summer, and would have been a good shout for a 10.

    c) This may very well be Dadrap. But I am also a Dad!

    It was a Pazz & Jop #1 single – tho I don’t know the make-up of the P&J academy at this stage.

  9. 9
    Tom on 24 Jul 2013 #

    #6 this is a good point – I definitely didn’t mean to suggest Stevie Wonder’s records don’t have their share of anger, or that all was happy in 70s black America (though my understanding is that inner city communities and especially black communities were disproportionately hard hit by Reaganomics). The sample is definitely updating as well as contrasting. I tend to think of Stevie Wonder’s albums as acknowledging pain and trying to move up from it or at least mixing overt beauty with it – but “bittersweet” would have been a better word than “sweet” in para 1.

    My take is partly influenced by the fact that this is the first time I really had the “rap isn’t creative it’s just stealing other people’s pop songs” argument, I can’t remember whether I articulated this defensive response at the time (I didn’t care THAT much about Coolio).

    Basically by using a very recognisable sample you’re letting a whole different order of meaning invade your song, one you don’t have a lot of control over – or you’re willing to take the gamble that what you hear in it is what everyone else hears in it. So Stevie Wonder is a soul man dealing with the troubles of his day, in direct continuity with hip-hop. But he’s also a canon fixture, an agreed point of quality. So critics who like rap can point to the continuity. But critics who don’t can use him as a marker for pre-rap black music, something rock critics can contrast to rap, and in ways unfavourable to rap. And for me the song takes on and pushes back on that contrast, as well as also owning the continuity.

  10. 10
    Andrew Farrell on 24 Jul 2013 #

    Is this really a very recognisable sample though? I mean, it’s recognisable as a sample, which is enough to start the argument, but I’d be surprised if the majority of people putting it at number one knew without being told what track it was off.

  11. 11
    Tom on 24 Jul 2013 #

    Well if you don’t recognise the sample there’s not a problem in the first place I guess! (I suspect in the US a lot more listeners did, certainly most critics – though whadda they know etc etc)

    re. hip-hop in the UK charts at this point: I did some digging and it’s even rarer than I thought/remember. The Method Man hit and Warren G’s “Regulate” the year before went Top 10. As did House of Pain. Arrested Development had two top 5 hits. Nothing for 2pac until 1996. One tiny mid-30s entry for Notorious BIG. Even Snoop got tabloid front pages but only one Top 20 hit and a couple of lower charters.

    Critics in Select, Melody Maker, the NME etc were still paying attention to an extent – I played the first Gravediggaz LP a lot around the start of 1995 and I can’t have bought it on a whim.

    I bought and played this a ton http://www.discogs.com/Various-This-Is-Hip-Hop/master/205847 – a very good 1-volume “what’s up in hip-hop” compilation, there’s a high strike rate on that. But few of those acts would even get a release here. (Though “Fantastic Voyage” is on it which explains how I knew that one.)

  12. 12
    swanstep on 24 Jul 2013 #

    Looking at wiki now, ‘Gangster’s Paradise’ was a #1 almost everywhere. The only exception it lists is Canada where it stalled at #29. Wassup Canada? :)
    Anyhow, for whatever reason, while vaguely agreeing with the consensus about its evident quality/hit-worthiness, GP in fact just just kind of bounced off me at the time. I liked its first 16 bars but didn’t typically stick with the track to the end. Listening carefully now though, and with Tom’s analysis in mind, there’s plenty to like all the way through. E.g., there’s a touch of Arrested Development phrasing in the second verse’s ‘too much television watching got me chasin’ dreams’ that I suspect is intentional; AD were hated by most rappers and, yes, thought to be glib explanation peddlers so Coolio affecting *that* voice is perfect. Probably a 7 from me, but I understand people going higher.

    @ 10, Andrew. Agree that GP’s sample counts as a much deeper cut than Every Breath or Forget Me Not or Superfreak or I’m Coming Out whose whole-song re-usage really did start some bad-tempered conversations

  13. 13
    Tom on 24 Jul 2013 #

    I had just started working in a record shop chain (Music And Video Exchange) so I guess I got to have that conversation early :)

  14. 14
    James BC on 24 Jul 2013 #

    Much like Common People, the storytelling in this song is compelling enough to make you identify very strongly with the protagonist even if (or maybe only if?) you aren’t from his world. And much like Common People it’s suffered from being endlessly recited and adopted by non-common people as though it was about them.

    But unlike Common People, it’s still great to hear it. It hasn’t quite been overplayed as much and was probably better in the first place.

    If anyone here is actually from the places Coolio is talking about, I’d be very interested to hear what they think of the song.

  15. 15
    Steve Mannion on 24 Jul 2013 #

    Surprised at the high mark as always found this too worthy and plodding (without a really interesting or beautiful hook…and bearing in mind i generally disliked the sound of gospel choirs throughout the 90s…unlike much trip hop at the time – solid vocal performances aside) to really get behind, can only respect it from distance.

    I once attempted (along with about half a dozen others) to collar Coolio for an interview when he played at our college summer ball (iirc he did the gig for about 17k but it felt quite a coup – second on the bill? Boney M!). Inevitably after the (pretty great) show in which he actually jumped out of a casket that had been wheeled on stage he dodged us all and proceeded to make his way to the student bar to the unexpected delight of the throng therein. So we ate half of his rider instead.

  16. 16
    Izzy on 24 Jul 2013 #

    I always found this worthy but a bit lame, so I was surprised to have it on this morning and find it a jolly good listen. Certainly it’s an arresting no.1, gothic touches at the top do stand out and are rare enough to always have power (which is how they get there of course). Ghost Town is a good comparator, but Meatloaf may be a better one.

    What’s strange is that in my mind Stevie Wonder’s tune was all fluid musicality, which Coolio had stripped down and turned into a rhythmic black mass – but no, it’s Stevie’s that is haunting and skeletal, whereas Coolio’s bulked it out with bass and a much fuller production. They’re not a million miles apart in subject either – or at least in mood, I can’t be sure whom Stevie’s taking a pop at here. Gangsta’s Paradise has more power for being first-person, but then Pastime Paradise sounds like it’s actually being sung by the dead.

    And yet Stevie’s is by far the better record, in that it presents a unique and terrifying soundscape, where despite the sample Gangsta’s Paradise is leaning more on what was happening at the time (I hear it as a midpoint between Cypress Hill and G-Funk, both of which had crested already.

