Usually, a mourner will wear black when someone dies. But Snoop Lion –– formerly known as rap/hip-hop artist Snoop Dogg –– has been sporting a lot of red, green and gold lately without a trace of grief.
After a voyage to Jamaica where he was baptized by a Rastafarian priest, the rapper announced in July that his former self has been “buried” and reborn as Snoop Lion, who will produce only peaceful reggae tunes and continue smoking a lot of green.
“I feel like I’ve always been Rastafari,” Snoop said at his July press conference to announce his transformation, adding that he’s always felt he is the reincarnated Bob Marley. “I just didn’t have my third eye open, but it’s wide open right now.”
He’s done with pimp albums and gangster music. He wants to create songs he can perform for children and his grandmother. And forget any future mention of guns or drugs in his songs –– he said he’s done talking about those, too.
Critics and fans are closely watching Snoop’s transformation in anticipation of his first reggae album, “Reincarnation” (co-produced with Diplo), due out this fall along with a photo book and documentary detailing his spiritual journey in Jamaica. Some music experts and fans are applauding Snoop for his transformation, though the quality and longevity of his reggae music is yet to be seen, with only one debut single, “La La La” released so far. And with other musicians’ failed transformations (think Garth Brooks when he morphed into Chris Gaines) it’s uncertain where Snoop’s new persona will take him.
“To me, this whole thing is goofy. I don’t expect too much from it musically,” said Jody Rosen, a music critic for Slate Magazine and Rolling Stone Magazine. “I think he’ll still make rap records, too. He’s one of the major figures in the genre.”
Rosen added that Snoop’s music has always had “a lot of humor” that will be missed, along with a flow and vocal presence like no one else’s.
Many will argue that Snoop’s solo rap/hip-hop career peaked in the early 1990s, and since then he’s served mostly as a featured artist on tracks. Entertainment-wise, he’s also had his own reality show and appeared in movies and product endorsements.
But hip-hop is a hard genre to stay at the top in, Rosen added, so it’s no surprise that Snoop felt the need to update his image. Keep in mind that he was Snoop Doggy Dogg at one point, too.
“A lot of people try to cross over and change genres. Think back when Lil Wayne released a rock album,” Rosen said. “Artistically, it was a terrible record, but it sold a lot of albums.”
Despite Lil Wayne’s bizarre attempt at rock music, Rosen said his solid (and forgivable) fan base helped maintain loyal followers and album sales –– something that will likely happen to Snoop, too, with 20 years of making music under his belt. And the switch from rap/hip-hop to reggae isn’t as drastic as some might think; there’s always been a conversation between Caribbean, hip-hop and reggae music, Rosen added.
“Are people going to go out there and buy his CD and take it seriously? I don’t know,” Rosen said. “There might be a couple of stoner, jam-band boys with dreadlocks who might get into his records, possibly. But I don’t expect a lot of his rap fans to go along the ride with this.”
Dan Kramer, who also serves as director of events for Movin’ On, Penn State’s free spring music festival, has always respected Snoop and his legendary status in the hip-hop world. When he heard about Snoop’s switch to reggae, he felt nothing but supportive, he said.
“I think it’s great to see an artist who is a hip-hop legend take a chance and do something new,” Kramer (junior-materials science and engineering) said.
Kramer added that Snoop’s music has always included melodic hooks, which will translate well into reggae.
“I like ‘La La La,’” Kramer said. “The production allows Snoop to blend his familiar style with the track somewhat comfortably. The vocals and melodies are simple and safe, but that’s what I like about a lot of my favorite reggae songs. It doesn’t need to sound like a record out of Kingston 20 or 30 years ago.”
The laid-back tune also gives a taste of how Snoop alters his voice for the Jamaican genre.
“The fake accent is a little weird at first, but you start to feel it by the end of the chorus,” Kramer said of “La La La.”
But whether fans are supportive or dismissive of Snoop’s reincarnation, it likely won’t matter. Penn State music theory instructor Thomas Cody said he’s unsure of the genuineness of Snoop’s conversion to Rasta and reggae, but the musician has made so much money in the past that he doesn’t need to worry about the number of albums sold under a reggae genre.
“If he doesn’t sell the reggae recordings, he’s not going to starve,” Cody said with a laugh. “Snoop falls into the category where he’s already had the success and has the luxury of saying, ‘I’m going to try something else.’”
If Snoop would ever try to return to his rap roots, it could be a struggle, Cody said. He referenced Metallica’s efforts to soften their intense thrash metal style.
“A lot of people, even when they say they’re going back to where they started, it seems like they never quite get there,” Cody said. “I don’t know how many CDs Metallica has put out where they say they’re going back to their old stuff…they never seem to get back to where they originally were.”]
As “Reincarnation” has not yet been released, it’s hard to accurately predict what the future holds for Snoop Lion. But Cody said it’s at least commendable that Snoop didn’t try to incorporate any hip-hop or rap into “La La La”–– he stepped out of his comfort zone.
“It’s a reggae track,” Cody said. “It’s an actual reggae track, not just him rapping over a reggae track. He really went for it.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.