DURING HIS FIRST 15 MINUTES, COOLIO was derided by hiphop esthetes for taking the music to the pop charts, on purpose. He got heat from thug rappers because he set their particular brand of self-aggrandizement to a disco beat, as if ghetto violence was fun. He was ahead of his time.

Today, after five years of chart-topping gangsta garbage, Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise" and "Fantastic Voyage" sound surprisingly tasteful, demonstrating a skill for uniting disparate audiences under an abstract groove--a skill that DMX and Jay-Z, currently tearing up the trail Coolio blazed, don't share. Though Coolio's recent collaborations with Blondie, Mobb Deep, and U-God and Inspectah Deck from Wu-Tang weren't exactly promising, they suggested the possibility that this cuddly non-roughneck might be seeing around the next corner, too.

But his forthcoming compilation album, Coolio's Crowbar Records Presents (Crowbar/Beyond), is hardly promising, either. It'll feature such Coolio-discovered acts as Dy'verse Society, Krazy Khrome, Rated R, and Rukus 5 (though I haven't heard any of them, my money is on Dy'verse Society, just for the name). Expect some of these acts to show up at DV8 this Thursday and fill gaps between Coolio's revisitations upon the year 1995. Remember that back then, the idea of injecting the dangerous bravado of L.A. gangsta rap into a dance-pop record was brand new and sort of insane. When he plays those songs, you'll feel it. Since then, the charts have been ghettoized so gradually and completely that it's hard to note the changes. But Coolio is key for anyone yearning to understand how Nas, TLC, Khrazie Bone, and Eminem ended up among Billboard's Top Five albums for Spring of 1999.

Is there really a chance Coolio has a notion of where to take it next? It's hard to imagine that anyone knows what to do with the legions of pasty-faced slang sprayers yielded by the biggest black-to-white crossover in American history. For better or worse, almost all youth culture is linked to some mythic approximation of life on the dark side. The point is, isn't that exactly what Coolio was talking about when he named his catchy-ass songs (and I swear, they sound better today than they used to) "Gangsta's Paradise" and "Fantastic Voyage"?!

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