The Rastafarian Mr. Rogers

In honor of Snoop Lion’s new album Reincarnated, I am going to tell you a story. It was 1999, the summer between seventh and eighth grade, the night my friend and I snuck out of our motel room on a family trip to Tennessee.

Photo © Berhane Sound System
Photo © Berhane Sound System

In honor of Snoop Lion’s new album Reincarnated, I am going to tell you a story.

It was 1999, the summer between seventh and eighth grade, the night my friend and I snuck out of our motel room on a family trip to Tennessee.

We met up with some boys we’d met that afternoon, broke into the outdoor jacuzzi (me with all my clothes on—what? I’m shy!) and smoked weed for the very first time.

That whole trip I had Snoop Dogg’s Da Game Is to Be Sold, Not to Be Told spinning on repeat in my Sony Walkman.

Those were big times. I knew that Snoop probably wouldn’t be my friend in real life, and that maybe I should feel conflicted about holding both him and my newfound feminism in such equally high regard, but, man, that album was good!

When I first heard about Snoop Lion, I rolled my eyes. Then I got worried: Hadn’t the name change from Snoop Doggy Dogg to Snoop Dogg been enough for him?

I thought this “Lion” era would be one of those hard-to-watch transformations that artists sometimes go through (you know the ones—where we all cringe and watch them churn out a few mediocre albums after their peak because no one had the heart to say “Just stop it, you’re ruining everything we loved you for!”).

I will say this: None of the songs on Reincarnated is the next “Gin and Juice.” But I will be giving this album a lot of play this summer.

It’s full of reggae and dancehall vibes and groovy samples and beats courtesy of the album’s executive producer, Diplo, whose side act Major Lazer also contributed beats. It’s a perfect carefree summertime album in many ways.

You’re going to want Reincarnated booming from your car while you roll slowly through long, sunny Portland summer afternoons, doing that weird snake thing with your arm out the window.

Reincarnated is packed with guest appearances by Drake, Chris Brown, Busta Rhymes, Akon and Miley Cyrus, among others.

Cyrus’ cameo song, “Ashtrays and Heartbreaks” is actually pretty hard not to dance to, even alone at one’s laptop while writing an article.

On “La La La,” Major Lazer has “reincarnated” a sample Diplo used on the Lazerproof mix tape back in 2010. While this might seem a little lazy, I can’t blame him—it belongs on the track. It’s a little haunting and a minor key, but the track manages to be super playful at the same time, producing a chill, blissed-out swirl of sound.

Speaking of, you gotta check out the video for “La La La.” It opens with Snoop hanging out at a children’s theater, doing a grandpa dance across the stage while kids dressed as various animals form a train behind him.

Then: Mario Paint style graphics, dudes in panda and robot suits, claymation fruits (including a really stoned pineapple) and cartoon animals galore, cut with subtitled kids directing cute questions to the camera a la Kids Say the Darndest Things.

There are babes, but their cute half-commital dance moves and modest outfits make them look more like friendly youth-theater volunteers than sexy video vixens.

If you’re puzzled at the lack of babes, check out “Here Comes the King.” The video features an adorable cheerleading troupe and Lion wearing a floor-length robe with red, yellow and green rhinestone shutter shades. He spends most of the video just sitting on the couch.

The shades reappear along with an equally awesome marching band in the video for “Lighters Up.” There’s something as charismatic as ever, but softer, about his presence here.

I’m focusing on the video for a reason: Along with the album, Snoop Lion is releasing a feature-length documentary (also called Reincarnated) about his spiritual journey and music career. (That’s not all: There’s also a photo book and a self-sustainable gardening initiative named Mind Gardens. You heard right.)

So what’s up with this whole spiritual transformation? Can you imagine Snoop and some folks from Vice magazine going through neighborhoods in Jamaica making a documentary? Me neither.

“I didn’t want to go there and just steal their music and culture and run back to America and get rich off it,” Snoop says in the documentary trailer.

Snoop Lion
RCA Records
Out April 23
✯ ✯ ✯ ✯ ✩

While there, Snoop studied the Niyabinghi branch of Rastafarianism. The new moniker was bestowed upon Snoop during his visit by a Rastafarian priest. “I feel like I’ve always been Rastafari, I just didn’t have my third eye open,” Snoop says.

He also talks about getting older as part of this identity shift. After being at the forefront of gun violence in ’90s-era hip-hop, he wants to be a good role model. Apparently younger artists calling him “Uncle Snoop” is what really did it for him.

The track “No Guns Allowed” features news clips from events like Sandy Hook, during which Snoop, his daughter and Drake sing about ending gun violence.

Some lyrics from “Rebel Way,” Reincarnated’s first song: “There’s so much mayhem and there’s so much misunderstanding in music. We’re losing so many great musicians, and we don’t love them while they’re here. And I want to be loved while I’m here. And the only way to get love is to give love.”

Snoop Lion wants to be loved? Well, don’t worry, Snoop—you’ve still got my love.