    More damningly, Stevie’s vocal is far more interesting. Partly this is unavoidable because he’s such a wonderful singer (I don’t care for Coolio’s voice, and though his delivery is fine here he’s sludge compared to eg Snoop’s light, playful touch), but Stevie’s rhythms are so much more complicated (without losing any accessibility) that a back-to-back exposes Coolio as a journeyman with a surefire hit. Nothing wrong with that, we can’t all be part of the elite, and Popular is full of them. Mark accordingly. (7)

  17. 17
    anto on 24 Jul 2013 #

    This reminds me of ‘Tainted Love’ in so much as I feel like I’ve heard it once too often. On top of that is my basic hang-up about hip-hop which is that rather like C&W I can never find a way into it.
    I can see the ingenuity/innovation of it as a genre but it just does nothing for me.
    This song is surely the main thing ‘Dangerous Minds’ is known for. I don’t remember it causing any rush to the box office. Michelle Pffiefer seemed to be making steady and continual progress up to that point but I can’t call to mind anything I’ve seen her in more recently. The whole inspirational-pedagogue-gets-through-to-the-ghetto-kids trope is one the film industry never seems to tire off despite now seeming rather hackneyed. You can go back as far as ‘The Blackboard Jungle’ and then you also have more recent films like ‘Freedom Writers’ with Hilary Swank. Even something as lightweight as ‘Sister Act 2’ is one of these types of film thinly disguised.

  18. 18
    lonepilgrim on 24 Jul 2013 #

    the slow pace of GP and the strings/choir remind me of trip-hop – whether this was deliberate or fortuitous it may explain why it appealed to some at the time. The Stevie Wonder sample sweetens the overall effect so that the more pessimistic tone of the rap is blurred.

  19. 19
    Cumbrian on 24 Jul 2013 #

    I don’t feel like this was overplayed at all at the time – nor do I feel like I have heard it loads since it got to the top of the chart – but then I guess, at the time, I was a narrowly focused teenage boy delving into Britpop and was not listening to the right stuff to hear this over and over. So I don’t have the baggage others do listening to this.

    What I do have, and it has been alluded to here, is the baggage of worthiness. I don’t want to be another one of those guys on the internet banging on about The Wire – but I definitely get the sense that, as that show told a tale about its cops and criminals in the round, with shades of grey on all sides, we are being sold something here that deliberately plays up to similar ideals. Indeed, listening to this and watching the video, I kept thinking about how it might link to The Wire – for instance, Coolio as Omar (“I ain’t never crossed a man that didn’t deserve it” parallels “I ain’t never put my gun on no citizen”) and Wee-Bay (when he reaches out and takes the sunglasses from the young boy paralleling Wee-Bay putting his foot down and ensuring his son is fostered by a police officer rather than staying with a mother who would put him in the drug game – neither want their life for the child), plus all the invocations of factors that Tom points to in the second verse being explored in depth by the series (education failures, the role of the media – though in The Wire, it was newspapers, etc).

    The thing is, even if The Wire or GP are offering a sop to white liberal guilt (I watch/listen to this so I understand – but of course, you don’t unless you’re in the life, a comparison point with Common People as mentioned at #14) that doesn’t stop both from being terrific entertainment. So even though I can feel that worthiness, I don’t mind it because the track is well constructed, the sample is great, bringing in a sense of creeping dread and Coolio’s delivery is well calibrated to suit the different points that he’s trying to raise. For me, it’s a mini-masterpiece; I matched Tom’s score.

  20. 20
    thefatgit on 24 Jul 2013 #

    A great essay by Tom for a puzzling single. There are examples of Gangsta Rap, which may have already graced the charts and become so ensconced within the Hip Hop canon, that “Gangsta’s Paradise” would be an afterthought. This made #1 and the others didn’t. So Biggie Smalls, Wu Tang and Tupac would have to bide their time. How important is it to get your #1 in the moment? Britpop was in and of the moment. Boybands are in and of the moment. Somehow, Gangsta Rap could score big hits after the fact. I’m not sure if “Gangsta’s paradise” reflected a mood in the UK. I’ve not seen Dangerous Minds, so I couldn’t say if it was the film or the song at the front of people’s minds when buying it. You couldn’t put it down to Stevie Wonder either. Compared to the #1’s we’ve seen from 1995 so far, it seems so out of place, yet so of the moment. Put it another way, if “Protect Your Neck” was re-released this year (20 year anniversary, so not implausible), a record so totally out of context in 2013, but even now, immediate and compelling, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if it hit the top spot. “Gangsta’s Paradise” itself is very much driven by Coolio’s delivery, and the way he’s simmering with anger through each verse. As startling now as it was in 1995.

  21. 21
    Izzy on 24 Jul 2013 #

    Why is Mr Tambourine Man generally cited as the example of lyrics ≡ poetry? Even restricting the field to Dylan’s oeuvre, and even to his early oeuvre, it’s hardly the one I’d pick.

  22. 22
    Tom on 24 Jul 2013 #

    #20 as someone mentioned this was a huge global hit, #1 in all sorts of places, and in any such case some of the explanation is simple copying – by record labels allocating marketing budgets, by radio stations, by listeners.

  23. 23
    Cumbrian on 24 Jul 2013 #

    Oh God. I’ve just seen what’s next out of the spoiler bunnies’ hutch.

  24. 24
    Chelovek na lune on 24 Jul 2013 #

    This was VERY big in Ukraine (or Odessa, at least, which is certainly not without its share of gangsters, even if the broader social context has little in common with the US).

    Ashamed to admit I’d never heard (or even heard of!) the Stevie Wonder track until…err, last week, so I don’t think I can meaningfully comment about the track, as the background clearly changes a great deal of the intended meaning and references. But still, it’s a great track even without that background, lyrically and musically, and in how it’s performed. (And it kept a fairly dull Meatloaf track & a fairly dull Queen track – the latter of which was also enormous in Ukraine -off the top)

    8 or 9

  25. 25
    James BC on 24 Jul 2013 #

    I’d just like to praise Coolio’s use of “fool”.

    Theoretically it’s a great deal milder than a lot of gangsta rap insults he could have used, but the way it’s used gives it far more power than the vast majority of more profane slurs that have been chucked into other raps.

    First verse: Tacked startlingly on to the end of a line. You’re looking at a shadowy figure through a cloud of smoke, and then the “fool” zooms the camera right in on his face as he stares you menacingly in the eye.

    Second verse: Same trick. Turns “don’t arouse my anger” from a general piece of advice into a personally directed threat.

    Third verse: By now we’re expecting it, so he delays it right until the end of the verse, which makes it the last word of the song. But here, rather than aggressive, it’s despairing – he realises that he is the real fool, out of luck, using his learned aggression as a cover.

  26. 26
    Tom on 24 Jul 2013 #

    #25 great point!

    #23 fool.

  27. 27
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 24 Jul 2013 #

    Pretty sure Dangerous Minds was not a massive hit as a film, in the US or the UK or anywhere else — I slightly suspect it was seen as MP’s way to ease herself into that tricky second stage of a Hollywood actress’s career, when the next tranche of Gorgeous Young Things are getting first bite at the roles you used to get. And it didn’t really take.

    My sister unleashes “fool” in exactly this fashion: maybe she got it from Coolio. (Maybe he got it from her.)

  28. 28
    Billy Hicks on 24 Jul 2013 #

    A very, very rare example for this musical era of *both* my parents knowing this song despite both being 28 at the time, both long moved on from pop after being immersed in it through their 1980s teens.

