Behind the Indelible Stage Name: Coolio

When the world found out in 2022 that the rapper Coolio had died, millions mourned.

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There was just something about the west coast lyricist, with his spidery braided hair, his bombastic, elastic voice, and his rhymes that flew their way into our ears and hearts.

With songs like “Gangsta’s Paradise” and “C U When You Get There,” Coolio was as much a part of the ’90s music pastiche as just about anyone. Someone who combined seriousness and humor, exasperation and eloquence.

But where did he get his memorable name? And what does Julio Iglesias have to do with it? For those answers, just keep reading.

The Rapper

Born Artis Leon Ivey Jr. on August 1, 1963, Coolio first rose to prominence with the group WC and the Maad Circle. Later, though, he achieved global success as a solo artist with his 1994 LP, It Takes a Thief, his 1995 album Gangsta’s Paradise, and his 1997 album, My Soul.

Other hit songs, along with “Gangsta’s Paradise” and “C U When U Get There” from the artist were “Fantastic Voyage” and “1, 2, 3, 4 (Sumpin’ New).” Coolio also recorded the theme song for the Nickelodeon show, Kenan & Kel, known as “Aw, Here IT Goes!”

The Name

Born in Monessen, Pennsylvania, Ivey Jr. was raised across the country in Compton, California. His family, led by his factory-working mother, moved to the area of Los Angeles when he was just eight years old.

Ivey Jr. was asthmatic growing up and he spent a lot of time in the library. As a teenager, he began rapping. That’s when he earned his name.

People called the burgeoning artist Coolio Iglesias, a riff on the Spanish singer, Julio Iglesias.

The name was soon shortened to just Coolio.

Sadly, early in his life, Coolio was arrested for bringing a weapon into school, served prison time for larceny, and even became addicted to crack cocaine. But he straightened himself out after going to live with his carpenter father in San Jose.

Before he hit it big, Coolio worked as a volunteer firefighter and as a security guard at the Los Angeles International Airport.

But then the music bug hit in earnest.

The Career

Coolio released his first single, “Watcha Gonna Do?” in 1987. But it was seven years later when he signed to Tommy Boy Records, which released his debut solo album, It Takes a Thief. That’s when things really began to skyrocket.

His single “Fantastic Voyage,” for its catchy nature, lovely melodies, and music video featuring the wild-haired Coolio, pushed him into the mainstream. The song peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and his album hit No. 8 on the Billboard 200. It was later certified platinum.

While the music was considered “gangsta rap,” Coolio sounded different than N.W.A. He had humor and levity, perhaps subtle at times, that endeared him to fans of all ages.

In 1995, he released “Gangsta’s Paradise,” for the film, Dangerous Minds, and it was a huge release. It even earned a parody from “Weird Al” Yankovich. The song won the 1996 Grammy for Best Rap Performance.


In 2022, at just 59, Coolio passed away.

According to reports, while at a friend’s house, the rapper was discovered unresponsive on a bathroom floor. First responders pronounced him dead upon their arrival.

The artist’s first posthumous song hit the airwaves, “TAG ‘You It’,” a raunchy number that continued his at times-odd, at times-truly beloved legacy.

Photo by JM Enternational/Getty Images

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