The Meaning Behind Coolio’s Funkadelic ‘Fantastic Voyage’

If you’re only here for the infectious slide, slide, slippity-slide in the chorus, the “Fantastic Voyage” is leaving without you. A journey through the harsh realities of life on the streets and an escape from them in search of some semblance of an “American Dream,” Coolio’s 1994 hit is a poetic mission statement, a dream of hope for the future dressed up in elastic grooves and funk-fueled rhythms.

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In honor of the late legend, take a trip through the meaning of “Fantastic Voyage” with us.

The Meaning and Origin

Part Lakeside’s 1981 tune of the same name, part The Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There,” “Fantastic Voyage” borrows the funk of the former and the hopeful escapism of the latter to create something wholly Coolio.

Lakeside’s thumping groove carried Coolio’s tune, giving it a cruising laid-back vibe that offered a bright buoyancy to the grim realities painted by the lyrics. When the artist first cut the track, he said in a 1994 interview with The Baltimore Sun “It was cool. I had some catchy phrases in there, and it was funny, too.” His label also thought the single was good, however, with some lyrical tweaking they believed it could be great.

Not knowing where to go from there, the artist explained “One day, we were listening to some oldies, and this Staple Singers song came on … Right away, soon as I heard it, I said, ‘That’s what I can write it like.’ And I wrote it in about two hours.”

I know a place / Ain’t nobody cryin’ / Ain’t nobody worried / Ain’t no smilin’ faces / Lyin’ to the races, opens the gospel-tinged tune. The 1972 soul serenade “I’ll Take You There” is often interpreted as a reference to civil rights. The songstresses describe a world after the movement has succeeded, a world in which there are no more tears or no more need for worry or fear.

“I’ll Take You There” helped take Coolio’s “Fantastic Voyage” to new depths, giving the song the push toward the multi-dimensional musical journey we know it as today.

The Lyrics

When “Fantastic Voyage” arrived, it was a welcome change from the commercialized rap that dominated the mainstream during that time. “I been tired for a long time of superficial, fake, made-up rap that ain’t coming from the heart,” Coolio told the Sun. “It’s all for money and shock value. I ain’t with that, man. When I wrote my album, I wasn’t really aiming for anything but making the kind of album I wanted to make. That was what was most important to me, being able to do exactly what I wanted to do.”

His release of the 1994 album, It Takes a Thief, was far more personal than anything else being brought to the genre. “Most rappers, they only talk about one side of their personality,” he explained. “If they’re a gangsta rapper, then that’s all they talk about. Or if they’re a lover, that’s all they talk about … I just tried to show all sides of my personality, that’s all. Just so it could be more real. I just wanted to make it well-rounded.”

“Fantastic Voyage” offered the perfect deep dive into Coolio’s personal side. The song championed coming together. Like The Staples Singers classic from which it took inspiration, the song ventured to a place where differences like race and class weren’t obstacles. Opening with:

Come on y’all let’s take a ride
don’t you say shit just get inside
It’s time to take your ass on another kind of trip
coz you can’t have the hop if you don’t have the hip
grab your gat with the extra clip and,
close your eyes and hit the switch
We’re going to a place where everybody kick it
kick it, kick it, yeah… that’s the ticket

Come along and ride on a fantastic voyage, he sings in the chorus, flanked by the catchy slide slide slippity-slide. The song continues with the same dream, imagining a place where Coolio and his family can live without fear, a place where there ain’t no bloodin’, ain’t no crippin’, and where it really don’t matter if you’re white or black.

I’m tryin’ to find a place where I can live my life and
maybe eat some steak with my beans and rice, a
place where my kids can play outside
without livin’ in fear of a drive-by

Coolio raps Life is a bitch and then you die / still tryin’ to get a peace of the apple pie, chronicling a hard life that asks a lot in order to overcome it. He continues:

you gotta have heart son, if you wanna go,
watch this sweet chariot swing low
ain’t nobody cryin` ain’t nobody dyin
ain’t nobody worryin’, everybody’s tryin
nothin’ from nothin’ leaves nothin’
if you wanna have something, you better start frontin’
what ya gonna do when the 5 roll by
you better be ready, so you can ride

When you’re living in a city it’s do or die, Coolio explains as the song comes to a close with its bouncing chorus.

Come along and ride on a fantastic voyage

The Music Video

The song’s accompanying music video opens with Coolio napping in a recliner on his front porch. A phone call from his friend Spoon wakes him. Asking about a trip to the beach, Spoon is quickly cut off by the rapper who responds annoyed, saying “We ain’t got no car,” looking out at the bicycle in disrepair in his driveway.

Suddenly, a mysterious man straight out of the ’70s appears, draped in a leisure suit and wielding a cane. With the flick of his cane, the man turns the bike into a blue 1965 Chevrolet Impala convertible car with hydraulics. Now with transportation, Coolio picks up his friends on the way to the beach and a “Fantastic Voyage” ensues.

The car is transformed back into the bicycle in the driveway as the video ends. The events of the day were merely a dream as Coolio is again woken up by Spoon calling to ask why he hung up on him, still trying to sell him on a beach trip. Coolio reminds him that they have no car, hanging up once again.

The rapper looks out at the bike to see something surprising hanging from the bike’s front wheel hub.

The Parody

Coolio is no stranger to being parodied, but this time he joined in. In 2018, Chrysler used “Fantastic Voyage” to promote the Chrysler Pacifica minivan, releasing an ad disguised as a music video. Cringingly called “Vantastic Voyage” and featuring the rapper himself, the video spoofs the original, nearly frame-by-frame.

(Photo by Frans Schellekens/Redferns)

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