    Didn’t quite hit me as a seven year old and this style of music wouldn’t for about a decade, but it’s a ok listen now. Later sampled by Blue of all people for 2004’s ‘Curtain Falls’ which I secretly enjoyed at the time.

  29. 29
    Mark M on 24 Jul 2013 #

    I’ll give this another listen this evening, but at the time I didn’t like the beat, the choir or Coolio’s flow.

    It always felt to me that although there has always been a fair number of hip hop fans in the UK, for the wider pop audience it was something that drifted in and out of their view, and also that there was a limit to the number of hip hop acts they could engage with at any one time. Also, while the UK had seemed a priority for Def Jam in 1987, by the mid-’90s there were thriving regional hip hop markets in the US to the extent that, say, Master P was unconcerned about making inroads on the East Coast let alone Europe. There was a movie-biz style lag between US and UK releases. Biggie and Tupac weren’t unknown over here – the still breathing Pac had a top 10 hit – but they certainly were much bigger posthumously.

    I was mostly reviewing hip hop for Select, and doing it poorly, unable to find a way in 130 words to explain stuff to the uninitiated at the same time as slipping some thoughts in for people who were immersed in the culture. I lacked confidence in my own judgment, with good reason (3/5 for Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers? Fool)

  30. 30
    Mark M on 24 Jul 2013 #

    Re 6 (etc): according the most plausible stats I can find, 1993 was the worst year for homicides in California (like a lot of the other social indicators, it had been rising during the 1970s but wasn’t near as bad as it would become). By 1996 it had dropped sharply, but that wouldn’t have been noticable at the time, nor would anyone have known it was a long-term trend.

  31. 31
    Tom on 24 Jul 2013 #

    #29 I remember that review and remember deciding not to buy it!

  32. 32
    James BC on 24 Jul 2013 #

    One more comment: let’s hear it for Coolio’s Kenan and Kel theme tune. Great show, great G-funk opening.

  33. 33
    Mark M on 24 Jul 2013 #

    Re 31: Sorry, Tom.

  34. 34
    Rory on 24 Jul 2013 #

    Thirteen weeks at number one in Australia in 1995/96 (when I turned 28), and our highest selling single of 1995. I remember it being everywhere for ages. Stands up well, too. A seven from me, I think.

  35. 35
    Doctor Casino on 24 Jul 2013 #

    Tom @ 9 – all fair points! I suppose I’m thinking through the use of samples mainly in terms of different audiences and taste cultures, which gets us at Andrew Farrell’s comment @ 10. I suspect that for much of Coolio’s black audience, at least in America, it is a VERY recognizable sample – a deep cut on one of the best-selling albums of the late Seventies, something their parents bought right around the time they were born, and probably played the hell out of through their childhood (its themes of parenthood probably giving it an extra boost). The equivalent for me as a whitebread guy born in the early 80s would be somebody sampling a deep cut from Graceland. I don’t have any personal insight into this but I suspect Stevie Wonder album cuts are rather better known in the black community than they are in the world of people who bought enough copies of this to send it to #1 in America (where it also topped the end-of-year charts and won several awards including a Grammy), let alone the UK or the Urkaine. Out in that world, it’s either just some cool, spooky music – or, if you’re in the know, it’s a song that got sampled, about which practice one could potentially assert some critical opinion or another (getting back to Tom) even if you’d never personally heard the original song or formed complex associations around it. If you grew up with it – well, I don’t know. I suspect this album of having warm childhood resonances (despite the spookiness of “Pastime Paradise” itself) which would certainly enhance the tale of youth in dystopia.

    Personally, I always much preferred the party jams “Fantastic Voyage” and “1, 2, 3, 4 (Sumpin’ New)” but “Gangsta’s Paradise” is much better than I remember it being from the leaden video and its cringe-inducing images of Serious Pfeiffer facing down Recalcitrant Youths. The film was successful enough to produce a forgotten TV series, but I’m sure most people know it from the song and video. I’ve heard it referenced more than once, and not without some eye-rolling, in discussion of people doing Teach For America or other, well, Pfeiffer-esque career moves.

    I also should say that, at the time, I was listening to the wrong radio stations (and probably still a lot of Graceland to be honest) and so while I knew the song I didn’t know it well – but I had every line of the Weird Al parody memorized!

  36. 36
    Kat but logged out innit on 24 Jul 2013 #

    From the perspective of a Capital FM listener in 1995, this must have been one of their first A-list rap hits, presumably due to the lack of swears/drug references/etc that would have discounted any Snoop or Dre. I think Arrested Development were safe enough though! Bear in mind that the rest of the playlist was George Michael, Eternal, Simply Red, M People, Jacko, occasionally the Lightning Seeds – Coolio really stood out, as did Michelle Pfieffer’s Acting Face in the video, which was on every bloody week on TOTP (no Coolio performance iirc?). However I was thoroughly sick of it by Christmas.

    From the perspective of a karaoke regular I can confirm that this is amazing fun to sing, esp if your mates are doing the gospel ‘aaaah’s. It is going on in the kitchen, but I do not know what is cooking!

  37. 37
    don'tshootmeI'monlysaying on 24 Jul 2013 #

    Then, I couldn’t escape the notion that it was a diet-version of “It Was A Good Day” by Ice Cube. I couldn’t see why the protagonist was worrying “I’m 23 now, but will I live to see 24” – why 23? Really? Other than that there was a good line in “It Was A Good Day” – “Thinking will I live, another twenty-fo’ ”

    Homies and fools too. But I accept there’s a lot of that about in other tracks.

  38. 38
    Andrew Farrell on 24 Jul 2013 #

    @25: There’s also the first use in the second verse, preparing us for the final irony: Coolio is an educated fool, with money on his mind – but an educated fool is still a fool, you see.

    @35: I think that’s largely what I was fumbling towards, but I think that even if you don’t recognise the music it’s still fuel for the argument – it’s definitely something external to the track being reused. Also (as we will sadly not being seeing them later in Popular), reminds me of sükråt talking (er, I can’t find where) about the context of Wu Tang’s backing being largely the stuff their parents would be, er, parenting to.

  39. 39
    Mark M on 24 Jul 2013 #

    One of the things I loved about mid ’90s hip hop was the ease and fluency of a generation for whom rap was almost a first language, possibly best exemplified by 93 ’til Infinity by Souls Of Mischief, but also Snoop, Nas, The Pharcyde, Outkast, Ghostface Killah from the Wu-Tang. It sounded like the future, but hip hop went somewhere else entirely.

    Coolio’s age, as mentioned above, puts him into a group who were deep into their teens when Rapper’s Delight came out, and thus had rap as a second language.

