The first half of the '90s was a glorious time for rap, particularly on the West Coast. After artists like Ice-T, N.W.A and Snoop Dogg kicked in the door, the left coast were at the top of the game.

But while the music was dope, a majority of these artists were of the gangsta rap mold and more likely to rap about a drive-by than relaxing in the shade. A few artists who were in stark contrast to that imagery were also able to find success during that period, one of them being Coolio.

Born and raised in South Central (Los Angeles), Calif., Coolio got his feet wet dabbling in the local hip-hop scene and got his big break after joining Ice Cube's affiliated group, WC and the Maad Circle. Appearing on the group's debut album, Ain't A Damn Thing Changed, Coolio's impressive showing on the project, most notably on the single, "Dress Code," scored him a recording contract with Tommy Boy Records.

Releasing his debut solo album, It Takes A Thief, in 1994, Coolio made a seismic splash, thanks to the LP's lead single, "Fantastic Voyage." The song earned him a platinum plaque and was a playful alternative to the gritty Death Row Records sound that was prominent at the time, while still retaining a healthy balance of street cred.

But it would be the rapper's sophomore effort, Gangsta's Paradise, that would bring him mainstream appeal. Released on Nov. 21, 1995, the collection would be the biggest rap release of the year and move over five million copies, making him a household name.

On the 20th anniversary of this memorable release, we picked five songs from the LP that stood out and left a lasting impression on us.

Check out the Five Best Songs from Coolio's Gangsta's Paradise Album below. What's your favorite song from the collection?

  • 5

    "Geto Highlights"

    Coolio kicks the album off with "Geto Highlites." Produced by Christopher Hamabe and Devon Davis, the beat is a twangy affair and contains pounding drums, guitar riffs, and synths that mesh together and make a cool song. Rapping, "Every ghetto got a different name but they all the same / So Coolio Loco gon' put you up on game," the California native gives listeners a slice of the better side of the ghetto on this enjoyable tune.

  • 4


    Coolio proves that even gangsters can get sentimental on "Smilin'," a feel-good cut dedicated to his children. Co-Produced by Dominic Aldridge, James Carter and Reece Carter, the beat is powered by thumping drum kicks and snares, over which the left coast spitter drops flows while waxing poetic about his offsprings. "One night of pleasure, nine months of pain / Three days later and that's when you came / Two arms, two legs, ten fingers, ten toes / Brown eyes like mine with ya' grandmothers nose," he raps. Coolio delivers a heartfelt song that shows that not only is he a rapper but also an endearing father as well.

  • 3

    "Excercise Yo Game"

    "When I was fifteen years old / Straight dope game, I was told," spits E-40 on the Gangsta's Paradise standout, "Excercise Yo Game." An amped up free-for-all that sees Coolio linking up with KAM, 40 Thevz, and 40 Water on the funky posse track, which is produced by Jay Williams and Maurice Thompson. One of the highlights on the album, the song proves that Coolio is equally adept at standing alongside his fellow left coast rhymers and make a head-nodding banger.

  • 2

    "1-2-3-4 (Sumpin' New)"

    Coolio makes a dash to the dance-floor on "1-2-3-4 (Sumpin' New)." Rapping, "1-2-3-4, get your women on the floor / Gonna gonna get up to get down / Gonna gonna get up to get down," on the infectious hook, the song commands anybody withing earshot to get their boogie on. Elsewhere, he raps, "What up everybody, so glad ya hear, it's Coolio with the flow back in ya' ear / This ain't a fantastic voyage, but I'm still on a mission / To see if I can get your attention." Overall, Coolio brings the house down with his undeniable club jam.

  • 1

    "Gangsta's Paradise"

    Featuring L.V.

    Originally released in conjunction with the film Dangerous Minds, the title track garnered massive radio play upon its release and introduced Coolio to a mainstream audience. "As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death / I take a look at my life and realize there's nothing left," Coolio rhymes on the haunting track, which samples Stevie Wonder's 1976 song, "Pastime Paradise". The infectious song was a chart-topping hit, spending twelve consecutive weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Listed at No. 69 on Billboard's Greatest Songs Of All Time, "Gangsta's Paradise" would go on to become the biggest-selling single of 1995 and a staple within pop culture.


    20 Rappers Who Fell Off the Face of the Earth

    [gallery galleryid="625:193031" galleryindex="0" ids="193033,193036,193038,193039,193042,193043,193044,193060,193070,193072,193073,193074,193076,193079,193080,193081,193084,193088,193089,193371" enablefullscreen="yes" showthumbs="no"]