First Hit #1: September 9, 1995
Hip hop’s trip to the top of the charts hasn’t been smooth, and it hasn’t really showed off the genre to its best effect. Lots of novelty singles, lots of nonsense, more influence on other acts than anything. But Coolio managed it, not only getting a serious hip hop song to the top, but pushing the most serious subset of the movement to the top. This is full blown Gangster rap, evoking violent imagery and taking the number one spot for something that is incredibly dark for a song hitting the top of the charts.
Coolio does not want to be subtle here, right from the beginning we’ve got a choir and menacing strings setting the mood, a mood that is a significant departure from, say, Michael Jackson yesterday. The tale of a gangster regretting his life of crime and excess, it does have a bit of moralizing – some lines have the subtlety of a sledgehammer – but it also paints a vivid picture of a lifestyle and obsession that come along with a life of crime and excess. In context, this is a shock to the system, an ugly flip side to the unabashed optimism and happiness of your standard pop chart. Rediscovering it, the song is most powerful because it is something that kind of shatters the charts, painting a picture of life that is rare to see in an industry that is somewhat focused on lighter fare. It’s a gritty drama in a sea of sitcoms.