Before his biggest hit happened in 1995, Coolio wasn’t even aware of the song that gave it its hook.
“Gangsta’s Paradise” sampled the Stevie Wonder 1976 single, “Pastime Paradise.” The rapper died Wednesday at the age of 59, the same day Wonder’s song and his Grammy-winning album, “Songs in the Key of Life” debuted 46 years ago.
Coolio explained how their collaboration came about in an interview with Rolling Stone in 2015.
“I wasn’t really familiar with ‘Pastime Paradise,’ as much of a Stevie Wonder fan as I was. My very first album I ever bought was the one with ‘Superwoman’ on it,” he told the publication. “[1972’s ‘Music of My Mind.’] I got that for my 12th birthday, that one and ‘Fight the Power’ by the Isley Brothers. ‘Songs in the Key of Life,’ my mother had that album at the house, so it was kind of weird that I didn’t know the song.”
“Gangsta’s Paradise” was a part of the soundtrack to film “Dangerous Minds,” which starred Michelle Pfeiffer. It topped the charts and won the 1996 Grammy Award for best rap performance.
Doug Rasheed, the song’s producer, explained to Rolling Stone how the Wonder track ended up being the basis for the song.
“One day, I pulled out the Stevie Wonder record, ‘Songs in the Key of Life,’ because that’s one of my favorite albums,” Rasheed said. “I pulled that sample out of ‘Pastime Paradise,’ and Paul was like, “Wow, that’s tight!” So I decided to sample it and make a beat with it. L.V. [who sang on the Coolio hit] was trying to get a deal at that time, so I was like, ‘Let’s do it on L.V.!’”
Coolio said Wonder was initially less than willing to let his song be used.
“When Stevie heard it, he was like, ‘No, no way. I’m not letting my song be used in some gangster song,’” Coolio said. “So that was a problem.”
In stepped Coolio’s wife, who knew Wonder’s brother. The superstar singer asked that the lyrics that contained profanity be changed.
“Unbeknownst to me, the other condition was that he wanted 95 percent of the publishing!,” Coolio said. “Had I known that, I’m not sure I would have went ahead with that — but I don’t know, maybe I would have. [laughs”]
CNN has reached out to Stevie Wonder for comment.