Issue One

Food



Coolio Is King

The man responsible for the hip-hop anthems Gangster’s Paradise and Hand on My Nut Sac, who dedicated his first record to “you fake ass, gangsta baller bushwa-minded ass house niggas who forget their colour”, has been talking into the phone about shepherd’s pie for a long long while. It’s Coolio’s comfort food of choice, and his recipe calls for pounds of turkey meat and onions “minced real fine” because “people don’t like them”. When I express disbelief that anybody could dislike such a kitchen staple, he cites his nephew, the rapper Goast, as an example of someone who can: “HE WILL NOT EAT ONION IF HE CAN SEE IT. 34 years old man. He is 34 years old”.

We are here, ostensibly, to talk about his side-line in home-cooked soul-food, what he calls Ghetto Cuisine. Also his book, Cooking With Coolio – and on this last point, I’m happy to chat endlessly.  It is among the most charming cook books I've read, even if the food is unfailingly, uncookably weird. Where Joel Robuchon might tell us to “mix, cover and marinade for four hours” Coolio tell us to “take your beer or water and sensually bathe your steak like an Egyptian princess” (note: food-standards agencies advise against washing meat in water), where Fergus Henderson advises us to measure salt in pinches, Coolio works strictly in “dime bags”. His sauces are not made from scratch, emulsified or reduced, they are mixtures of shop-bought sauces and soups. Mayonnaise, ketchup, barbeque. The stuff of the dustiest convenience-store shelf.

As we make our introductions it is made obvious that Coolio is eating, or maybe ordering, a meal, the precise shape of which I will never fully grasp. There is talk of sticky-toffee pudding, steak, salad, toast. None of it quite fits together. One second he’s talking about how much he likes British desert dishes, the next he’s shouting for ketchup. We talk fast and hard about his cooking.
He fires off recipes at incredible speed. Fried chicken. Soul rolls (a spring roll filled with meat and cheese). A sort of steak salad thing. We talk about his signature cuisine, Blasian (self-explanatory) and we talk about the origins of his cooking, too. ”

A moment of terrible poignancy passes between us as he admits that it all began with the death of his mother, that he cooked because it was the only thing that could make him feel again. To eat an approximation of his mother’s food was to bring her back to life, if only briefly. His voice takes on a different quality when he talks about her, becomes sad and serious as if it’s almost too much for him to bear. We are cut off, momentarily, and I mash the redial button until he picks up again. He is shouting at someone. Loudly.  “S’cuse me I’m just gonna have to slap this motherfucking chef, man. Why the fuck are you cooking, man? You even like food? You hate cooking? You’ve got no balls man. We’ve got a fucking Ewok in the fucking Kitchen!”  An Ewok, I ask? “Nah man, enoch” A what? “An enoch. No balls. No dick.” A eunuch? “Yeah man, I can’t say it but I can spell it. E-N-N-U-C-H”.

Somewhat nervously and very delicately we move on to his music career. The career that has seen him go from the very top of the pile with all the trappings of global success – a sort of proto-Hova, a pre-Diddy – to where he is now. Staying with his entourage in Butlins, Minehead, perhaps the UK’s loneliest holiday park. I ask how it feels to have seen both sides of celebrity. “Fine” he says “I never lived in a dream world. I never bought a jet. I stayed normal. I always knew it wouldn’t last for ever.  The only celebrity thing about me is I still never fucking stand in line. I don’t queue. I cut through kids. Fuck, I’d cut in front of a five-year old. But other than that I’m pretty normal.”

But can anyone ever leave that sort of success behind them completely? There is  quite a lot of what, I suppose, constitutes evidence to the contrary. There have been appearances on Celebrity Big Brother; a tour with the sad-making hip hop duo, Insane Clown Posse. And alongside these bathetic interludes, there have been moments of terrible pathos.

The “celebrity” boxing bout (so brutal and traumatic that it is difficult to watch); his appearance on Celebrity Wife Swap, which saw his partner leave him on camera.

Worst of all, the story from a Stoke-on-Trent student gig,  a stage-dive manqué that saw him knocked out on the floor. The audience turned on him. Went Lord of the Flies. A witness recalls “they grabbed whatever they could... his trainers, watch, chains and glasses.”

I ask if he’s not a little bit angry about having lost it all. I bring up Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs and Jay Z, and their enormous wealth – perhaps he might have that too, had things gone differently? “I don’t miss it…I’m not greedy”. But after a moment he reconsiders his position. “You know what, my music could blow up any minute. Life is about taking chances. “ And maybe he's right.

If we know anything about fame, we know it’s totally transformative. Once we’ve crossed the Styx we’re forever changed; there’s no coming back. To retain even a little normality is, basically, to have survived against all odds. And these survivors fascinate us not because the stories are so strange but because they seem to follow a kind of logic. Because they are so normal. So predictable. Were we to find ourselves in his position I suspect ours would be similar, and possibly  much worse.

Besides, in this Butlins aparment at the very least – surrounded as he is by family, friends and fans  all peeling with laughter at his every joke – Coolio is still king.
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Photography: Auke Vleer
Interview: Thomas Viney