Can an old dog learn any new tricks? In light of US rapper Snoop Dogg’s recent (and I must add, highly controversial) shift from gun-totting Gangsta to love-preaching Rastafarian, that is a question that only time will tell. And soon.
Following on a soul-searching visit to Jamaica in February 2012, the Drop It Like It’s Hot singer announced his embracement of the Rastafarian way of life. This was closely followed by a change of name; from Snoop Dogg, the rapper had metamorphosed into Snoop Lion. It had to be Lion, seeing as the reference is popular in Roots Reggae music and Rastafarian symbolism. Actually, The Conquering Lion of Judah was one of the many titles accorded to Hail Selassie I, a Rastafarian deity who many believe to be the father of Rastafarianism when he ascended to the throne of Ethiopian Emperor on November 2, 1930.
Snoop, born Calvin Cordozar Broadus Junior in 1971, has gone as far as to proclaim himself “the next Bob Marley.”
There is even a documentary, “Reincarnated,” which details Snoop’s Jamaica trip and spiritual transformation. He also has a full reggae album of the same name, recorded mostly during his Jamaica trip.
That it was released to the public on April 23 is no coincidence. On that day, Rastafarians in Jamaica solemnly observe the 47th anniversary of Haile Selassie I’s only visit to the island, from April 21-23, 1966.
Worn out from the ever violent rap game, Snoop seems to have been out shopping for a positive persona and outlook to life, aspects that are synonymous with reggae music in particular and the Rastafarian culture in general.
“I was at the forefront of the most violent time in hip hop… that’s what forced me to find a new path and I found peace; I am still Snoop Dogg ‘til I die but when I make my reggae music I am in the light of Snoop Lion,” declares the Gin and Juice” rapper in a documentary.
Yet still, one can’t help but query Snoop’s rasta credentials. Was this a publicity stunt to reclaim some bit of old glory? Was it a desperate case of midlife crisis? For now, only Snoop knows if his Rasta conversion is the outcome of genuine spiritual enlightenment or if he is merely feigning cultural affectation.
But the generally light lyrical content of the Reincarnated album, and the absence of Jamaican guest appearances on the project, is already the subject of debate among reggae adherents that have had a listen.
To support his stated mission of “paying homage and giving love to those who created reggae music and what it was made for” Snoop should have featured at least one veteran Rastafarian artist from Jamaica on the project.
There are guest vocalists on 11 out of the dozen songs on the album, yet not a single Jamaica-based reggae act features. Not that it would have been easy for him to enlist the services of one of the genre’s fore fathers, as some have already passed a harsh verdict on Snoop’s musical metamorphosis.
Still, it would have been just fine if he picked on at least one of the current crop of Jamaican singers who put Rastafarian struggles and themes at the forefront of their music.
Needless to say, several tracks on the album celebrate marijuana, considered a sacrament among Rastas. But who says it is smoking marijuana that makes the rasta? In any case, Snoop has always been an unrepentant and unapologetic smoker of marijuana for all of his “Dogg” days.
Early in April, Bunny Wailer, a Rastafarian elder and sole surviving member of The Wailers “excommunicated” Snoop from the Rastafari movement, (though only on Facebook) citing “fraudulent use of Rastafari personalities and symbolism.”
Reincarnated, therefore, stands as an enjoyable pop record laced with an assortment of roots and dancehall reggae references. Its sprinkling of Rasta ideology has redirected Snoop’s gangsta lyrical exploits towards more enriching themes like putting an end to gang wars and curbing gun violence. Recorded primarily at Jamaica’s luxurious Geejam Studios, the album strikes a fairly alluring balance between roots reggae’s one-drop drum and bass supported rhythms, samplings of classic dancehall as well as his signature electronic beats.
The album has got some credits though: In Rebel Way, for instance, Snoop is announcing his new ideology in which “love is the cure, courage is the weapon you can use to overcome”. Though not vocally spectacular, it is an apt intro to Snoop’s enlightened persona, over a dub reggae meets hip-hop beat. In the second joint, Here Comes the King, Lion is thankfully not referencing himself as the king of reggae. Rather, it refers to the sense of regality that Rastafarianism imparts on its followers, although lines like “smoking an enemy like paper” would be better suited for the Dogg, not Lion persona.
Others tracks on the album include Lighters Up (featuring Mavado and Pop Caan), So Long, (ft Angela Hunte), No Guns Allowed (ft his daughter Cori B and Drake), and Fruit Juice, with Mr. Vegas.
My verdict: Listening to Reincarnated, it’s hard to deny that one of hip-hop’s biggest names has done something dramatic, but it doesn’t prove that he has what it takes to win the hearts of hardcore reggae fans.