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Cringy ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ Moments and Why Stevie Wonder Initially Rejected the Song: EUR Video Throwback

On this day in 1995, Coolio was joined onstage by Stevie Wonder at the Billboard Music Awards to perform “Gangsta’s Paradise,” which also won Single Of The Year.

The song famously reworks Wonder’s 1976 song “Pastime Paradise,” from his iconic album “Songs in the Key of Life.” The song’s theme appears to reflect the tendency for folks to deal with problems by either living in the past (pasttime paradise) or pining for an idyllic future (future paradise), rather than dealing with societal ills in the present.

Musically, “Pastime Paradise” was one of the first attempts at using strings in a song via synthesizer. It ended up in Coolio’s hands at the insistence of singer Larry Sanders, aka Large Variety, aka L.V. He was singing hooks in the gangsta rap group South Central Cartel before going solo and releasing his 1995 jam, “Throw Your Hands Up.”

Upon hearing that Coolio was looking for a song to record for the 1995 Universal Pictures film “Dangerous Minds” – about a white teacher (Michelle Pfeiffer) and the challenges she faces at an inner city school – L.V. sent the rap star a demo of his tinkering with “Pastime Paradise.” Wonder’s 1975 original listed such past “evils of the world” as segregation, isolation and exploitation. Coolio wrote lyrics to reflect the despair and abandonment felt by the students in the film. With L.V.’s track and vocals on the hook, Coolio’s verses, and the production of David Rasheed, “Gangsta’s Paradise” was born.

It took a while for Wonder to clear the sample. He rejected a first version of “Gangsta’s Paradise” because it included curse words, and only gave his approval after Coolio removed the offensive lyrics. The song promptly exploded, as it became a focal point of the film’s marketing campaign. The single went to #1 in both the U.S. and U.K., and was included on both the “Dangerous Minds” soundtrack and Coolio’s second album, which was named after the song.

Even Weird Al Yankovic couldn’t resist.

Coolio was famously offended by “Amish Paradise,” because he hadn’t given Yankovic permission to use it and claimed his comedic take “desecrated” the song. But over the years, Coolio came around to seeing the parody as an honor. As he explained below, if Weird Al could parody Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” with “Eat It,” and MJ “didn’t get mad”…

In a moment that is just as cringy today as the entire white-savior theme of “Dangerous Minds,” Coolio and Weird Al officially buried the hatchet while presenting together at the 1996 American Music Awards.

“Gangsta’s Paradise” went on to win a Grammy award for Best Rap Solo Performance. It returned to charts around the world this fall, re-entering the Top 20 in Switzerland, New Zealand, Australia and Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and Hot Rap Songs charts after Coolio died from a cardiac arrest on September 28, 2022.

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