  40. 40
    23 Daves on 24 Jul 2013 #

    This felt inescapable to me at the time, although that fact didn’t bother me. I have a peculiar memory of being at somebody’s house party, and this got played in the front room three or four times in a row. Nobody complained and a lot of people actually stopped what they were doing to appreciatively listen – it had just hit number one at that point, and that was all the indication I needed that it was going to become a monstrously huge single. Usually a few dull indie/rock purists would complain at parties if someone jumped on the stereo to put a hip-hop track on, but this crossed all the boundaries.

    Time and over-familiarity has waned its appeal for me slightly, and I don’t think it’s the best hip-hop number one Britain has had, but it’s a strangely powerful piece of work. An easy 8 from me.

  41. 41
    Ed on 24 Jul 2013 #

    As others have said, it was remarkably easy in mid-nineties Britain to miss the biggest stars of US hip-hop.

    I think ‘California Love’ would have been the only song I heard by either Tupac or Biggie; it was the biggest hit either of them had in Britain, helped by the brilliantly OTT video. So when the stories of their deaths were reported over here, it was hard for us to appreciate what a big deal they were.

    The good thing about missing them at the time was that I got to discover them both last year, which was a great pleasure. My reaction was that Tupac was slick but a bit superficial, while Biggie was a certified genius, fully justifying every word of the hype about him. But I know some people take Tupac very seriously, so maybe I am still missing something.

    @11 I also bought the first Gravediggaz album, which is great, but not necessarily better than a lot of the other mid-90s hip-hop that I missed. As you say, it must have been well reviewed. The prog / supergroup / Black Sabbath / “hip-hop is the new metal” angle may have helped.

    @39 Vampire Weekend apparently felt the same as you about Souls of Mischief. So maybe in that sense they were the future, or at least a bit of it.

  42. 42
    mapman132 on 24 Jul 2013 #

    And now it’s time to mention the hilarious (to me) Weird Al Yankovic parody “Amish Paradise”. Of course, I’m curious about two things:

    1) Is Weird Al as big in the UK as he is in the states?

    2) Are the Amish well known in the UK? Are the song and video funny to UK listeners, or does the humor fall flat?

    I should note I grew outside Philadelphia, about 60 miles from the Amish’s most famous stronghold.

  43. 43
    Izzy on 24 Jul 2013 #

    No, he isn’t; but he’s curiously well-known as a name. I’ve heard Eat It, I know he had another one called Smells Like Nirvana, but nothing has ever explained why his name keeps cropping up as some kind of parody genius.

    I haven’t heard Amish Paradise and don’t intend to, but the Amish are certainly famous here. I doubt we know many details, though I did see some in the wild, riding pony-and-trap, when I was in Pennsylvania.

    The Hutterites aren’t well-known, but they seem to be much the same thing, only further west and maybe fifty years more advanced. Has Weird Al ever done them, Hutterite Ite Baby or similar?

  44. 44
    Cumbrian on 24 Jul 2013 #

    About my only exposure to the Amish is the film Witness starring Harrison Ford. So I know basically nothing about them beyond what is covered there. It’s a belting film though. Probably Ford’s most overlooked decent film.

    Weird Al seems to be one of those guys that crops up every now and then in dispatches in the UK but I don’t know whether he has much of a profile beyond the occasional mention. The last I heard of him was the to do over his Lady GaGa parody (which presumably is quasi bunnied) and Dave Grohl claiming that Nirvana knew they had made it when they got the call that he was going to take them on.

  45. 45
    Billy Hicks on 24 Jul 2013 #

    He’s had one top 40 hit here when ‘Eat It’ went to #36 in 1984. ‘Smells Like Nirvana’ charted one week at #58 in 1992.

  46. 46
    Ed on 24 Jul 2013 #

    Weird Al is *extremely* variable, I think. Sometimes, as in ‘Eat It’, he is painfully, embarassingly, inappropriate speech at a wedding unfunny.

    ‘Amish Paradise’ is quite amusing, though. Sample line: “If thou finish thy chores, and I finish mine, then tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 1699.”

    If you don’t crack a smile at that, you should probably spare yourself the whole thing:


  47. 47
    Mark M on 24 Jul 2013 #

    Re 41: The Gravediggaz’s Niggamortis I gave 4/5. Correct score, but a horrible, horrible bit of writing. Contains a reference to The Afghan Whigs in an attempt to give the reviews editor something to relate to.

  48. 48
    James BC on 24 Jul 2013 #

    When people start playing you their Weird Al mp3s, that’s when it’s time to leave and go to bed. I found “Amish Paradise” as awful as all his other stuff – soft target, cliched jokes, silly voice, goes on forever. It’s not even a real parody because it says nothing about Gangsta’s Paradise – Weird Al just uses its framework as a vehicle for his own vastly inferior lyrics.

    Other people do like him, though. They can’t all be morons so there must be something in it. Right?

  49. 49
    Kinitawowi on 24 Jul 2013 #

    #45: surprised to not see any success for ‘White N Nerdy’, which seemed to be huge at the time. I have a feeling that if he came into being today he’d be a Lonely Island-level Youtube smash for about ten minutes and that’d be his lot.

    Of course, we’ve mentioned nothing about how Gangsta’s Paradise was one of his more controversial parodies due to uncertainties as to whose permission he had for it.

  50. 50
    Kat but logged out innit on 24 Jul 2013 #

    I had a tape of the Smells Like Nirvana album (copied off a friend) and thought it was hilarious at the time. Polka Your Eyes Out, while dubious in quality, was definitely a introduction of sorts for me to the wonders of 80s US Hair Rock (that I’d clearly missed from my parents not having MTV…)

  51. 51
    Alfred on 25 Jul 2013 #

    As for Dangerous Minds, it was a moderate hit in America, and Michelle Pfeiffer’s last before disappearing.

  52. 52
    Mark M on 25 Jul 2013 #

    Re 51: Dangerous Minds took a perfectly respectable $178m worldwide.

    Pfeiffer’s last big hit was actually 2000’s What Lies Beneath ($291m). The non-US box office was about the same for both films – WLB was much bigger on home soil.

  53. 53
    Steve Mannion on 25 Jul 2013 #

    #36 Coolio did perform this on TOTP at least once – I know because it led to a bit of an argument between me and someone I knew at the time who was being a massive racist about it ]:[

    I’ve ‘performed’ this at karaoke once but got the explicit version in which Coolio’s character describes himself not as an ‘educated fool’ but an ‘educated n****’ …so I just left that bit out. ‘Fantastic Voyage’ would be far more fun to do – if only it hadn’t stalled at #41 maybe it would’ve got onto more (any) songbooks.

    Like many I really did believe Coolio to be 23 at first.

  54. 54
    Ed on 25 Jul 2013 #

    @36 and @53 – I am pretty sure he was on at least one of the live pop shows with this one, because my friend who works in TV met him.

    She said he was very charming, but did give them a laugh at one point. Making small talk with another woman on the production team, he said: “You’re having a baby? Congratulations! When is it due?” She replied: “No. I’m just fat.”

