Gangsta's Paradise

Coolio, 1995

Who is singing this song? Gang member. Summarize the message of each verse. (1) pride of gang member; (2) trapped, only way out is death; (3) no one is paying attention What is the mood of each verse? How does the singer's attitude change from one verse to the next?

What does he say is the danger of being in a gang? Won't live to be 24.

Why do kids join gangs? What do gangs offer their members that family, school, church, and other communities don't? Why do so many kids go for being in gangs if it's so dangerous? Do they feel like they have a choice?

Why is it called "Gangsta's Paradise"? What is paradise to a gang member? Is this song for or against gangs? Why?

Coolio the songwriter did make the choice not to join a gang. How does knowing that enhance your understanding of the song?

What arguments does this group use against gangs? What keeps gang members from changing?

What is the purpose of the choir in the background? When does the choir sing? Chorus. What else changes about the song in the chorus? He sings "they" instead of "I." This is a quote from Stevie Wonder's "Pastime Paradise." Why would Coolio choose this song and artist to quote?

What socio-economic conditions are breeding grounds for gangs? How can communities make changes to discourage gangs?

What does the line—"They say I've got to learn, but no one's here to teach me. If they can't understand it, how can they reach me?"—mean for anyone trying to help eliminate gangs?

"Gangsta's Paradise" performed by Coolio on Gangsta's Paradise, New York: Tommy Boy Records [TBCD1141], © 1995. Available on iTunes and Spotify.

For more information on Coolio, visit his offical website.
The official video may be viewed on YouTube.

Rights have not been secured to reprint the words for this song.

Please consult this online source:

Dangerous Minds movie poster
Movie poster for Dangerous Minds.

Coolio (Artis Ivey) was born in California on August 1, 1963, and began rapping while he was still in high school in the late 1970s. He continued studying music at a local community college. Coolio's name was coined when he appeared for a session wearing a western shirt and playing a guitar while singing a song. Someone asked him, "Who do you think you are, Coolio Iglesias?" (referring to Julio Iglesias, the Latin singer) and the name stayed. Despite intense peer pressure, Coolio avoided involvement with the local gangs in Los Angeles. "Gangsta's Paradise" was written in 1995 for the movie Dangerous Minds starring Michelle Pfeiffer. The movie, like the song, deals with issues of growing up amid the lure of street gangs. In 1996, Coolio won a Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance for "Gangsta's Paradise."

This song is a re-make and modernization of Stevie Wonder's "Pastime Paradise" (1976). Coolio utilizes the same music for the refrain and takes Wonder's intense rhyme scheme in the verses, transforming it into pure rap. Coolio also adapts Wonder's background vocals in the chorus and converts it into a "church choir" evoking the sense of being in a religious state or "paradise." Also notable is Coolio's quote from the 23rd Psalm at the beginning of the song.

Compare this song to:

"Pastime Paradise" by Stevie Wonder





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