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Coolio, as Remembered by His Friend from Minneapolis

Marianne Braswell talked with her Grammy-winning buddy Monday, and received 10+ calls from him in the hours before his death Wednesday.


Coolio and Marianne a couple months ago at the Hewing Hotel in Minneapolis.

When I spoke with Coolio in 2010 for the Minnesota Daily, the 46-year-old rapper was at a strange point in his life. Fifteen years removed from his classic Grammy-winning single, "Gangsta's Paradise," the Compton-born MC was promoting a cookbook, Cookin' with Coolio: 5 Star Meals at a 1 Star Price. We snuck into the Fine Line's kitchen to sizzle some chicken on the flattop; we talked in the green room about a career that had gone from the streets to pop culture-defining highs to reality TV and everywhere in between.

"When I came into the game, 2Pac was alive, Biggie was alive, Method Man was hot, Q was still hot, Snoop Dogg was just coming up," Coolio said, sprawled out on a couch and rocking his trademark live-wire dreads. "I had to compete against the greatest rappers of all time, bro, and I held my own. I'm not bitter about [my legacy], but I have to be honest; I'm a man, I'm only human, and it fucking bothers me sometimes."

Coolio, who died Wednesday at 59, has been honored in death like the hip-hop heavyweight he was in the '90s―in the New York Times, on NPR, by his celebrity pals. The rapper born Artis Ivey Jr. possessed "an undeniable star quality, humor, charisma, and a gift for making street tales mainstream without sanitizing them," wrote music critic Jeff Weiss, adding: "He was one of the few crossover artists who could transcend the compromises that most seem destined to make... RIP to a wildly popular but still unsung great."

For Marianne Braswell, Coolio was all of that. But he was also a good friend, one the Minneapolis bartender met 12 years ago at the Cabooze during, of all things, an Insane Clown Posse show. They'd stay in close contact over the years, never going more than a month or two without catching up. Braswell even Facetimed with Coolio as recently as Monday. Sadly, she missed his calls in the hours before he was found unresponsive in a friend's L.A. home.

We connected late Thursday with Braswell to hear about the personal side of Coolio, including his propensity to crash pedal pub bachelorette parties in downtown Minneapolis.

I’m really sorry for the loss of your friend. Too young, and just really, really sad. 

Seriously, I can’t believe it. 

Let’s start way, way, way back. Tell me about the first time you even became aware of Coolio as a musician, like on the radio or whatever. 

Oh man, I was definitely a little kid. Probably when he was on All That. Or "Gangsta’s Paradise," I can’t even remember how young I was when I first heard that song. 

Yeah, I was born in 1987, and all our childhoods, that was like imprinted in your brains growing up.

Seriously! It’s crazy, it’s surreal. A lot of people, including myself, you forget that people like that are human, and they’re not just characters in your nostalgic memories. 

Tell me when Coolio became more than a character, more than an entertainer, when you got to know him. 

In 2010, I started bartending at the Cabooze, and he came there for a show with KottonMouth Kings and Insane Clown Posse. I was just geeking out that it was Coolio, and I had to tell him that. He was so appreciative of it, because a lot of the people at the show didn’t really know or care who he was. He kept coming back… man, we were friends for like 12 years at this point, it’s kinda crazy.

Tell me how that friendship looked over the years. 

I did a lot of bartending gigs for different concerts all over the place—shows he was on in Vegas, Phoenix. We kinda helped each other out; I might help him get on a show I was working or vice versa. We definitely kicked it a lot as friends. I went to his 50th birthday party in Vegas, man, that one is foggy [laughs]. I was working at Downtown Cabaret at the time, he lived in Vegas. He flew me out that night, and we partied at the MGM all weekend and we had his birthday party. There was a Mayweather fight that weekend, it was a huge deal. It was awesome. We went to a bunch of different strip clubs. He was the life of the party.

And you guys stayed in touch by text or phone? 