  55. 55
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 25 Jul 2013 #

    Andrew @38: yes I was discussing Nate Patrin’s lecture at EMP 2007 — or at least, this was the source of my understanding in these matters (and I hope I credited Nate). But I can’t find it either!

  56. 56
    Andrew Farrell on 25 Jul 2013 #

    Dark shadows did about $150m as well, though I suppose that’s more of an ensemble (or at least a sharp step down from first place)?

  57. 57
    hardtogethits on 25 Jul 2013 #

    Chart observations!

    This record showed real stickability. Of all the records to enter the charts at number one up to this point in the common chart era:

    1. GP shared the record for longest consecutive run in the Top 10 (12wks)*
    2. GP equalled the record for longest consecutive run in the top 50/75 (20wks)*
    3. GP became the first to rebound up the charts 2 times whilst still in the top 10.
    4. GP became the first to rebound up the charts 3 times whilst still in the top 20.

    Thus, like Whigfield the year before, it showed that the demand curve for number one hits had not just shifted leftwards*, it had flattened (ie the predictable tumble down the charts could no longer be taken for granted).

    You can read all about it in my book “What Have They Done To Our Charts? – Singles Buyers, Marketeers and the Diffusion of Innovations”.

    * Meaning – as stated elsewhere – that since “Some Might Say” it had become more commonplace to enter at number one than to climb there. Except for the Outhere Brothers.

    **Obviously the number ones which broke these records are bunnied – but it’s fascinating (to some, obv) to realise what they were.

  58. 58
    ciaran on 25 Jul 2013 #

    This is surely an example of youth grade-inflation but this would be a possible 10 for me.Definitely the best Number 1 for a long while and in my top 5 of the decade.

    Like U.S raps very own answer to ‘Ghost Town’ with a hint of an ‘It’s a Sin’ type narrative – not a note is wasted throughout with the sample fitting perfectly with Coolio’s doom laden performance. I rarely hear Number 1’s from this time anymore but I made sure this was one of the first tracks downloaded onto my ipod touch bought around 4 years ago.I’ve never felt it was overplayed and I certainly have never gotten sick of hearing it.I started secondary school in the autumn of 95 and the reaction was overwhelmingly positive.Only Oasis could unite opinion as strong as this.

    Which makes it even more disappointing that Coolio never did anything as brilliant as GP.Too Hot was a pretty poor follow up and I dont mind C U When U get there but it was over exposed.Also supporting Keenan and Kel was not what I thought of as a good move.They were not that popular in my school.Probably dues to being on nickelodeon more then anything. Similar to Flavor Flav with the reality tv appearances which was a fair fall from GP.

    Rap was starting to make more of an impact on me about a year or so before this.My older brother was heavily into House of Pain, Snoop Doggy Dogg and Cypress Hill so it felt right that a gritty tune like 3 GP hit the top spot.It’s only in recent years I learned of the existence of the ‘classic albums’ of the mid-90s – Enter the wu tang clan, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Illmatic, Ready To Die – so quite a time for rap fans.California Love from 1996 was one of my favourite songs of 1996 but I never like 2pac the way others did.Of course we will her from him again a decade down the line in a GP like setting.

    GP wouldnt be out of place on Illmatic. Having only discovered Illmatic a year ago I wanted to know if it made any immediate impact on any of the contributors here?

  59. 59
    Mark M on 25 Jul 2013 #

    Re: 59 I absolutely loved Illmatic, still do. I think it’s the high point in the careers of pretty much everyone involved, and considering the people concerned that’s big praise. I don’t think Nas came close to being that good again. Definitely one of the best albums of the decade. (incidentally, or maybe pertinently, I think it is one of the last hip hop LPs that fits happily on two sides of vinyl).

  60. 60
    Izzy on 25 Jul 2013 #

    Nothing immediate. I wasn’t a head, so it wasn’t at all clear to me that those were four peaks worth paying heed to. In fact I’m not sure when it twigged that rap had become an albums genre – there was the occasional Straight Outta Compton or Black Sunday, and PE had always been a law unto themselves. Dr Dre probably changed attitudes. But iirc the perception for the casual listener at this point was probably still that you’d get a couple of good singles then it was time to look elsewhere. Unfairly obviously, strong albums were piled high by this time in retrospect. But it was no surprise that Coolio’s follow-ups didn’t hit too big.

    The first time I heard anything from Illmatic was The World Is Yours on some evening music show in summer 2001 – as well as completely flooring me, I can place the time because I excitedly ran down to Fopp on my lunch break the next day to buy the album. Still one of my very favourite tracks, and imo just about the best lyric pop has ever produced.

    (I don’t see that GP would fit on it at all though – Illmatic has such a light touch, and everything about GP is far too heavy in comparison)

  61. 61
    swanstep on 26 Jul 2013 #

    @ciaran, 58. Sadly I didn’t clock to Illmatic until 1998-99, when it started appearing on ‘Best of Decade’-type lists.

    As for the general Michelle Pfeiffer discussion above: I’m not sure whether it’s principally Hollywood’s fault or Pfeiffer’s but it feels to me as though she’s never quite made the impact on screen that she could have. Apart from Catwoman in Batman Returns and a siren in The Fabulous Baker Boys she hasn’t had roles that really exploit her beauty. Put slightly differently, she’s taken a lot of roles that ‘anyone’ could have played – whether that’s strictly been her choice, I don’t know. Maybe overall there’s a slight blankness or lack of personality about her that has made it hard to build films around her?

  62. 62
    Mark M on 26 Jul 2013 #

    Re 60: Wider perception apart, I think that hip hop acts were in an album state of mind by the late ’80s – as well as the aforementioned PE and NWA, I’m thinking of people like BDP (By Any Means Necessary) and Eric B & Rakim (Paid In Full, Follow The Leader). Although they are best known here for three singles (De La Soul) and one (A Tribe Called Quest), the Natives Tongues very much had that Clash-like thing of ‘on this particular album, our mindset/sound is x’. The groundwork for Illmatic is audible in the second and third Gang Starr albums and (a wonderful thing in its own right) Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s Mecca And The Soul Brother.

  63. 63
    James BC on 26 Jul 2013 #

    Would it have been a lack of radio play that pushed hip-hop artists towards being album artists? Especially harder-edged ones like Wu Tang (who I am only just discovering; I don’t know anything).

  64. 64
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 26 Jul 2013 #


    ^^^Helpful? (Tho it omits Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s 1988 double, He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper)

    re mid 80s rappers thinking album-wards, I suspect the record company would have been important also (since they would have been calling at least some of the shots, and running the promotion strategies)?: Def Jam in particular — and beyond this Rick Rubin, with his background in US punk and what wasn’t yet called alt.rock.

    (it’s surely not accident that the early entrants in the wikipedia list are all Rubin-linked — though actually Run DMC’s first two albs predate his involvement I think, so I guess they are the full-on innovators…)

    I don’t really know enough about US radio to know about album-oriented stations (or anyway programmes) for black music: I would guess these had existed at college radio level since the late 70s at least, but maybe not on a scale to encourage record companies to branch out into “album-based thinking”? Certainly historically it isn’t something that chart-oriented black American artists tended to dip into until they became very established stars (Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder were pioneers here).

