Agree. Gangsta's Paradise is still known(and that shit was like the biggest song ever damn near, back then, literally came on the radio every single hour for awhile), but, and I'm being DEAD ASS serious here......i've heard some younger people think 2Pac made Gangsta's Paradise. Which is both hilarious and sad to me. And real talk, Coolio was more popular than 2Pac on the "pop culture tip" in 94-95 and it was like a tie in 96 until late in the year when Pac died. And I agree, Coolio was not a bad rapper at all. He wasn't amazing, but he was servicable, had a solid flow, voice, and delivery, and made songs that while they didn't appeal to MC Nerd/wannabe Tough Guy Underground Supreme, were both authentic enough and funny/catchy enough to appeal to a mass audience.
I recognize that to those who weren't there, that sounds crazy now, but as someone who rap music was the most important thing in the world(along with basketball) to me at the time, it's absolutely true. And just on some stream of conciousness, the two are connected in a few ways if you remember.....2Pac's rapper "cousin" that he kept referencing and listening to in the movie Poetic Justice was actually Coolio rapping on those songs right before he blew up in real life. And then Coolio was the star of 2Pac's "Temptations" video that was really big when Pac was locked up and couldn't film the video obviously.
And like you said, Gangsta's Paradise is the Coolio song that lasted, but it was far from his only major hit. Fantastic Voyage was huge back then too, that was one of the biggest rap songs of that mid 90's era. County Lines and I remember were hits in the hip hop community. And he had a lot of other hits too. Not just hip hop, BET Rap City, Hot 97 hits, but pop hits that everybody across the country knew and that got play on radio stations right in between Boyz II Men, Alanis Morrisette, TLC, and later Puff Daddy and the biggest acts in the country at the time. Shit like 1,2,3,4, Too Hot, All The Way Live, and C U When U Get There definitely got that pop radio play when radio play really mattered, plus songs like that Space Jam Hit Em High song someone posted above where Coolio's verse was absolutely the verse that everyone knew back then. Even album cuts like "Ugly Bitches" (though never released as a single), that was really popular back then. As a kid I and many others thought it was hilarious and true(kids mentality).
I liked him, but he was far from my favorite as I had a heavy NY bias(and that was big back then too), but Coolio was huge back then. Sometimes I (morbidly) wonder if someone like Coolio(or LL or Snoop or Dre...the major stars then) got shot instead of Pac or BIG, would he be immortalized like them dudes with all the extra bullshit?
Damn, I've never met anybody who thinks "Gangsta's Paradise" is Pac's song but pretty much everyone I've talked to recognizes the song itself and I still hear it on the radio every now and then. And "C U When U Get There" gets plenty airplay once in a while around here too, which is sort of a shock, but not as much as hearing Del's "Mistadobalina" on the radio at one point. As I live in Sweden, this was a huge shock to me and "Mistadobalina" is one of the great songs that I've discovered from radio play next to "O.P.P". (it was in 07 and I had heard the names Del & NBN but never a song, so that was a pleasant surprise)
And Coolio would've definitely not been a complete afterthought today had he been shot and killed. Even Big L is getting big around teens nowadays, at least where I'm from.