Snoop Lion, formerly known as Snoop Dogg, announced his embracement of the Rastafarian way of life following a visit to Jamaica in 2012. While there he took part in reasoning sessions with Rastafarian elders, among them The Wailers’ sole living founding member Bunny Wailer. The elders’ insights prompted Snoop to bury the Dogg and take on the lion. Leonine references are prominent in Rastafari and roots reggae lyrics because The Conquering Lion of Judah was one of the titles bestowed upon Rastafarian Deity Haile Selassie I when he ascended to the throne of Ethiopian Emperor on November 2, 1930.
Snoop, born in 1971, has declared himself the reincarnation of Bob Marley who passed away in 1981. A feature-length documentary, “Reincarnated,” detailing Snoop’s Jamaica sojourn and spiritual transformation was released in March. His reggae album of the same name, recorded mostly during his Jamaica trip, drops today (April 23), when Rastafarians in Jamaica, coincidentally, solemnly observe the 47th anniversary of Haile Selassie I’s only visit to the island, April 21-23, 1966.
Tired of the rap game, Snoop sought a positive persona, which he found in Rasta and reggae. “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 (motherfucking) Dogg ‘til I die but when I make my reggae music I am in the light of Snoop Lion,” declared the “Gin and Juice” rapper in the Reincarnated documentary. Numerous fans and critics have queried Snoop’s credibility as a Rastafarian reggae artist. Alternately viewed as an attention-grabbing career move or a misguided mid-life meltdown, only Snoop knows if his Rasta conversion is the outcome of genuine spiritual enlightenment or feigned cultural affectation but the overall lightweight lyrical content of the “Reincarnated” album, and the absence of (Jamaican) Rastafarian contributions to the project, suggests the latter.
Rastafari has significantly shaped roots reggae’s subject matter: the reverence of Haile Selassie I (whom many Rastas cite as Christ incarnate or God) and the visionary pan-African teachings of Jamaican freedom fighter Marcus Garvey (which includes celebrating African identity) are two of the faith’s most salient tenets and have been espoused in reggae song’s since the music’s late 60s inception. Such Afro-centric viewpoints were once considered so radical in Jamaica, Rastas were persecuted, driven from their dwellings, their dreadlocks shorn or they were just shot on sight. 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 recruited at least one veteran Jamaican Rastafarian artist as a collaborator on “Reincarnated.” Guest vocalists are included on 11 of the 12 tracks on the album’s U.S. edition yet not a single Jamaica based Rastafarian reggae act, from pioneering singers of the 1960s to 20-something year old sing-jays who keep Rasta struggles in the forefront of their music, participated in Snoop’s reggae venture. Several tracks celebrate marijuana, considered a sacrament among Rastas, but Snoop did that in his Dogg days and smoking herb does not make a Rasta.
In early April, Bunny Wailer “excommunicated” Snoop from Rastafari, (on Facebook, no less) citing “fraudulent use of Rastafari personalities and symbolism.” Wailer didn’t mention if an advance copy of “Reincarnated” influenced his decision.
Nonetheless, aside from the casting, Snoop’s grandiose notion of his rebirth as Marley and no guest appearances by those on reggae’s frontline, “Reincarnated” stands as an enjoyable pop record laced with an assortment of roots and dancehall reggae references. Its sprinkling of Rasta ideology has, laudably, redirected Snoop’s gangsta lyrical exploits towards enriching themes such as ending gang wars and curbing gun violence. Recorded primarily at Jamaica’s luxurious Geejam Studios, the set’s executive producer, Diplo, strikes an alluring balance between roots reggae’s one-drop drum and bass driven rhythms, samplings of classic dancehall beats and his signature electronic flourishes.
1. “Rebel Way”
“Nuff of dem can’t take it when the lion roar,” Snoop tenuously sings, announcing his new pathway where “love is the cure, courage is the weapon you can use to overcome.”It’s a sincere, if vocally unspectacular, introduction to his enlightened persona,over a dub reggae meets hip-hop beat produced by Dre Skull, embellished with the filigreed guitar work of Willy Dintenfass.
2. “Here Comes the King” featuring Angela Hunte
Thankfully, Snoop’s not heralding his arrival as the king of reggae. He’s referencing the regality Rasta imparts to each of its adherents although the references to smoking an enemy like paper is more appropriate for the Dogg than the Lion. Snoop vacillates between toasting with an uneasy faux Jamaican accent and his much more organically rapped verses, while co-writer Angela Hunte (Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind”) provides the snappy, childlike chorus.