    (Funk is a bit of a different animal: George Clinton and Sly Stone were both fascinated by rock practice; James Brown’s LPs are conceptual in a fairly loose sense, but not really conceived as “works”, I don’t think. Rap was arguably shifting towards a Clintonian model in the mid-80s, from a chart-based model — probably at least part of the — probably simplistic? — thinking is that when it comes to sustainable audiences, black fans tend to favour singles and white fans LPs… rap being in the end a herald of the ongoing shift … )

    (Crate-mining for samples also tends towards album-based listening, I suspect…) (there’s an interesting underlying history here, which I am speculatively brainstorming, probably in slightly misshapen fashion)

  65. 65
    Mark M on 26 Jul 2013 #

    I don’t mind that list, although it leans a bit towards grumpy adherents of cranky religions presumably because of the ‘seriousness’ of their intent – I mean, I liked X Clan, but I don’t think they were major figures in the history of hip hop.

    It guess it does, as so often, come back to Run DMC.

  66. 66
    Lazarus on 26 Jul 2013 #

    Not much mention of chorus-singing sidekick LV – real name Larry Sanders (!) – but I seem to recall he was a rather stout fellow, and I couldn’t help but think: ‘luncheon vouchers.’

  67. 67
    James BC on 26 Jul 2013 #

    My then nine-year-old brother was very taken with L.V. It’s a great vocal from him that’s perfect for the song (even if “so blind to see” is a bit of a clunker).

    I believe he did have one or two minor solo hits.

  68. 68
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 26 Jul 2013 #

    I’n in Shropshire at the moment so can’t remind myself what I’m thinking of, but wasn’t there a Fat Boys Xmas album? It had a Keith Haring sleeve

    (Google is not being helpful)

  69. 69
    thefatgit on 26 Jul 2013 #

    L.V. and C**lo G***n, never seen a better example of “brothers from another mother”.

  70. 70
    glue_factory on 26 Jul 2013 #

    Re: 68, Are you thinking of this?


  71. 71
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 26 Jul 2013 #

    Possibly: and this was the full xmas compilation — except I remembered the sleeve was yellow, so perhaps not? Will have to check once I’m home.


  72. 72
    Matt DC on 26 Jul 2013 #

    This is a superb example of a floor filler that no one can actually dance to. I actually heard it on Saturday night and people ran to the dancefloor only to just sort of stand there lurching at each other while singing along.

  73. 73
    Billy Hicks on 26 Jul 2013 #

    See also ‘Love the Way You Lie’ (incredibly not a bunny, look it up), an equally huge seller but causes a club to just awkwardly shuffle and mime Eminem’s rap bits, perking up only when Rihanna comes in.

  74. 74
    Jonathan on 28 Jul 2013 #

    I know the point here is the context of the song within the charts, but I can’t help it; this song seems so unnecessary given everything else that was going on in rap at the time. You know, the break is nice and Coolio sounds interesting for about forty-five seconds, but the whole thing seems theatrical retelling of gangsta rap, and considering gangsta rap is pretty theatrical as it is, the end result sounds awfully clumsy. (Which isn’t to act like Coolio isn’t authentic or whatever, but to say that he did a poor job of telling these stories.) And you don’t even have to look to Big or Pac or Nas for examples of contemporaneous music that makes this seem so weak in comparison. Look to “Tha Crossroads,” which found similar crossover success (#8 in the UK) at a similar time, mined a similar gothic gospel sound, and similarly placing conscious themes in a grim setting, but is executed far more skillfully and with finer detail.

  75. 75
    taDOW on 28 Jul 2013 #

    “tha crossroads” is interesting in that it either represented a moment when even regional hip-hop acts could score megahits (and kinda setting the stage in a way for the oncoming dominance of the south) or it represented a track becoming a #1 hit on the back of being an eazy-e tribute and either scenario represented a huge ‘ok paradigm has definitely shifted’ signifier to me.

  76. 76
    Ed on 28 Jul 2013 #

    @64 and @65 – Yes, Run DMC were unashamed rockists (sorry) from the get-go. As Public Enemy put it: “Run DMC first said a DJ could be a band and stand on its own feet, get you out your seat.”

    They were recognized for it at the time, too. Christgau on the first album: “It’s easily the canniest and most formally sustained rap album ever.” (Found that on his site, but it looks like a contemporary review.)

  77. 77
    Wizi on 29 Jul 2013 #

    This was the last good rap/hip hop record IMHO. After that, it was just people using rap to get rich and boast about it without actually having any musical ability to earn by merit.

    I liked Dangerous Minds and was moved to tears during the sad part. Michelle Pfeiffer has had a great career since, as far as I’m concerned. Mark M has already mentioned “What Lies Beneath” with Harrison Ford. She also went on to make the highly popular films “One Fine Day”, “Stardust” and “Hairspray” with Clooney, De Niro and Travolta (and Walken) respectively.

  78. 78
    Mark G on 29 Jul 2013 #

    Yeah, not like those nice whte folks with guitars, right?

  79. 79
    Wizi on 29 Jul 2013 #

    Mark G, I feel the same way about white rappers of the moment. At the same time, I love Public Enemy (had I been at Glastonbury, I would have skipped the Stones to see PE instead) and a lot of earlier rap and hip hop as they actually had something to say, and there was a lot of deprivation in New York and this was a great way of people expressing themselves.

    BBC4 showed a documentary a couple of years back and Chuck D was quite scathing about the current crop in similar terms as me, so I’m not sure how race enters into it anyway.

    By the way, my favourite artist is Prince and I was at the Nile Rodgers gig on Saturday night. There goes a couple of performers who truly have talent and deserve their wealth.

  80. 80
    Mark G on 29 Jul 2013 #

    To clarify, I don’t mean it from a ‘race’ pov, more that you have it that the whole musical genre that exists right now is only and soleley about making money and bragging about it.

  81. 81
    Tom on 29 Jul 2013 #

    I haven’t scoured the listings, but I can’t think of any upcoming hip-hop #1 where the main focus of the track is the artist’s wealth!

    (I appreciate you’re talking about hip-hop in general, but even so it’s a pretty enormous generalisation).

  82. 82
    James BC on 29 Jul 2013 #

    I’d like to know more about Wizi as the idea that anyone could agree with the statement “Gangsta’s Paradise is the last great hip hop record” fascinates me. Obviously we are all entitled to our own opinions but I can’t get a handle on that one.

    Hip hop bragging goes right back to Rapper’s Delight and the guy boasting about having a colour TV. But with a lot of it I tend to think the rappers are doing it because it’s a convention of the genre rather than to be boastful. It’s rarely the focus of an entire song.

  83. 83
    Mark G on 29 Jul 2013 #

    Bragging goes right back, let’s drop in to “Duke of Earl”, and now your go-back futher..

