`It's the sound of rap growing up, gaining wisdom without losing too much attitude'

ANDY GILL ON ALBUMS; Coolio My Soul Tommy Boy TBCD 1180

Notwithstanding Puff Daddy's recent mega-hit, Coolio remains the king of crossover rap, that sub-genre which lifts character wholesale from previous funk and soul successes in order to secure a more mainstream pop appeal. Not for Coolio the stripped-back static beats and enigmatic word-juggling of the Wu-Tang Clan; his hits are firmly based in the familiar, from "Fantastic Voyage" through "Gangsta's Paradise" to the current "C U When U Get There". His raps, too, favour legibility over verbal agility - having been through crack addiction and the gangsta lifestyle, Coolio has nothing to prove, nothing to hide, and, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, nothing to declare but his maturity.

Coolio's third album, My Soul, continues the formula of its predecessors, with raps built on appropriate grooves - the comparatively discreet sex- rap "Ooh La La", for instance, uses "Pull up to the Bumper", while the doomed crime rap "Nature of the Business" employs Glenn Frey's "Smuggler's Blues" to evoke a shared outlaw milieu. The results bear out the music's pertinence, with the latter in particular as atmospherically efficient as Michael Mann's Heat. In contrast to the empty bravado of such as 2Pac and The Notorious BIG, however, Coolio uses the gangsta style as a backdrop to illustrate his own development. "One Mo" has all the heft and swagger of classic G-funk, right down to the vocoder vocal, but the message is less brutal: "I had my finger on the trigger," sings Coolio, "but I couldn't pull it"; for once, such reservation is not viewed as evidence of deficient manhood.

The message is further developed on the album's two stand-out cuts - the single and the title-track. The graceful, gentle groove of "My Soul" is the sound of rap growing up, gaining wisdom without losing too much of its attitude, while the lyric acknowledges the need to pass beyond the genre's current flawed state: "In two decades, rap went from `Planet Rock' to crack rock; now everybody got a pop, and they don't stop, till another brother drop". The elegiac strings recur again, in the form of Pachelbel's Canon, for "C U When U Get There", the most articulate of post-gangsta sentiments, which finds Coolio grimly pondering the twisted sickness of a scene in which young kids not only find humour in the sight of other kids being shot, but also find Coolio's own distaste for that situation somehow objectionable.

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