#5 Coolio (ft. L.V.) – Gangsta’s Paradise

“As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death

I take a look at my life and realize there’s nothin’ left”

Some of the Best #5 is a patchy affair but not without a few crusty gems. Foremost among them is Coolio’s 1995 monster hit Gangsta’s Paradise featuring the dulcet tones of L.V. and the even more important writing of Stevland Hardaway Morris. Stevie Wonder actually made his first appearance in the canon on #1 as a guest vocalist/harmonica player on Dionne Warwick’s cover of That’s What Friends Are For (along with Elton John and Gladys Knight). Gangsta’s Paradise ostensibly samples Wonder’s 1976 hit Pastime Paradise. However, a quick listen to Stevland’s original reveals that there is sometimes a gossamer-thin line between sample and cover. After all, Coolio retains the distinctive Yamaha GX-1 string stabs, the verse and chorus melody and structure and…well, just have a listen and you’ll get it. It’s no surprise that Stevie took 95% of the publishing royalties. No doubt Alanis Morrissette appreciated the irony that Coolio later objected to “Weird” Al Yankovic sampling/covering the track in his ‘official parody’ Amish Paradise.

Anyways, writing credits aside, Gangsta’s Paradise is massive, and understandably one of the biggest selling singles of all time. L.V.’s soulful gospel refrain pairs perfectly with Coolio’s ‘divinely inspired’ flow that laments a biblical violence haunting the Compton ghetto. It was the first rap song to be a year-end chart topper on the Billboard Hot 100, and won Best Rap Solo Performance at the 1996 Grammys, beating off Notorious B.I.G.’s Big Poppa. Sure it narrowly missed out on ‘Record of the Year’ to Seal’s Kiss From a Rose but Bruce Wayne was an influential committee member that year. In any event, it wouldn’t be until 2019 that the Grammys would finally deign to anoint a rap song as Record of the Year for the first time in its history. This is America after all, fool.

On-demand music streaming still being decades away, I actually asked for the single for Christmas, and was the inadvertently ‘lucky’ recipient of a cassette featuring L.V.’s own version. It was a B-side on the lesser- known single that he released off the back of his Coolio-related fame. That L.V. version is actually pretty damn great too, and it is still the one that I know all the lyrics to, which feels fitting given that it was L.V. who actually came up with the ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ lyric. That said, it doesn’t have a music video featuring a moody Michelle Pfeiffer cutting glass with her cheekbones, so it falls short in at least one way.

Hip hop would remain dormant in the SOTB canon for a good decade or so until I made the acquaintance of reallyquitetired at university, so make the most of these rhymes while you can. They won’t be back for a while.

Honourable Mentions

Nothing Compares Sinéad O’Connor

Runaround Sue Dion

Walking in Memphis Marc Cohn

Nightswimming R.E.M.* But for the fact that R.E.M. have already so recently been profiled on #3, this would have been today’s profiled track. It’s probably my all-time favourite of theirs.