  84. 84
    Wizi on 29 Jul 2013 #

    Mark G & Tom, I don’t think the whole genre exists just to brag about wealth, it sadly reeks of sexism too and I do get fed up with great female singers feeling as if they have to have one of these rappers on their record to give it any kind of credibility.

    This may have to come down to difference of opinion, but if you think I am a lone voice on this, then please note a very recent Radio One documentary where they discussed the possible reasons for the widespread bragging about wealth within the genre. As well as this, Radio Two reviewed the latest Jay Z album and the reviewer effectively wondered how many more ways the rapper could find ways of bragging about his lifestyle.

  85. 85
    Steve Mannion on 29 Jul 2013 #

    So…when are we doing the BritRap poll?

  86. 86
    Mark G on 29 Jul 2013 #

    OK, you have Radio 1 documentaries and Radio 2 reviews on your side.

  87. 87
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 29 Jul 2013 #

    The point here is not that you’re a lone voice speaking truth to power, wizi — or boldly on the side of contrary opinion alongside the forgotten prophets at Radio One — it’s that this line is a cliche ppl can hardly turn around for falling over. Half the world thinks this: the half of the world that doesn’t bother listening to rap very carefully, and builds its justification on very selective half-listening (and half-thinking).

    Chuck D is like every other 53-yr-old*: of course he thinks the world was better when he was a young man, and that music was better when everyone thought they should be making it the way he made it.

    The talent thing is just silly: there have been scores of younger rappers who have better flow than Coolio and a wittier/smart way with words. Decisions about morally high-flown topics — and manifestations of monkish character — don’t make for better music (quite the opposite, sometimes).

    *haha CD is a BABY he is three months younger than me, i just checked

  88. 88
    fivelongdays on 29 Jul 2013 #

    Sorry I’m a touch late here – been away.

    I’m not a hip-hop fan – a little goes a long way for me – but fuckin’ hell, this is FANTASTIC. It’s dark, it’s doomy, it’s lower-case gothic, it makes the hairs on your arms go up in the chorus, it’s catchy, it’s smart, and it’s a lot of fun.

    Hip-hop for people who don’t like Hip-hop? Well, as someone who doesn’t really like hip-hop this gets a big fat NINE.

  89. 89
    Wizi on 29 Jul 2013 #

    I never at any point said that I liked all the earlier rap and hip hop and I never said that wealth was not bragged about in earlier tracks.

    I do find it baffling that so many rappers of today are thought of as great artists, when I do listen and the subject matters I hear are about wealth, about the screaming fans or something about women which uses extremely insulting terminology. Can we actually cover some subjects like all the real musicians do, even if it is just a straightforward love verse?

    We recently read a book of poetry by a single poet for the book club I go to, and most of the poems were about poets, leaving all of us yearning for some actual subjects instead of just the self-praising and self-indulgent stuff.

    It pains me when there are so many other great young artists of the day out there such as Muse, Paloma Faith and Laura Mvula who deserve the number ones more.

    Hip hop and rap was originally probably not about great musical talent, but about expression about the situations that people were living in, and what I am most perplexed by is how we are allowing rappers to get the Brit awards etc without actually being musicians in the first place. How many rappers are there who could be locked in a studio with just some instruments and actually produce something of worth?

    I do hear good bits on recent rap and hip hop, basically the wonderful singing parts which are done by someone else. Sadly the words are sometimes just there for the singer to praise the rapper…

    I know that “injustice” occurs across the genres as someone who can’t sing very well could get a top producer in to actually put the tracks together and then they go on to become the respected star, I accept that to be the case.

    IMHO again, I feel that it is a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes and the greatest talent demonstrated is that of self-promotion.

  90. 90
    Patrick Mexico on 29 Jul 2013 #

    No gigantic expert on this genre – well this sub-genre, sometimes I’ll wax lyrical about Public Enemy, De La Soul, Afrika Bambaataablahdeblah then make doughnutted comments about NWA and gangsta rap “ruining hip-hop” on forums I have since been blocked from, but since then I’ve come a long way, baby, and can’t wait to discuss this anyway.

    However, this is a deserved number one. I’m not sure why it’s being held up as an example of hip-hop “bragging” and “materialism”.. it sounds a very lazy and stereotypical way to approach a big turning point in popular genres, love or loathe it, and the opening lines are from the common-or-garden funeral psalm.. a jarring but well-meaning opening gambit.

    I used to find the Stevie Wonder template uninspired, but agree with Tom that sometimes pop can be most profound when it “borrows” themes from the past then throws them into sharp relief in a darker, more uncertain context – just like Nirvana’s mangled, warp-speed take on the Youngbloods’ Get Together in Territorial Pissings, “to make the baby-boomers look in the mirror and feel guilty.”

    This could potentially be one of the best Popular threads so far, but a hip-hop one, especially the further away we get from its “golden age”, risks the following doughnuttery (yes, it’s a noble baked good, but it’s also a noble insult.. I think as much about Punctum at the bakery as I do about John Steed when I stir my coffee)…

    a) the “all that rap crap is just crash bang wallop bloody nuis@nce” bunch, mostly from older generations.

    b) those who accuse a) of casual racism, especially if they’re from older generations, which is idiotically pseudo-right-on in itself, but also risks people going on the defensive into cringeworthy “I have black friends, you know” discussion.

    c) those who accuse people innocently trying to discuss and embrace a genre they may not necessarily be used to that much, with cries of “Ermahgerd!! You’re white and middle-class so You DON’T HAVE ARTISTIC LICENCE TO WRITE ABOUT HIP-HOP!! Go and listen to WHITE MIDDLE-CLASS BANDS ONLY! It’s ok for EVERYONE ELSE ON THE PLANET to PICK AND CHOOSE, but how DARE you EXPLOIT your WHITE MIDDLE-CLASS PRIVILEGE! You are all GEORGE OSBORNE ACOLYTES who KICK PEOPLE IN WHEELCHAIRS! Bow down to FRAN HEALY, your cappuccino Führer!”

    Just warning you guys.

    More echoing the sentiment people from all over the world have with pride and defiance when they’re up against it – “where I’m from might be a hellhole, but it’s MY hellhole, MY ‘paradise’.” A hearty 7.

  91. 91
    Andrew Farrell on 29 Jul 2013 #

    Thanks Patrick, I think with that warning we’ll be well placed to avoid those trouble spots.

  92. 92
    Pink champale on 29 Jul 2013 #

    I’ve just been googling some Paloma Faith lyrics now that I know that they contain more artistic worth than the whole of hip hop. It seems that Paloma is sometimes a little but crazy but that’s just her being real. She also has some commonplace thoughts on romance. Okay, a cheap shot, but he idea that hip hop, as compared to the rest of pop music has no lyrical content is just so bizarre. I wouldn’t deny that lots if that content can be problematic, so it’s fine if you can’t get past that, but lazy rubbish about it just being boasting gets on my wick. And as for the idea that say RZA is a lesser musician than some no mark who can play a couple if chords…

  93. 93
    Chelovek na lune on 29 Jul 2013 #

    #85 And It Wasn’t A Dream….

