As KEXP celebrates its 50th anniversary, we're looking back at the last half-century of music. Each week in 2022, KEXP pays homage to a different year and our writers are commemorating with one song from that year that resonates with them. This week, we’re celebrating the year 1996. KEXP’s Roddy Nikpour tells us how the late and great Coolio was his first exposure to hip-hop … thanks to a theme song he wrote for a show on Nickelodeon.
Coolio grew up in Compton in the 70s and 80s, where he managed to escape a vicious cycle of drug addiction. He started gaining notoriety as a rapper in the group WC and the Maad Circle alongside WC, Big Gee, and DJ Crazy Toones. In 1991, they released Ain’t a Damn Thang Changed.
From there, Coolio released his debut solo album in 1994, It Takes a Thief, which features tracks like “Fantastic Voyage.” In 1995, he released one of his most instantly recognizable songs: “Gangsta’s Paradise.”
Altogether, Coolio released eight solo albums, collaborated on a bunch of singles, and appeared in a ton of films. Hell, in 2009, Coolio even published a cookbook called “Cookin’ with Coolio: 5 Star Meals at a 1 Star Price.” That’s right — this rap legend was also a beloved chef. His book features chapters like “How to Become a Kitchen Pimp,” “Pimpin’ the Poultry,” and “Vegetarians? Okay, Whatever!”
But let me take you to a cultural masterpiece that is ingrained in me and millions of other millennials. #Only90sKidsWillRememberTheseIconicNickelodeonThemeSongs
Even if you don’t recognize the name Jim Lang, I’m sure you’d recognize the intro music he wrote for Hey Arnold! Many of these themes also came from well-known bands at the time. For instance, Mark Mothersbaugh from Devo gave us the Rugrats theme. And I just learned this not too long ago, but the theme song for KaBlam! is actually just the song “2-Tone Army” by The Toasters.
Bear in mind that I grew up in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona in a town called Ahwatukee — or, as we knew it, “all-white-Tukee.” (Case and point: My dad is from Iran, and I thought he was Black just because his skin is a shade darker than mine.)
So, Nickelodeon was also one of my first gateways to hip-hop.
Before we get to Coolio, I also have to shout out TLC, who wrote the theme song for All That. It was a sketch comedy show for kids, i.e. a watered-down Saturday Night Live. Thus, the skits couldn’t be that offensive or profane, and sometimes it felt like they were compensating by being purely absurd.
All That included a recurring skit about a fast food restaurant called Good Burger. It regularly featured two child actors, Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell. They became such a staple for the network that they offered them their own show: Kenan and Kel.
It was a live-action comedy series that took place in Chicago. Kenan and Kel have these made-up families and they get into all kinds of hijinks on a similar level of absurdity that you’d find on All That.
The scenarios in these shows were just absurd enough to keep a child’s attention — especially a child who’s more used to watching cartoons like I was.
This leads us to the other artist who awakened my appreciation for hip-hop: the one and only Coolio. He wrote the theme song for Kenan and Kel. He’s even in the intro sequence, too. Kenan and Kel are rolling down the street at night in a convertible. With them in the car is Coolio with his signature braids, rapping about how it’s time to watch Kenan and Kel. The theme ends with Kel’s catchphrase: “Aw, here it goes!” (Hence the name of the song.)
It’s only 60 seconds, but it’s 60 seconds of catchy, hip-hop gold with a walking bass line and an unforgettable synth hook. It’s so damn catchy. He’d even perform it at live shows.
Kenan and Kel ran on Nickelodeon from 1996 to 2000. It was on for four short years that have had a lasting impact on young-adult television. Whenever you turn on a Disney Channel original, I guarantee you that comedy style is taking a nod from Kenan and Kel or All That. (Fun fact: Coolio appeared in an episode of All That.)
Kenan and Kel was a cultural milestone. Even if you didn’t watch it as a kid like me, you might be familiar with Kenan as the longest-running cast member on SNL. Just the other day, SNL did a spoof of their Nickelodeon show, Kenan and Kel.
It was important for me to see two Black teens on TV every day. Thanks to Kenan and Kel, it was easy to go outside my bubble when I left the suburbs. When people would tell me growing up to “watch out for people wearing baggy pants” or that “dreadlocks are unprofessional,” I was able to see that plainly and simply as racist propaganda.
Watching the adventures of Kenan and Kel was such an easy way for me as a white kid to become friends with people who fit those descriptions rather than fear them. They’re just kids like me looking for a fun time — and maybe a little mischief — but certainly not danger.
None of this progress would be possible without Coolio, who created one of the best TV theme songs in history. Rest in peace, Coolio.
As KEXP celebrates its 50th anniversary, we're looking back at the last half-century of music. Each week in 2022, KEXP pays homage to a different year and our writers are commemorating with one song from that year that resonates with them. This week, we’re celebrating the year 1999 and Rachel Steve…
The end of 2022 marks the end of KEXP’s 50th anniversary celebration. Each week, we’re looking back at one year over the last 50 years of music. This week, we’re celebrating the year 1990. KEXP’s Dusty Henry pays tribute to the glory of the guitar solo by way of the Jane’s Addiction song, “Three Da…
As KEXP celebrates its 50th anniversary, we're looking back at the last half-century of music. Each week in 2022, KEXP pays homage to a different year and our writers are commemorating with one song from that year that resonates with them. This week, Martin writes about the band's 1978 single, the …