Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Coolio -- "Gangsta's Paradise" (1995)

As I walk through the valley 
Of the shadow of death
I take a look at my life 
And realize there's nothin' left

You're probably wondering why I picked this song to feature on 2 or 3 lines today.  That's a fair question, and I'm happy to answer it.

A couple of weeks ago, I somehow stumbled across a link to three Youtube videos of Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon performing medleys of brief excerpts of well-known rap songs on Fallon's late-night talk show.  

The third so-called "History of Rap" video is only five minutes long, but the boys manage to squeeze in  snippets of 18 hip-hop classics -- "Sabotage" (by the Beastie Boys), "Baby Got Back" (Sir Mix-A-Lot), "Bust a Move" (Young MC), "Jump Around" (House of Pain), and many others -- in that five minutes.    Right in the middle of the video is twelve seconds of "Gangsta's Paradise," which wasn't nearly enough to satisfy me. 

Here's the aforementioned video.  It's really, really good (as are the other two):

Before we talk about "Gangsta's Paradise," I have a brief story about Jimmy Fallon.  When I shared this video with a young woman who works in my office, she told me that she once had a date with Jimmy Fallon.  I think this was quite some time ago -- before he had his own TV show, and before he did Fever Pitch, a godawful 2005 movie (co-starring the godawful Drew Barrymore) in which Fallon plays a devoted fan of the godawful Boston Red Sox.

The second-worst scene in Fever Pitch is when Barrymore's character gets sick and throws up during her first date with Fallon's character, who wins her heart by brushing her dog's teeth after the dog eats the vomit.  The worst scene in the movie is when the Red Sox win the 2004 AL pennant over the Yankees.

(Gag me with a spoon!)
Anyway, Fallon and my young friend had only one date.  (I don't think she threw up during the date, inspiring the scene in the movie, but I don't know for sure.)  I told her that Fallon struck me as a bit of a tool, so she shouldn't feel bad.  She agreed that he was a bit of a tool, but then pointed out how much alimony she might have gotten from him now that's he hit it so big.  I tried to comfort her by telling her there are plenty of rich tools out there that a beautiful and accomplished young woman like her can squeeze a heapin' helpin' of alimony out of.  I think she felt much better after our conversation!

"Gangsta's Paradise" is the most memorable thing about the 1995 movie, Dangerous Minds, which starred Michelle Pfeiffer as an idealistic teacher at a ghetto high school in California.  It's sort of a poor man's (or poor woman's) To Sir, With Love.  

I don't know about you, but Michelle Pfeiffer never did much for me.  I liked her in Dangerous Liaisons and The Age of Innocence, but both those movies are period pieces -- her characters never really came alive for me.  (By contrast, Deborah Winger's characters always seemed very real to me -- they had an essential personality that Pfeiffer's characters seem to be missing.)

Coolio was born Artis Leon Ivey, Jr., in Compton, CA, in 1963.  "Gangsta's Paradise" was a huge international hit, reaching #1 not only in the United States, but also in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and a dozen European countries -- including France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and all the Scandinavian countries.  (For some reason, it only made it to #29 in the our neighbor to the north.  What's your problem, Canada?)  The song won the Grammy for "Best Rap Solo Performance."

Coolio's career peaked shortly after "Gangsta's Paradise" was released.  Recently he's become a regular on reality TV -- last year, he finished second in the Food Network's Celebrity Cook-Off, and just a couple of weeks ago, he was on ABC's Celebrity Wife Swap.  (As the Romans would have said, "Sic transit gloria mundi.")

"Gangsta's Paradise" is nothing we haven't heard before.  The singer is a young African-American man who's trapped in a ghetto, living on his wits -- with a little help from a few guns and his homies.  He's self-aware enough to realize that he'll never walk away from his gangsta's life, despite the very real dangers that accompany it -- he's too hooked on the money and the highs.  "I'm 23 now, but will I live to see 24?" he asks himself, knowing that the answer is "probably not."  

Here's the official music video for "Gangsta's Paradise," which features Michelle Pfeiffer and a number of shots from Dangerous Minds.  

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

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