By Courtney Garcia, theGrio.com (Article originally published on theGrio.com.)
Snoop Dogg has officially been “reincarnated.”
From gangsterdom to Rastafarianism, the West Coast rap icon, now going as Snoop Lion, has shifted from the grim realities of hip hop to the positive vibrations of reggae with his new album and documentary film, “Reincarnated.”
His passion for the ganja, of course, remains the same.
“The biggest intent with this project is just to have a record that I’ll be able to perform everywhere,” Snoop Lion tells theGrio at a listening session for his album in Los Angeles. “Right now, I have a record that I can perform at the Essence Awards, at the White House possibly, any stage around the world I can do these songs. I can go to elementary schools and do some of these songs off this record. I’ve always wanted to have songs that the kids can sing.”
As further motivation, Snoop recalls his visits to elementary schools when children would approach him saying things like they enjoyed his movie with Wiz Khalifa.
“I’m like, ‘Man, whatchu doing watching that movie?’ I didn’t have anything for them, but they still with me. Young and wild and free. I gotta give them something that they can really stand on and sing,” he explains.
Conceptually, the project has been looming in Snoop Lion’s mind for years, but it was violence in the nation and a rejuvenating trip to Jamaica that pushed him forward to this moment. His documentary, “Reincarnated,” out March 15, details the story of the 41-year-old’s change in idealism and creative direction, and he will follow that with his debut reggae album, due in April.
To be clear though, it’s an alter ego, not a conversion.
“I’m 100 percent Snoop Dogg; 100 percent Snoop Lion,” he says. “It’s like Clark Kent and Super Man.“
In his film, the Doggfather journeys to Kingston to study the foundations of his newly-inherited culture, smoke weed with the locals, and record his album at the Marley family’s Tuff Gong Studios. He brings along his producing team, Major Lazer, as well as a few friends and songwriters to assist in the development of the work. With the album, Snoop says he strives to “use my voice for the right reasons” by setting aside the violence he has often glamorized, and replacing it with inspirational, motivation-driven content.
“I was always bothered by all the school shootings and unnecessary violence by guns,” he explains. “I just always wanted to say something about it, but I never could really figure it out in rap. Like how? How does a gangster tell you not to pack your heat? So, it would never work in rap world, but as far as with this reggae thing, it’s just so perfect and so appropriate. More and more was happening while we was doing the project…We might as well address it right now because it’s actually happening at an all time high, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to stop until somebody says something.”
Snoop Lion delves into his time as a rap artist throughout the film, specifically his rise from the streets, work with Dr. Dre, and the passing of friends Tupac Shakur and Nate Dogg. The artist’s voyage to Jamaica serves to both understand moments of his past, and support the growth of his new alias. Accordingly, he spends time hanging with the Marleys, ventures into Trench Town, speaks to disadvantaged youth, hikes in search of marijuana, and stops by Bunny Wailer’s home to be educated on reggae.
Wailer appeared highly supportive of Snoop Lion’s new venture in the movie, even recording vocals on “Reincarnated.” This January however, he changed his tune, claiming both the album and documentary were a “fraudulent use of the Rastafari Community’s personalities and symbolism,” and threatening legal action against the star. Bob Marley’s son Rohan defended Snoop from Wailer’s assertions, yet Snoop refuses to entertain the issue.
“I didn’t hear him physically say that, so I can’t believe it’s so,” Snoop remarks. “I just keep on pushing out positive energy, and say I love Bunny Wailer. I don’t believe it until I hear it from him personally.”
Furthermore, Snoop insists that from the beginning, he hasn’t been worried about public acceptance of his new image.
“I wasn’t really trippin’ off what people were going to say,” he comments. “I was so confident with the producers and the writers and the attitude going into the record. So, once it started to come back to me and I started to hear it and hear my vocals, I got more and more confident. Now, as I’m starting to hear the mastered mixes, I mean I know it’s a success. I just have to be able to pull it off on stage.”
The album blends the traditional sound of roots reggae – Snoop’s original intentions – with its more modern deviations like dubstep and dancehall. He says the “grooves kept changing” as the trip progressed, and a lot of the work was created “on the fly,” but he enjoyed the process as it was a challenge. It forced him to sing while rap music had become “like riding a bike.” Featured artists include Drake, Chris Brown, Rita Ora, and Akon.
Along with his new style, Snoop Lion feels his patience has increased with his adaption of the Rasta spirit. He’s adopted a better way of life, hoping to be an expression of love and a more knowledgeable source about the world. Furthermore, he aims to take better care of himself through his words and actions, and by emoting a sense of positive energy.
Die-hard Snoop Dogg fans need not worry however, as the rapper will be back in action soon enough. Even when he’s performing as Snoop Lion, he says he will include some reggae rendition of “Gin and Juice” to give the people what they want. Not that he’s not worried about his fans appreciating his new look anyway, rather he knows they will never lose interest.
“No matter what it is – what the moniker is – they appreciate what Snoop brings to the table,” he comments. “So, I never worry about the few people who may have something to say. I know with this album, I put a picture up on Instagram of a lion; somebody might have said something like you know, ‘Where’s the old Snoop Dogg?’ And I don’t pay no attention to that because somebody always answers real quick, you know, ‘F*** you.’ Soon as somebody say something, there’s always somebody there to get my back.”
He adds, “It’s an awesome journey for people to be able to roll with me and see exactly what I’ve been through. Not to turn away from Snoop Dogg, but as you see, when you’ve been doing it for 20 years, and you the s*** for 21 years, I gotta let these other things in.”