Over the weekend I heard the news that rapper Snoop Dogg had made a trip to Jamaica recently and had undergone what has been termed a "spiritual revelation" and that he will no longer be known as "Snoop Dogg", and will forever more known as "Snoop Lion".
I realize how crazy that might sound, so let me give some quotes to perhaps provide context.
So, did the onetime gangsta rapper have to drop the "d-o-double-g" when he became a Rasta? Yes, and no, said Ennis Edmonds, a scholar at Kenyon College and an expert on Rastafarianism.
The religious movement doesn't require converts to change their names. But the faith was born in Jamaica, where calling someone a dog is deeply insulting, Edmonds said.
"Rastas would probably see calling yourself a dog as an indication of lack of self-knowledge," Edmonds said.
It expresses how the corrupt world -- Babylon, in Rasta theology -- had distorted the rapper's true spiritual nature.
Little surprise, then, that a Rasta priest in Jamaica shook his head and said "no more" when the man born as Calvin Broadus introduced himself as Snoop Dogg.
The priest, a member of the most traditional branch of Rastafarianism, Nyabingi, rechristened the rapper Snoop Lion. The new documentary, "Reincarnated," captures the rapper's conversion in Jamaica last February.
Unlike dogs, lions hold a place of pride in Rasta theology, explained Edmonds, author of a forthcoming history of the religious movement.
Also he talked about the change in his lyrical content as it relates to his music as well:
MORE AFTER THE BREAK
The rapper used to rap about guns and gang warfare but his recent spiritual awakening means he is going to promote peace instead.
Snoop told MTV News:
“Now you see me writing about 'No Guns Allowed' because... it's about being a man and being strong and being powerful enough to try and educate and deter people from doing negative things in life.“The world needs positivity and music that feels good. Because music is a relief. That's what it does: It relives your pain, it relives anything that you're going through.“When you go to a club or go in your car and put on your music it's for relief.”
Now the reaction to this announcement has predictably been split among fans of Snoop's. You have a good portion that are critical and cynical about the whole thing, and think it's a publicity stunt or a midlife crisis or a bit of both. They have even dubbed him, quite disrespectfully, "Snoop Lyin".
I tend to fall into the second group of people who are intrigued by the move, and take Snoop at his word as to his motivations as it relates to his dramatic change in his life and career. It makes sense to me because as he said in an interview, he's done everything he could in hip hop, and he's now much older. He said people refer to him as "Uncle Snoop", and that uncles are not supposed to be still doing the same thing they were doing when they were younger, and that it was time for him to do something different.
I think that this makes complete sense for Snoop because anyone that has ever seen him knows that he's a very laid back guy. He's a very relaxed person most of the time, and he's always seemed to me to be someone who has his mind and eyes open to new possibilities. Someone who would never place himself into a box like other artists where they feel they can't step out of their comfort zone and do something different than what their fans know of them and have come to expect.
I mean, for pete's sake, the man did a couple songs with Willie Nelson, and another track where his vocals were added to "Riders on the Storm" by The Doors for a video game soundtrack. Does that sound like a guy who's overly concerned with an image that he has to maintain or some preconceived notions of who he's supposed to be?
Now having said all that, I'm not a new fool here. I'm entirely aware of the strange nature of aging artists and their need to rebrand themselves for a new generation. And I realize the possibility exists that this is a publicity stunt/midlife crisis that Snoop's going through, and that after doing the Reggae album and getting that out of his system, that it'll be back to the old Snoop.
But I really don't think that's going to happen, and let me explain a few reasons why. Snoop has never come off as fake to me. Now true, I'm a notoriously bad judge of character so take this with a hefty grain of salt, but I just have never gotten that vibe from him. Also he's gone to such a degree with this Reggae situation, that it would be pretty embarrassing for him to suddenly concede that it was a sham.
He'd essentially be cutting himself off from a lot of the Rastas that he seems to respect and look up to. I can't see him doing that.