    Although actually…MC Buzz B > Ruthless Rap Assassins in my book, just about, probably. Certainly only the former had the same idea (to base a “social issues” rap around a certain Bruce Hornsby & The Range sample) taken, and given worldwide fame, by 2-Pac, anyway, a few years later.

    It strikes me that (in the years that rap was crossing into the mainstream) there were so many “Britrap” artists who showed some degree of talent, or at least capacity to make interesting records, and, just occasionally, maybe, say something of note…but who then rapidly disappeared from view as rapidly as they had entered it. Derek B, The Cookie Crew, Monie Love, and so on, without ever making any earth-shattering impact, either commercially or critically. One can think of acts (much) later on, on the fringes of rap, that one might say this of, I suppose, but I am hard pressed to think of any British rap acts from those earlier years that really made a mark…

    (Also: how close to Carter USM count to being Britrap?: they did, kind of rap, sometimes had social commentary type lyrics, when they weren’t overplaying the South London puns, and they were about as idiosyncratically London working-class as you can get: Chas and Dave with worse haircuts. The New Cross cousins of the London Posse, too, perhaps.)

    I think the point is, to summarise, and for numerous reasons: in the 80s/90s, at least, rap was never the dynamic force (or focus of…thought and voice of protest/identity/intellectual thought) on in the UK that it was in the UK: Hijack would have surely aspired (a little too obviously, perhaps) to be London’s Public Enemy…but too few people were listening. (“The Badman Is Robin” was of course sampled in at least one later significant UK rap-offshoot-related track). Mind you – for Silver Bullet to have almost had a top 10 record with a notably uncompromising and aggressive track…was something)

  94. 94
    Jonathan on 30 Jul 2013 #

    I was going to be all “rap doesn’t need people like Wizi anyway” but I’ll be more constructive and more specific: How obnoxious to demand of the poor and marginalized that their music be exclusively “worthy.” That it live up to a standard of social consciousness not demanded of music made by and for the middle class. That their artistic work should be patronisingly valued for its message because it “was probably not about great musical talent.”

    Also, while I think it’s great that rap is ignant because I don’t think it needs to prove anything to anyone, I do wonder what kind of denuded imagination fails to make the connection between people coming from a place with “a lot of deprivation” and their valuing wealth and the power of capital.

  95. 95
    Ed on 30 Jul 2013 #

    @94 I agree with all of that. Demanding more worthiness from hip-hop than we would expect from the Rolling Stones, Babyshambles or One Direction is daft.

    My constructive suggestion for Wizi is that you should listen to some more contemporary rap: you might be pleasantly surprised.

    But… I feel uneasy about dismissing Chuck D’s concerns about the cultural impact of today’s superstar rappers by saying “Chuck D is old.”

    Deepening inequality is a real issue – perhaps the biggest issue of all – in the US and other western societies, and it would be naive to think that the way that inequality is reflected in popular culture has no effect on our ideas and values.

    I guess that means that society is the problem, not hip-hop. But it doesn’t stop me wanting to look for some awareness of that in music, whether it is rap or anything else.

  96. 96

    I wasn’t saying he was old, I was saying he’s the same age as me!

    And really all I was doing — yes a little flippantly — was pushing back against Lord Chuck of D’s repeat anointment as the Figure who Entirely Validates All Negative Opinion of Rap Since its Golden Age (viz his own heyday). See also Dan Hancox here. Political insight and views on the relative quality of musicianship are generally better treated as elements in a fricative cross-ply, not as co-affirming — and besides, as anyone active in years gone by can pertinently be asked, if your activism was so amazingly tremendous, how come we all ended up here? You can’t have got everything right!

  97. 97
    Ed on 31 Jul 2013 #

    Point taken. And that Dan Hancox piece is great, as usual. His writing on grime is my favourite “pop” journalism of the past decade.

    As for musicianship, I buy the argument that rap technique has become much more, not less, sophisticated over the past 25 years, to the extent that I can sympathise with this guy, even if I don’t agree with him:

    But even so, I am glad Chuck D is still out there, still raising those questions.

    Full disclosure: I would count ‘Yo! Bum Rush The Show’ as one of the very few records that has genuinely changed my life, and I have no critical distance at all on Public Enemy. I would even make excuses for ‘Flavor of Love’.

  98. 98
    Ed on 31 Jul 2013 #

    Incidentally, I am pleased to see Dan Hancox has come out with his own veteran’s ten-year retrospective, “I remember when it was all tower blocks around here”, grand old man book.

    As Tom said, it looks great: http://dan-hancox.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/new-book-announcement-stand-up-tall.html

  99. 99
    DanH on 1 Aug 2013 #

    Re: Weird Al… You don’t have to have grown up with his music (as I did) to like him, but I’m pretty sure it helps…

  100. 100
    Patrick Mexico on 14 Oct 2013 #

    I’m sure everyone already knows about this, but here’s the man himself making it just like old times in a most unlikely venue:


  101. 101
    Patrick Mexico on 14 Oct 2013 #

    May I add, at my old university, in halls I possibly lived in, and that day at my old local, Preston’s Ship Inn/”Ships and Giggles”, Coolio (yes, really) lost a FIFA 14 match 7-0. As well as taking a breather outside Friargate McDonald’s. I don’t know how these things happen, I really don’t.. and is it a good or a bad thing, walking through the shadow of the valley of butter pie? You decide.

  102. 102
    Erithian on 28 Mar 2014 #

    The Rap Song Your Dad Likes? I wasn’t a Dad at the time, but other than that, guilty as charged – an impressive and convincing portrait of an uncomfortable life which serves rap’s role as “newspaper of the ghetto” admirably. Great use of the sample too, as something to build on and create something new and valid.

  103. 103
    Mark M on 22 Nov 2014 #

    Re58: Some thoughts on Time Is Illmatic, the documentary that looks at Nas’ life up to the release of his colossal debut album.

  104. 104
    Inanimate Carbon God on 22 Feb 2015 #

    Back in the singles charts at #81 this week! No idea why.

  105. 105
    Matt on 23 Feb 2015 #

    @104 I think it’s because iTunes discounted it to 59p in the past week, which sometimes has a noticeable effect if the song is liked enough. Same thing happened with Linkin Park & bunnied rapper nearly making the top 40 a couple weeks back (having climbed into the top 20 on iTunes).

  106. 106
    Vieuphoria on 12 Jan 2018 #

    Saw Coolio perform this song last year. He dedicated it to the memory of Princess Diana. Still unsure why.

    But the stripped back version with a live saxophonist was actually quite a treat.

  107. 107
    Gareth Parker on 29 Apr 2021 #

    There is a moody and an atmosphere to this single that I quite like. 7/10.

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