Snoop Lion Roars, Barks in Live Debut at SXSW

Snoop's Viceland set included "Reincarnated" reggae tracks and rap classics like "Who Am I (What's My Name?)" and "Drop It Like It's Hot"

Thursday night’s Viceland SXSW showcase was billed as an evening of “Reincarnated,” the live reveal of Snoop Lion. Instead, we got an old Dogg who's learned some new tricks.

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"Reincarnated," the new album and documentary inspired by and created during the rap veteran’s trip to Jamaica, was the focus of the evening: rasta colors adorned a backdrop screen, and he opened his set with a number of reggae-fueled new songs. The upcoming material, produced by Diplo and Major Lazer, isn’t quite the heir to Bob Marley: its concert version was bass-heavy and made as much for dancing as jammin’, with the occasional rap verse a reminder that the Lion can still rhyme.

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Viceland, the adult playground erected for the week by Vice and an array of sponsors, likely reached a census record during the set. Attendees, simultaneously grooving and editing Instagram shots, spilled out of the venue’s main hall and deep into its lobby, where a table of blow-up instruments and party hats joined the vodka bar as a consolation prize. Those within saw Snoop exert his range: after his Lion persona was safely presented, the DJ dropped the beat for "The Next Episode." "Y'all remember this shit right here?" Snoop’s hype man asked. Judging by the hands in the air, the crowd hadn’t forgotten about Dre—or Snoop's own gangsta origins.

The rap portion of his set was heavy on his features: he spat Dr. Dre’s "Let's Get High," and Akon's "I Wanna Fuck You," bringing out a trio of glittery back-up dancers. He covered House of Pain’s “Jump Around,” a Snoop concert staple—a Five Hour Energy shot for the flagging crowd, which had begun quietly exiting the party. It was the final third of the set that turned from dueling personalities to rap-reggae fusion taco. Snoop laid down a reggae version of “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” the signature drum break landing amid the island stroll of syncopated guitars; as the hour grew later, he lapsed in and out of a Jamaican patois.

It was less a reinvention than a remix, Snoop pushing the elements of his career into a new puzzle.

Certain pieces, though, retain a jagged edge. Striving to showcase his conscious new identity, Snoop stepped offstage while a video of newsreels examined the terror of school shootings such as Columbine and Virginia Tech. “I’m sick and tired of people shooting up these schools…it’s senseless,” he said as he took the stage again, explaining he felt he had to say something. A noble gesture—and one in line with his history of volunteer work in youth football and elsewhere—but his somber statement on gun violence came moments after an unblinking delivery of “Drop It Like It's Hot” line, “Oh, you got a gun so you wanna pop back?/AK47, now n**** stop that.”

Change, and the legacy of two decades of rap success, doesn’t come without complications, but Snoop seems intent on making it work: before the crowd stepped back into the night, he led them in singing along to one last reggaefied hit, he, Bruno Mars and Wiz Khalifa’s “Young and Wild and Free.” “So what we get drunk, so what we smoke weed,” the remaining audience sang back. “We’re just having fun/we don’t care who sees.” Smoke may be obscuring the complications, but it’s clear we haven’t seen the last of Snoop Dogg: toward the end of the set, he offered an aggressive version of his solo debut single, “Who Am I (What’s My Name?).” A dog-costumed crew member pawed around the stage, a picture worth a thousand rhymes.

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