We would Facetime all the time. We just Facetimed Monday night, on my way home from work. The whole thing is crazy to me because I missed a bunch of phone calls from him before he passed on Wednesday. I’m wondering what I missed and what he was planning to say… he called me like 14 times on my phone. When I didn’t answer, he called me on Facebook Messenger… I’m not on my phone like that, I work a ton of hours, I feel very guilty. It’s tripping me out still. Over the past 12 years, I’d say we never went more than a couple months without a text or something.

Can you tell me about the Facetime you had on Monday? 

He had been reaching out to me all day Monday, wanting to talk on the phone. Finally I got off work around midnight, and he just strictly wanted to catch up and chat. It had been a couple months since we saw each other. He seemed kinda rough; I questioned how he was doing. He’s kinda like that. He goes hard, he’s a party animal, that’s what we always did together. I wasn’t really surprised, even though I was concerned. We talked Monday and Tuesday. 

Tell me what he was like as a guy. 

He was so nice. One time we went out to eat at Seven, this was 10 years ago, and it was so dark that he couldn’t read the menu. So I was reading the menu to him, and he paid for this whole $400 dinner for me and my friends. He was like, “Well, you read me the whole menu, I gotta take care of you.” We’d go to the strip club together and he’d put a whole stack of money in front of me, just for me to use. Very thoughtful, just a cool-ass friend. I’m going to miss him. 

And he was fun, right? He got into so many goofy projects. 

Seriously. All the random stuff. It’s funny, because a lot of people would rip on me for being friends with Coolio all this time, like his whole character was kind of a joke at times. But he knew that. He played it off well. 

Can I share my quick Coolio story? 

Yeah for sure, please!

It was right around the time you got to know him, he was playing at the Fine Line. I was a first-year college newspaper reporter at the time, and I got an interview with him ahead of the show. So we were in the Fine Line green room, and I didn’t know what to expect. I sat down in a chair, he sprawled out on a couch, and I just kinda let him talk at me for 25, 30 minutes. He was on some really nutty, fun stuff. Out of the blue he told me wanted to be a serial killer and track down pedophiles. 

[Laughs] That sounds like some of the random shit he might spout off. 

Yeah, yeah. I asked him what his true vision of a gangsta’s paradise is, and he told me it was a compound in South Africa, where he’d ring a bell and one of seven female servants would drive a golf cart across the property to serve him lemonade. And the part that’s striking to me, right now, is my last question. And I don’t know why I, as like a 20 year old, am asking a grown man this question, but I asked him: What do you want your epitaph to read? And he said he wanted it to read, “Here Lies a Cool Motherfucker.” 

Ya know, I have heard him say that before. I’ve heard him say that multiple times. That was his thing. That’s so funny, I like that. Oh man that’s crazy. Our whole friendship, I don’t want to say it centered around partying or anything, but it was always an event. He would come and sit at Timberwolves with me, just somewhere to be seen. I remember one time we were driving through Minneapolis, and we passed a pedal pub. A girl on the pedal pub recognized him, so he made me park the car and we went and had shots with everybody on the pedal pub. It was like a bachelorette party, and they were so stoked. 

This was obviously a man who was at the height of the music world, won a Grammy, and I’m really glad he’s kinda getting what he deserved, with the press and genuine outpouring of love. Where he’s not viewed as a '90s novelty; people are like we lost a great artist and an important pop culture figure. 

I’m happy too. He was pretty vocal about not getting the respect he deserves. But now he has it. I wish he could see it. 

You alluded to this, but you weren’t totally surprised by the news? 

Well, you could kinda see it in him every time I’d see him over the years. He just looked less and less healthy. I hate to say that or draw any… I don’t know what happened. They’re still sorting that out. I’ve seen him in rough shape, just coughing a lot. Stuff like that. Monday was one of those times. He just kept saying, “I’m just getting old, I don’t age like you.” But he’s not that old. It’s crazy. It’s nice to talk about him. I don’t think it has really been processed yet, ya know?

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