"Gangsta's Paradise" was the de facto theme song to Dangerous Minds, the Michelle Pfeiffer drama about teaching inner city youth, which hit theaters on Aug. 11, 1995. It paired well with the movie, as the lyrics have Coolio rapping about the difficulties of growing up with no opportunities and regretting a criminal life path.
Dangerous Minds was a surprise success at the box office, and it's no coincidence that "Gangsta's Paradise," used liberally in the film's trailer and commercials, hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on Sept. 9, 1995.
In a salute to its chart-topping success, we've collected some trivia that fans may not know.
1. The song tied with "Jingle Bells" in terms of commercial success.
"Gangsta's Paradise" went triple platinum in the U.S., becoming both one of the best-selling singles of 1995 and one of the best-selling singles of all time. To date, at least 5.7 million copies of the song have been purchased. According to Billboard's list of the all-time best-selling singles, that puts it in league with some other iconic songs, including the best-known version of "Jingle Bells" (the 1943 version by Bing Crosby and the Andrews sisters) and "Sugar, Sugar," the 1969 hit by The Archies. By the way, isn't it interesting to think about how musical tastes have evolved over time?
2. It was the first rap single to top Billboard's Year-End Top 100.
Billboard had never before named a rap track the overall top song for the year. Other honors it won include Best Rap Video and Best Video from a Film at the 1996 MTV Video Music Awards, Best Solo Rap Performance at the 1996 Grammys and a Billboard Music Award.
3. It was embraced internationally.
The song may describe a uniquely American experience, but it went on to hit No. 1 in the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand. (Check out the subtitles in the above video if you've ever wanted to know how to perform "Gangsta's Paradise" in French.)
4. It liberally sampled Stevie Wonder.
Yeah, half of you are saying, "Come on, everybody knows Coolio sampled 'Pastime Paradise,' " but you'd be surprised how often fans of the song haven't heard Wonder's original, from 1976's Songs in the Key of Life. (According to Rolling Stone, even Coolio wasn't familiar with it before production on the song began.) Those who hear Wonder's song for the first time are often surprised how much a debt "Gangsta's Paradise" owes it.
5. Stevie Wonder, however, had two major conditions before he let Coolio sample him.
First, this big one: No profanity. It's actually the rare track in Coolio's catalogue that features no swearing whatsoever, and when Wonder made this request, Coolio had to rewrite the song. Speaking to Billboard, Coolio said that Wonder ultimately approved of the new version. "I had a few vulgarities … so I changed it. Once he heard it, he thought it was incredible."
Additionally, Wonder took a big cut of the royalties. As Coolio stated in an interview with Rolling Stone, "Unbeknownst to me, the other condition was that he wanted 95 percent of the publishing! Had I known that, I'm not sure I would have went ahead with that – but I don't know, maybe I would have."
6. And then there's a rather complicated story involving "Weird Al" Yankovic.
In 1996, Yankovic did the thing he does with most successful songs and parodied "Gangsta's Paradise." "Amish Paradise," the video for which features Florence Henderson in the Michelle Pfeiffer role, went on to become a success and remains one of Yankovic's more successful parody songs. Coolio, however, didn't appreciate being parodied. Backstage at the 1996 Grammy Awards, according to Splitsider's recap of the incident, Coolio told reporters that he felt Yankovic had "desecrated" his song.
And that's especially surprising, considering that the two had been onstage together – sporting similar hairstyles, at the 1996 American Music Awards.
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7. Yankovic apologized, but to no avail.
Though he's not legally required to, Yankovic asks artists' permission to parody their songs and has, on more than one occasion, been asked not to proceed with a given parody version. According to various accounts, Yankovic either got the okay from Coolio's management or from his own management telling him that Coolio approved, and when this was revealed to not be the case, Yankovic wrote Coolio apologizing. He received no response, but he was name-checked in Coolio's 1997 song "Throwdown 2000," which features the lyrics "Fools be in the bars / Unadvanced with a switch / Uppercuts and fight kicks / with Weird Al Yankovic."
8. But they're good now.Coolio and Yankovic were photographed hugging it out at the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show, so it appears that the most unlikely feud in music history has come to an end. As Coolio told Vice recently, "I let that go so long ago. Let me say this: I apologized to Weird Al a long time ago and I was wrong." He also said he listened to "Amish Paradise" after the fact and had to admit that "it's actually funny as s---." And on his site, Yankovic summed up the incident with this: "I doubt I'll be invited to Coolio's next birthday party, but at least I can stop wearing that bulletproof vest to the mall."
9. L.V. did a solo version.
Singer L.V. provided the memorable hook to "Gangsta's Paradise," and in 1996 he released a solo version of the song, with new lyrics added.
10. The Dangerous Minds soundtrack both triumphed over and succumbed to Hootie & The Blowfish.
Propelled by the smash success of "Gangsta's Paradise," the Dangerous Minds soundtrack hit No. 1 on the Billboard album chart on Sept. 2, 1995, displacing Cracked Rear View, the major-label debut by Hootie & The Blowfish. The Dangerous Minds soundtrack remained there for four weeks, at which point it lost the No. 1 spot to … Cracked Rear View by Hootie & The Blowfish. Yeah, Hootie had some serious staying power in 1995.