Coolio: Cookin' a Comeback?

Best known for his 1995 hit "Gangsta's Paradise," Compton, Calif.-born rapper Coolio, now 44, is trying to move beyond the microphone. He's the star of a new weekly Webisode series on MyDamnChannel.com called "Cookin' with Coolio," in which he pimps out his culinary skills and shares his recipes for dishes such as Tricked out Tilapia (get the ghetto-fabulous recipe here) and Finger Lickin', Rib Stickin', Fall-Off-the-Bone-and-Into-Your-Mouth Chicken. Coolio, born Artis Leon Ivey Jr., spoke with NEWSWEEK's Jessica Bennett. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: Coolio, where have you been?
Coolio:
I'm about to release [a new] album, "Steal Hear." My six children have grown up. I've been divorced. Me and my new woman are working on a clothing line. And I've developed my culinary skills to a fine point. I've also changed my style of dress--I wear a lot of suits now.

Ah, so you're a businessman?
Well, you either be the business or you get played by the business.

Do you still have your braids?
I sure do. I have them in a brohawk—that's a mohawk for a brotha. My hairline has started to recede, so I had to change it up a little bit.

How'd the cooking show evolve?
I've been cooking for a while; I even got a little formal training. Me and my cousin were playing around in the kitchen one day and I said, "Damn, what if we had a cooking show?" It became something we realized could be a reality.

And you're having fun?
I'm ecstatic. I don't think I've ever used that word before. This show is our baby—she's really beautiful and she's an Amazon woman.

What do you cook?
I've taken a lot of traditional black recipes and made them healthy—taking the cholesterol out, taking the butter out. I also do fusion: Mex-Italian, Blasian [black Asian], Ghitalian [ghetto Italian].

What's your best dish?
Everything I cook is good.

What makes your show different from all the others?
We use foods that poor people can afford. I'll take a chicken outta Compton and make it taste better than Foster Farms. I'll take a cow from Brooklyn and you can go get some Kobe beef and mine will taste better.

What's with all the show references to Shaka Zulu?
I say Shaka Zulu because I've got a bad habit of saying motherf---er. So instead of saying s--t or f--k, now I say, Shaka!

Who's your main competitor?
I like Rachel Ray. I like Bobby Flay. I like all them cats. But they are not the Gourmet Ghetto, baby. My motto is, I cook better than your Shaka Zulu mama. And I wash my hands a lot.

So, Coolio: rapper turned culinary connoisseur?
Yeah. We're gonna transfer this to frozen foods, to restaurants. I'm going all the way.

Are you making a profit?
Coolio do not work for free, let me just say that. Coolio got six children, and Coolio likes nice things. And Coolio likes voluptuous women.

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