Just call him Snoop Lion.
Snoop Dogg, the veteran West Coast rapper, says he underwent a spiritual and artistic rebirth while making a new album in Jamaica last February. He abandoned rap as his preferred mode of expression, wrote more than a dozen songs in a traditional Reggae style and opened up to a documentary film crew about his long and sometimes violent journey from teenage gang member to a middle-aged hip-hop superstar. Along the way, he says, he shed the name and persona of Snoop Dogg and was rechristened Snoop Lion by Rastafarian priests.
“I have always said I was Bob Marley reincarnated,” Snoop told a crowd of reporters at a news conference at Miss Lily’s, a Caribbean restaurant in New York. He added: “I feel I have always been a Rastafari. I just didn’t have my third eye open, but its wide open right now.”
The news conference was to release the first single from the album “Reincarnated,” which was written and recorded over three weeks in Jamaica.
Wearing a Rasta knit cap, sunglasses and a Kobe Bryant jersey, Snoop held forth about positivity, good vibrations and being “called by the spirit” to begin singing Reggae. Now that he had reached the midpoint of his life – he turned 40 last year– he said he wanted to renounce violence and write in the Reggae genre, which he called “music of love.” The new songs, he said, might give him “a chance to perform for kids and grandkids,” something he felt his work as a rapper would not let him do.
Snoop described his decision to do the album as a spiritual revelation, but others involved in the project said it was, in fact, carefully planned and executed.
He brought along the hit-maker Diplo to produce the tracks and hired a team of three songwriters, led by Angela Hunte, who wrote “Empire State of Mind,” the 2009 hit for Jay-Z and Alicia Keys. He also had in tow a group of documentary filmmakers from Vice Media, led by the producer Codine Williams and the director Andy Capper. The album, his 12th, will be released later this year by Vice Records. The film, also entitled “Reincarnated,” will make its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.
There was more than a whiff of midlife crisis in Snoop’s remarks. He said he was tired of being a hip-hop artist, of the young man’s macho bluster inherent in the form, and he felt the songs he had done so far did not reflect the wisdom he had gained from being a 40-year-old father of three.
“There comes a point where you say I done it all, or there isn’t much more to do,” he said. “This was like a rebirth for me.”
“Rap is not a challenge to me,” he said. “I had enough of that. It’s not appealing to me no more. I don’t have no challenges. I’m ‘Uncle Snoop’ in rap. When you get to be an uncle, you need to find a new profession so you can start over and be fresh again. I want to be a kid again.”
Yet, when asked, Snoop stopped short of saying he would never make another rap album.
Snoop said he experienced a religious epiphany early on in his trip when he visited a Nyabinghi temple in Scotts Pass, in the Clarendon section of the island. A trailer for the documentary showed him smoking marijuana with Rastafarian priests, who renamed him Lion. There were then more scenes of Snoop meeting local people, smoking weed, climbing in the hills. “This is paradise,” he says on the film.
The rapper said he then set out to make a traditional album of what he called “true Reggae music,” gritty and unpolished, with roots extending back to Rocksteady musicians like Ken Boothe and Alton Ellis. “We wanted it to feel like a record out of a 1970s collection,” he said. “When you look back you give respect and love and that is what this record is all about. It’s about giving homage to those who created Reggae music.”
For the first time, Snoop sings most of the songs on the new album and does very little rapping, Diplo said. The album is also a departure for him lyrically, as he takes a more peace-loving approach to life and politics than he has in the past. One song, for instance, “No Guns Allowed,” is a plea for the banning of handguns, a position he says he has finally come around to.
“I have always wanted to make a song that could really stand for something,” he said. “I could never make a song called ‘No Guns Allowed’ because I was supposed to be a gangsta.”