Today, veteran west coast rap superstar and '90s icon Coolio celebrates his 50th birthday. While it's been almost two decades since his last big hit, his name and image continue to endure, long after almost everyone else from the era has fallen away.

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Why? Was it because singles like “Gangsta's Paradise” and “Fantastic Voyage” were so iconic? Was it because he was unavoidable in all media? Was it the hair? Yes, yes, and yes! It's also because of all of these cool little tidbits:

*His fame came slowly

Although it may have felt that way, Coolio was not an overnight success. He slowly built his name in the late '80s and early 90s with underground singles and collaborations with folks like future Westside Connection member WC. It wasn't until his infectious hit “Fantastic Voyage” that he registered on the hip-hop map with an awesomely fun video that cut through the intimidating ubiquity of gangsta rap and saw him named by MTV as one of 1994's breakout rap stars.

*He wasn't cool with Weird Al…at first

But that was just a precursor to the monster year Coolio had in 1995. “Gangsta's Paradise,” recorded for the soundtrack of Dangerous Minds, was the biggest selling single of the year, and moved over six million units worldwide. It garnered Coolio Grammy, VMA and Billboard awards and was named by Pazz and Jop as the single of the year. It even saw a “Weird” Al parody it, although at the time, Coolio wasn't too cool with it.

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*He was on Sabrina the Teenage Witch

Though the giant hits stopped coming, Coolio continued putting out music that was well received by the rap world like “1,2,3,4” and “C U When U Get There”. Meanwhile, he became a ubiquitous media presence, not unlike Snoop Dogg would later. Along with the late night talk show musical performances, Coolio was suddenly appearing in guest spots on Sabrina the Teenage Witch and The Nanny.

*He was down with Batman

An entire generation of '90s kids grew up with Coolio representing the archetype of cool. His appearances on Nickelodeon programs with his weird hair, unique voice and disarming demeanor made him even more popular: By being down with Kenan and Kel, Batman AND The Muppets, Coolio won over kids' hearts everywhere.

*He has a Juggalo tattoo that's misspelled

“Gangsta's Paradise” was such a monster hit that even though Coolio's 1997 follow-up My Soul went platinum, it was still seen as a disappointment. But he rolled with the changes and, as the '90s ended, began appearing on game shows.

He later re-emerged on the festival circuit, in surprisingly good acting roles as well as in his television show Cooking with Coolio.

Recent years have seen him embraced by another passionate fanbase, the Juggalos. Coolio's show-stopping sets at the Gathering of the Juggalos each year have seen him embraced so fondly that Coolio even got a Juggalo tattoo, “Jugalo Cool” (sic). Regardless, his image and smash singles are all potent enough to remain fresh. Here's to another half century of Coolio!

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LA Weekly