Accepting an MTV VMA award in 1994, Coolio imparted the following timeless wisdom, “This year, we kept it real. Next year, let’s keep it honest.”
Such became the mission statement for his music career. While “Fantastic Voyage” encouraged hope and striving for a better way to do life, “Gangsta’s Paradise” honestly assessed the condition of the inner city and the reasons for the struggle.
No one with a conscience can ignore the heaviness of the second verse of “Gangsta’s Paradise.” In it, he opined, “Look at the situation they got me facing, I can’t live a normal life. I was raised by the street…. I’m 23 now but will I live to see 24, the way things is going I don’t know.”
The song came to a hopeless conclusion in the third verse, “They say I’ve got to learn but nobody’s here to teach me. If they can’t understand, how can they reach me? I guess they can’t. I guess they won’t. I guess they’re frontin’, that’s how I know my life is out of luck, fool!”
The song was a hit, the lead single off of the Dangerous Minds soundtrack, and resonated across the nation. While most hip-hop chronicled life in the inner city and assessed the hopelessness thereof, “Gangsta’s” was sort of a call for help with an indictment on the hypocrisy of those who claimed to care, but offered no help that would provide any real relief.
From the inner city perspective, help meant viable education, spiritual support, and a pathway forward. Yet despite all the conversation in the media about solving inner city violence and poverty, that help was not coming.
To this day, I cannot listen to the song without considering what I can do to take the Gospel, God’s light and hope, into the inner cities.
Coolio’s final hit, “I’ll C U When U Get There,” shifted the focus internally. Instead of waiting for help from the outside that wasn’t coming, Coolio implored those in the inner city to look within, and make the changes in their own lives to find a better way. It’s a message that actually applies to all of us, whether rural or urban, rich or poor, White or Black.
That song reminds me to honestly assess what I’m doing while evaluating my priorities and my standing with God.
It may seem unusual for a Baptist preacher to relate to hip-hop. However, brokenness, searching and a longing for redemption resonate with me, which is why Coolio’s music hit home.
That’s why I was heartbroken to hear of Coolio’s untimely death. I can only hope that he found the hope and redemption he pined for, and that he found salvation in the Lord. I truly hope to see him when I get there.