I was found disoriented at the immediate beginning of a song. As the somber stacatto strings and usually upbeat percussion began to play, I though to myself, “Wait. Isn’t this the beginning of Coolio’s 1995 song Gangster’s Paradise? And didn’t Weird Al Yankovich upset some people when he made it about Amish people?” One tenuous connection to Amish people aside, yes it is. I’ve never heard of the song that Coolio sampled in his 1995 hit song, but it’s very clear why he did use it.

Past the ominous and foreboding string accompaniment, the song tells the listener about a group of people vehemently clinging to their past, a group of people seemingly willing to dissipate race relations and enact segregation in an effort to isolate, exploit, and (according to Stevie Wonder) mutilate another group of people. It’s not too difficult to imagine that this is the perspective of someone pining for the days of Jim Crow’s south or even slavery.

The latter half of the song, meanwhile, seems to conflict with the former, claiming that the future is moving away from a time in which people could be exploited or persecuted, a time of peace and prosperity for all. This draws clear parallels to the issues many impoverished people face in inner city ghettos in addition to civil rights issues of the past.

A little side note: these issues are addressed and confronted further in “Gangster’s Paradise” in which Coolio laments that the group of people in the first half of Stevie Wonder’s song are directly exploiting, isolating, and segregating people in the inner cities. As opposed to the inhabitants of the pastime paradise, now gangsters (the product themselves of a seemingly never-ending cycle of exploitation) have established a paradise of their own at the expense of others as the song asks, “Why are we so blind to see/That the ones we hurt are you and me?”

Both songs decry these types of lifestyles, claiming that progress cannot possibly be achieved if they are indulged. However I think listening to the original has given me a lot of perspective.

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