Michelle Pfeiffer hardly seems to qualify as a heroine for the hip-hop set. But when the Dangerous Minds star arrived to shoot a part opposite rapper Coolio in the music video for his ''Gangsta's Paradise'' (the movie soundtrack's somber first single), the decidedly tough-looking extras treated her like visiting royalty, cheerfully quoting reams of dialogue from the actress' distant gangster days.
''Everybody knows Scarface,'' asserts Coolio, harking back to Pfeiffer's role in the 1983 film that's a cult fave among hardcore rappers. ''And,'' he adds, apparently as an afterthought, ''there's some who know about Catwoman.''
The video is essentially a made-for-MTV remake of a Dangerous Minds scene in which Pfeiffer's surly schoolmarm demands an explanation from a troubled charge played in the video by Coolio. What the rapper deigns to explain to his grim-faced interrogator is similar to his own history, on which he elaborates after taping: ''If you live in the ghetto that I come from,'' says the electric-dreaded Compton, Calif., native, ''that's one element of life you dealt with every day. You didn't have to be a gangster, but you still had to walk down the same streets and figure out your way. What usually happens is, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.''
Though he's banged with gangs, Coolio did beat 'em by riding to the top of the R&B charts with last year's It Takes a Thief. He's determined his nearly finished follow-up, the tentatively titled concept album Ghetto Highlights, will be ''more positive'' than its predecessor, with gang-themed raps like ''Paradise'' presented as cautionary, not celebratory, tales.
''It was different when it was just my kids,'' says Coolio, who has two of his children with him, ''but now it's other people's children looking up to me, so I have to be careful. I didn't ask for [the responsibility]. I don't know if I want it,'' he adds with a nervous chuckle. ''But I got it, so I've gotta deal with it the best I can.''
And how did he deal with staring directly into Pfeiffer's baby blues? ''She's very cool people. Normal, like anybody else,'' Coolio deadpans. When his lurking posse can barely suppress a laugh at this assertion, the boss corrects himself: ''Well, you can't say she's average.''