** Coolio, "Gangsta's Paradise," Tommy Boy.

"Gangsta's Paradise" shows that this pop-friendly rapper is no one-hit wonder. His most mature work yet, "Paradise" looks beyond the apathy, anger and hopelessness that most post-N.W.A. rap groups have institutionalized. While Coolio certainly doesn't dodge these difficult issues--the title song is perhaps the most depressing crossover pop hit in history--he also uses the narrative side of his poetic gift to prove that there's more to life in the 'hood than drive-bys and drug deals: There are people living regular lives.

"Geto Highlites" is like a photo essay of Coolio's South-Centralized neighborhood: "Welcome to Southern California / Liquor stores and churches on every other corner / Your little brother plays Pop Warner / Cops raided the dope spot / 8-year-old kid got shot / 'Cause they mistook his BB gun for a glock." But he has a lighter, more optimistic side that separates him from the pack. Whether it's the heartfelt "Smilin'," an ode to his newborn child, or the uplifting "The Revolution," he looks at the world beyond his block and tries, in an easy, non-didactic way, to demonstrate that even so-called gangsta rappers have room for atonement.

New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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