That said, there's something else that I kind of wonder about, and it was illustrated brilliantly by Benjamin Zephaniah from The Guardian. Benjamin, a Rasta himself, spoke about how many people have a misconceived notion of what Rastafarianism is all about. That they think it's all about reggae music and smoking weed, despite the fact that there are many who eschew those things.
Snoop Lion says he wants to spread the message of Rastafari, but does Rastafari need an ambassador? Yes, is my answer, we need as many as we can get. I think we are one of the most misunderstood groups of people in the world. People don't know if we should be thought of as a religion, a political movement, a cult, or black hippies. Christians and Muslims call themselves broad churches, but we have a church so broad no one knows where it starts or where it ends.
We think of this as a strength, but for outsiders it breeds misunderstandings. Snoop, it seems, like many misunderstanders, believes that to be a Rastafarian you have to make, or listen, to reggae music, he believes that you have to wear red, gold and green hats, he believes that you have to smoke marijuana, all stereotypes that on the whole have done us no favours.
Dear misunderstanders, did you know that there are groups of Rastas who shun reggae music, and that most Rastas on this planet don't smoke? We need enough ambassadors to show the range of ideas within Rastafari. We need people to break down the stereotypes and show the diversity within our community, but sadly I don't see that happening any time soon.
My friend who is a brain surgeon is continually being told that he's not a real Rasta because he doesn't sound Jamaican enough; another friend who is a psychiatrist has been told she can't be a Rasta because she doesn't cover her hair, and, because I don't smoke weed, absolutely no one believes that I am a real Rasta.
And I think these are excellent points. Is this going to be an situation where Snoop, with the best of intentions, ends up representing an outsider's view of what Rasta is? And does high profile Rastas that all focus on the reggae and weed hurt the cause of those of the faith that do not partake in those?
I suppose it's much like any religion or faith, you have the entire religion pigeonholed into specific tenets or rituals that if you don't do then you're not REALLY a member of that faith.
As a Christian I've had to listen to people tell me, to my face, that I'm not a REAL Christian because I support marriage equality and a woman's right to choose. And there are Muslim women who choose not to wear Hijab to cover their hair, and as a result there are people who just assume "oh you're not REALLY a Muslim.
And more devastatingly there was someone I talked to once who tried to convince me that if a Muslim was adherent to their faith that they would be a terrorist. And that those who are not terrorists aren't really Muslims, because if they listened to their book they'd be terrorists. This kind of nonsensical slandering of people you don't understand is insanity to me.
Everyone doesn't fit into your own preconceived notion of what they are supposed to be. Why do they have to conform to outsider's views of them (and sometimes insiders), instead of the other way around?
Snoop has a way to go before he convinces everyone that his intentions are pure, and that they are sincere, even if he does have Reggae Royalty on his side, in the form of one of the Marley sons. I think his comment that he is the "reincarnation of Bob Marley" might be taking things a bit far (alright, a LOT far), but I choose to take the tact of going out on a limb here and believing Snoop that he is sincere and honest about his move.
His album Reincarnated is coming out soon, and I for one am looking forward to it. I might even do a review of it. I really like his new song "La La La" (included at the bottom of this post) and I'm interested to hear what he's got. And if it turns out this is a big scam and next year he shows up doing gangsta music again, then I'll make sure to update this and admit I was wrong.
But for now, I'm siding with Snoop Lion on this. I'm betting on the transformation from a Dogg to a Lion being a permanent one. The world could do with some more positivity in music. But I think as Zephaniah of The Guardian pointed out, Rastafarianism needs a serious and respectful Ambassador, one that won't reinforce the outsider point of view that is not indicative of all Rastafari. Of course there's nothing to say only one Ambassador is needed. It's always good to have multiple views of something as important and vital as one's faith. Misunderstandings and misrepresntations can really be an unfortunate thing, as I'm very well aware of.
Let's hope that Snoop's evolution here will take him there as well.