Coolio

Rapper Coolio, who had a #1 smash in 1995 with "Gangsta's Paradise," has recently been in the news more for his troubles with the law than for his records.

Early last month, Coolio pleaded guilty to a charge stemming from an incident last September in Torrance, California, when police said they found an unloaded gun, a separate ammunition cartridge, and a small amount of marijuana in his vehicle (the drug charge later was dropped). Police say they stopped the rapper because he was driving his sport utility vehicle on the wrong side of the road.

Coolio was born Artis Leon Ivey, Jr., 35 years ago today in Los Angeles and grew up in Compton, Calif. He rapped on the West Coast music scene for years with such artists as the World Class Wreckin' Crew and Dr. Dre without ever making it on to a record.

His debut release was "Whatcha Gonna Do," followed by "You're Gonna Miss Me," after which Coolio then spent some time in rehab for a cocaine addiction. He began working with WC and DJ Alladin as part of WC And The MADD Circle.

Coolio joined the 40 Theivz, a hip-hop troupe made up of producers, rappers and dancers. He signed with Tommy Boy Records and issued the single "County Line" (about his experiences on welfare) and toured with R&B crooner R. Kelly.

It Takes a Thief (1994), recorded with Coolio's DJ, Bryan "Wino" Dobbs, featured "Fantastic Voyage" (RealAudio excerpt) and went platinum But it was Gangsta's Paradise (1995) that expanded Coolio's fan base beyond the rap world.

The title track was ruminative and catchy; and featured gospel singer 'LV', a choir and a sample of Stevie Wonder's "Pastime Paradise." Included in the soundtrack of the Michelle Pfeiffer movie "Dangerous Minds," the song hit #1 on both sides of the Atlantic. It won a Grammy Award for Best Solo Rap Performance in 1996.

Earlier this year, Coolio canceled dates on his 18-City-Mission tour after a van accident seriously injured two members of his backing band. The entourage was en route to a show at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco when one of the three vans transporting the rapper and his band flipped over about 40 miles north of Sacramento.

At his July court date, Coolio was sentenced to serve 10 days in jail and 40 hours of community service. The rapper has until Sept. 7 to serve his jail time.

Coolio plans to release Dead Man Walkin later this summer. It will be his first album since 1997's My Soul.

The LP will feature collaborations with Bone Thugs-N-Harmony member Krayzie Bone on the song "I Don't Wanna Die" and B-Real on the party song "The Bump." It will also include an unlikely pairing with country/pop singer Kenny Rogers on a rap rendition of the country star's smash hit "The Gambler."

Coolio has begun his own label, Crowbar, which so far has on its roster such acts as DVS and Krazy Khrome. It's first release was this year's Coolio's Crowbar Records Presents ..., which featured the new Coolio song "Can You Dig It" and Krazy Khrome's "Footprintz," among songs by other up-and-coming Coolio discoveries including Kur N'C and Rated R.

"I'm looking for real talent," Coolio said. "There's too many people now with no talent [who are popular] — singers that can't sing, MCs that can't rap, musicians that can't play. We're gonna do it the old-school way, the way people used to do it."

Coolio described getting his stage name: "It was in a snapping session. We were biting, capping, ranking, talking about each other, playing the dozens. I had a Western shirt, and was playing some goofy song with a little guitar, and my homeboy asked me, 'Who do you think you are, Coolio Iglesias?' They called me that and it stuck."

Coolio starred in this year's season-ending episode of "Malcolm & Eddie," a pilot for a spin-off comedy series, which may be titled "Daddy-O." Coolio also plans to revive the "Star Search" series and co-host the new version with original host Ed McMahon.

Last year, Coolio avoided jail time but received six months' probation and a $30,000 fine after being convicted in a German court for being an accessory to a robbery and causing bodily injury (to the owner of a clothing store).

Coolio has worked with the Los Angeles Parks & Recreation Department on the Mobile Musical Tour, a program designed to educate disadvantaged kids on all aspects of the recording industry.

Other birthdays: Ramblin' Jack Elliott, 68; Geoff Britton (Manfred Mann's Earth Band, Wings), 56; Boz Burrell (Bad Company), 53; Rick Anderson (Tubes), 52; Ricky Coonce (Grass Roots), 52; Robert Cray, 46; Robert Buck (10,000 Maniacs), 41; Michael Penn, 41; Joe Elliott (Def Leppard), 40; Chuck D (Public Enemy), 39; Suzi Gardner (L7), 39; Adam Duritz (Counting Crows), 35; Nick Christian Sayer (Transvision Vamp), 35; and Tommy Bolin (Deep Purple), 1951-1976; Jerry Garcia (Grateful Dead), 1942-1995.