How Much Are Coolio’s Royalties Worth?
When Coolio died on Sept. 28 at the age of 59, the rapper left behind a legacy that includes one of the most iconic rap songs ever: “Gangsta’s Paradise,” the 1995 single that became the No. 1 Hot 100 single that year and has remained popular ever since. All told, the catalog of the hip-hop star, born Artis Leon Ivey Jr., generates about $3.5 million annually, according to a Billboard estimate.
Coolio’s recordings, which have been owned by Reservoir Media since June 2021, when the company bought Tommy Boy’s catalog generates about $2.6 million in annual revenue, Billboard estimates. Those recordings bring in nearly $1 million a year in publishing revenue.
Over the last few years, from Jan. 4, 2019, to Sept. 22, 2022, the wild-haired rapper sold 2,000 albums and about 46,000 tracks each year in the U.S., plus generated an annualized average of about 870 million on-demand streams. Global track downloads during that period reached 258,000, along with an annualized average of 3.8 billion streams.
The Coolio catalog includes eight studio albums with over 100 songs, but “Gangsta’s Paradise” generated nearly 80% of Coolio’s 258,000 global song downloads over the last four years. The domination of that song is even more pronounced in streaming: Of the 3.8 billion streams his catalog has generated globally during that time frame, 3.66 billion, or 96.8%, were for that song.
Last year, “Gangsta’s Paradise” generated nearly 1.05 million song equivalent units in the U.S., while Coolio’s second biggest song, “Fantastic Voyage,” had less than 40,000 song equivalent units. His third most popular song, “1,2,3,4 (Sumpin’ New),” generated less than 8,000 song units. That means about 90% of the revenue generated by Coolio’s recordings — $2.3 million out of $2.6 million – came from that one song, when calculated by an annual average over the past three years.
If Coolio were to get the royalty rate of 25% that’s typical for established artists, that would yield about $575,000 for that song alone. If he gets a streaming rate of 50%, more typical of heritage acts, that would be about $1.3 million. It’s hard to value the rapper’s catalog, however. “Gangsta’s Paradise” is based on the Stevie Wonder song “Pastime Paradise,” so the Motown legend or his record label own a share of the recording, and Wonder owns the lion’s share of the publishing. If Wonder or his label got 35% of the recording royalties, that could leave Coolio’s royalties at $780,000, assuming he gets a 50% royalty rate. Once the rest of the royalties are added in, he’d make about $893,000.
Coolio should make about $1 million in annual publishing royalties from his recordings, now counting any cover versions of his songs, but about 90% of that comes from “Gangsta’s Paradise,” which is credited to Wonder, Coolio, Larry (L.V.) Sanders (the singer on the track) and producer Doug Rasheed. Wonder demanded, and got, a 75% cut of the song’s publishing, according to The New York Times, which would leave $225,000 for the other writers – or 8.34% and about $75,000 for Coolio, assuming the remaining publishing was split evenly three ways. (By the time that album came out, Coolio owned his own publishing company – his company/administrator is Zefanator/Shelly Bay – so there would be no publisher split.) The rest of his songs generate about $100,000 annually in publishing revenue, and since he had co-writers on most of them, his share could be about 25%. That would give him publishing revenue of about $100,000 a year.
Back in August 2013, Coolio tried to auction off his publishing on Royalty Exchange, which at the time —before streaming exploded — cited his annual publishing take at about $23,000 a year, with minimum bids set at about $130,000. Sources say a sale never happened. In 2016, however, a Royalty Exchange auction for what was described as the publishing of classic songs performed by Coolio did take place, and rights that were described as worth over $7,000 in annual royalties, generated 13 bids and a closing price of $41,000. It’s unclear if this was a truncated offering from Coolio or a sale from one of his many co-writers.
If Coolio still owned his publishing, a catalog that generated about $100,000 annually would be worth about $2 million at a 20-times multiple.
Coolio’s recording royalties are almost certainly more valuable to his heirs than his publishing. At a blended rate of a 25% royalty for both streaming and sales, minus distribution and productions fees, his recorded music royalties would be about $500,000, Billboard estimates. At a 12-times multiple, they would be worth about a $6 million. If Coolio gets a 50% royalty for streaming the estimated royalties of $893,000, so after a 14% deduction for distribution and production, a 12-times multiple would yield $9.2 million.
Coolio’s recordings or publishing could be worth more, however. If a song other than “Gangsta’s Paradise” were to get rediscovered through a popular TV show or TikTok, like Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)” or Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” — which isn’t hard to imagine for a track like “Fantastic Voyage” or “C U When U Get There” — the owner of those assets would get a windfall.
In the 25 days before his death, from Sept.3 through Sept. 27, the Coolio catalog averaged daily activity of just over 4,000 song equivalents. Within that, on-demand streaming averaged almost 814,000 plays a day. On the day his passing became news, song equivalent units more than doubled to almost 10,000 units, fueled by a jump in streaming to 1.4 million plays and a gigantic increase in song downloads to nearly 2,600 from an average of under 100 a day. On Sept. 29, after the news became widespread, his song equivalent units jumped fourfold to nearly 25,000 from the 4,000 units averaged during the 25 days that preceded his death, while streaming also quadrupled to nearly 3.2 million plays from the 814,000 plays in the prior period. Radio airplay increased nearly tenfold to almost 500 spins from about 50 spins averaged in the prior period.