Coolio's Star Fades in U.S., But Shines Abroad

"Hip-hop is a global genre," Mitchell told "It's the tenor of the times -- R&B has always done well overseas; hip-hop is now catching up."

Even A-list rappers like Three 6 Mafia do international tours, according to Mitchell.

"All of a sudden there is money over there," she said. "It's part and parcel of getting the word out, getting marketing and branding mileage."

Many European countries have their own well-established mega rappers, but former stars like Coolio still command respect.

"Just a few years ago, the eastern edge of Europe was terra incognita on hip-hop's world map," writes freelance writer Thomas Winkler of the Germany-based Atlantic Weekly. "Today, the scene's modus operandi is the same everywhere."

Their accessories reflect the American imports: gold chains and baggy pants, hoodies and tracksuits, as well as "the graffiti and b-boys, the secret language and the rituals," according to Winkler. "And lest we forget the basic musical idea -- a mic and two turntables, a rapper and a DJ, rhymes and beats."

"They are pretty big, some of them," Coolio said. "They got some Russian rappers who are incredible."

Coolio -- whose music was the soundtrack of two period films, "Clueless" and "Dangerous Minds" -- has played 80,000-seat venues in Taiwan, as well as in far-flung places like Egypt, Dubai and New Zealand.

In Italy recently, Coolio was the signature "angel of Venice," leading a festival march in a white, sequined costume -- the first man and first black man to do so. "I'm pretty damn proud of that," he said.

Born Artis Leon Ivey Jr., the rapper is known for his 1995 hit "Gangsta's Paradise," which made No. 9 on Billboard's 200 chart, and the party track, "Sumpin New." But his next three albums, "My Soul" (1997), "El Cool Magnifico" (2002) and "Return of the Gangsta" (2006) didn't match the success of his first two albums.

New Album and Reality Show

In the past several years, Coolio has made numerous television and film appearances, including "The Nanny," "Meet the Geeks" and even the reality show "Celebrity Bootcamp," which he won in 2002.

This year, he kicked off an online show, "Cookin' With Coolio," to make "black food" healthier and more affordable. Soon, the rapper will launch a new reality show with four of his six children on the Oxygen network.

"I resisted doing reality for a number of years, but my kids wanted to do it and it was good publicity and a really good deal," he said. "The music business is not like it used to be when I was on top."

This summer he releases a new album, "Steal Hear" -- "a play on words," according to Coolio.

"I have a lot of what I consider really great material," he said. "I'll match song for song with the top rappers, and you'll see I am top tier, as far as my delivery, language and diction. I'm pretty damn good."

The international audiences apparently agree.

"I have to say I have been blessed to be one of the most well-known rappers to ever live and the most recognized -- as long as I keep my hair."

Coolio admits that his hair, like his popularity, "is a little different now." Today, he sports a "brohawk" -- his dreadlocks are now braided into a mohawk.

He admires the foreign rappers, who stick to old-style performance, but is critical of newer American artists who "take stage presence for granted" and "rap over the words."

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