3. “Lighters Up” featuring Mavado and Popcaan
One of the album’s best is essentially a hip-hop jam, featuring the innovative brass embellishments of Jamaica’s Tivoli Gardens Drum Corp and Jamaican dancehall artists Mavado and Popcaan, (the latter a protégé of Mavado’s former nemesis Vybz Kartel), respectively representing their (previously feuding) Gully and Gaza camps. Ironically, Mavado and Popcaan don’t acknowledge each other on this unity anthem, or in the video where each flanks Snoop. But kudos to the Lion for bringing these artists together, even if it is just for the duration of the song.
4. “So Long ” featuring Angela Hunte
“So Long” is a roots jam about maintaining strength on life’s journey with top billing going to the call and response interplay between Snoop and Hunte. Yet, it’s the hook sung by Guyanese-American, Jahdan Blakkamoore, that provides the song’s sweetly melodic retro-reggae feel. Blakkamore’s backing vocals add a subtle yet rich texture throughout the entire album often enhancing Snoop’s lead.
5. “Get Away” featuring Angela Hunte
Major Lazer’s thumping rave track disrupts the album’s reggae and dancehall flavor. Snoop seems stranded in the sea of electronic propulsion, never quite getting past chanting the song’s title. Hunte’s energetic vocals should be framed by the rhythm, not competing with it as they do here.
6. “No Guns Allowed” featuring Drake and Cori B
“Rasta music is all about love and positivity, not shooting, beating people up and riding and killing. I get that and I want that, that’s the kind of record I want,” said Snoop in the “Reincarnation” promotional video referencing “No Guns Allowed,” a heartfelt commentary on the insanity of societal violence. Snoop’s tenderly sung message is punctuated by the accompanying vocals of his daughter Cori B and a hard-hitting verse by Drake all supported by Diplo’s hauntingly sparse one-drop beat and gentle percussive accents provided by former Police drummer Stewart Copeland.
7. “Fruit Juice” featuring Mr. Vegas
Diplo loops a sample of Jamaican keyboardist Noel Davey’s 1985 Sleng Teng riddim, which ignited Jamaican music’s digital revolution, over which Snoop and Mr. Vegas ostensibly name-check various fruit juices (sans the gin) although a lyrical double-entendre is definitely at play. Despite Vegas’ enviable, quick-paced rhyming skills, he searches in vein for a memorable hook.
8. “Smoke The Weed” featuring Collie Buddz
The refrain from Michael Palmer’s (a.k.a Palma Dog) 1984 reggae hit, “Don’t Smoke The Seed,” along with a digitized replication of that song’s rhythmic hook, is reworked into an irresistible 21st century marijuana anthem. Perhaps its his enthusiasm for the subject matter but Snoop shifts between Jamaican patois and rapped verses with an ease he doesn’t manage elsewhere. Collie Buddz whose name is a homage to herb, conquers the rhythm with his smoke fueled, chronic-championing rhymes.
9. “Tired of Running” featuring Akon
“This gangsta life ain’t no longer in me,” Akon sings on “Tired of Runnin'” from his 2006 album “Konvicted.” Here the song has adapted to a slow burning reggae groove. Akon’s lyrical reflection on a life of crime provides an apt, effective encapsulation of Snoop’s stated new direction.
10. “The Good Good” featuring Iza
Snoop and Iza aim for mainstream with this cheerful but disposable summer pop-reggae ditty. Iza is the first artist signed to Snoop’s new Berhane Sound System/Boss Lady Entertainment label. Interestingly, Berhane Selassie, which means “Light of the Holy Trinity, in the Ethiopian language of Amharic, was the name taken by Bob Marley when he was baptized in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in November 1980, six months prior to his passing.
11. “Torn Apart” featuring Rita Ora
A rumbling bass line overlaid with swirling synths and majestic horn blasts drives an incessantly upbeat reggae tempo that is seemingly at odds with the song’s tale of heartbreak. Snoop and Rita are in great spirits on their debut pop-reggae collaboration, despite dealing with the topic of lost love. They convey an easy familiarity usually reserved for longstanding vocal sparring partners.
12. “Ashtrays and Heartbreaks” featuring Miley Cyrus
“Ashtrays and Heartbreaks” is an effective up-in-smoke pop-reggae tribute to those who have departed. Snoop’s simple lyrics (“what goes up must come down… when it’s right something always will go wrong”) and bland delivery are enlivened by Miley’s chirpy vocals as she fills up ashtrays, smokes the weed to cope with her losses.