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

Last summer, the Faroe Islands -- a remote archipelago populated by puffin and sheep in the middle of the Norwegian Sea -- was a "Gangsta's Paradise."

There, 1990s rapper Coolio appeared alongside pop singer Crystal Waters of "Gypsy Woman" fame in a local auditorium that could hold no more than 1,000 fans. The event was scheduled right after the national holiday commemorating the death of Saint Olaf.

"The arrival of these two names doesn't make my fingers tingle," someone wrote on "But I hope they'll enjoy their stay, and that a lot of people will go and listen to them."

Apparently, they did. And even with a 50 to 1 ratio of sheep to humans in this one-time Danish colony, the audience was overwhelmingly human.

Coolio, a one-hit wonder when "Gangsta's Paradise" made a splash in 1995, launched his career more than a quarter century ago in 1979, but he and other D-list rappers are finding lucrative opportunities in the most unlikely venues overseas.

Just last week, the New York Post's Page 6 spotted Coolio during a three-hour delay on a Delta airlines flight from LaGuardia Airport en route to Russia for what the paper reported was a billionaire's party.

"He came back from first class to harangue his entourage," the newspaper reported. "He was worried they were going to miss their connection."

Coolio, 44, corrected the newspaper's version of events, claiming he was actually headed for a fashion show performance, and the suggestion that he was rude was "hateful."

'I'm Still Here'

"I'm still here, I am not going anywhere," Coolio told "I can go song for song, show for show against anyone on the planet. All the haters out there, the critics, I don't give a ----. Hating makes me strong and gives me the power to write better."

Coolio isn't the only rapper finding a second act abroad: Vanilla Ice and Cisqo are now on tour in Australia. Like Hollywood actors whose stars fade -- from David Hasselhoff of "Baywatch" to Tara Reid of "American Pie" -- their stars still glimmer in other countries.

Mike Esterman, Coolio's booking agent, confirmed that the rapper performs for top dollar "more overseas than in the States."

"They vary from offer to offer," Esterman told "He gets 20k for performances plus the expenses, on many cases, but that rate is not set in stone."

Esterman has a reputation of hooking up "D-list" stars with highly paid gigs at pool parties, political fundraisers and other private affairs. Recently, he booked Coolio for his own birthday party with Poison guitarist C.C. DeVille and a few "Deal or No Deal" models.

"If I listened to what people said about me, man, I'd be crying all the time," Coolio said. "There's a new rapper every day, and a lot of people have judged me who have never heard me."

"He's all over the place and doing very well," Esterman said. "We book him all the time overseas and the fans love him."

Hip-Hop: From Bronx to Faroe

Foreign audiences beyond the Faroe Islands -- which Coolio agrees was "pretty damn desolate, no sun and lots of sheep" -- can't get enough rap. Hip-hop may have been invented in the Bronx 30 years ago, but the culture has spread worldwide.

"God bless him," said Billboard's senior R&B and hip-hop correspondent Gail Mitchell, who said she would not "go so far to call [Coolio] D-list."

"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."

"I am actually disappointed in hip-hop now," he said. "If people listen to the hip-hop of the 1990s, it was the greatest era. A lot of these kids think everything they write is good."

But Coolio still sometimes gets rolled eyes from his own children, four of whom are 20, 19, 18 and 15, and will spar with him on their reality show this fall.

"They think I'm an old fogey, but they do realize I am a viable artist and actually damned talented," he said. "I do a lot of shows with younger artists and they're not up to par."