Twenty years after his massive hit asking who he was, ardent dope fan Snoop Dog has decided to go Rasta… maybe. It’s fun, but hardly authentic
Snoop Lion: Reincarnated
Rating: * * *
WHEN Snoop Dogg asked the fundamental question Who Am I (What’s My Name?) on his debut single in 1993, who would have bet that this quintessential G-funk pioneer and LA rap legend in the making would eventually trade the canine for the leonine and re-emerge 20 years later as wannabe reggae artiste Snoop Lion?
Snoop’s unexpected conversion to the Rastafari movement came during a sojourn last summer in Trenchtown, Jamaica when, conveniently, a camera crew were on hand to capture his spiritual epiphany, with Snoop claiming he had always felt that he was the reincarnation of Bob Marley (dodgy chronology excepted) and dedicating his life and career to the old red, gold and green with the assertion that “I feel like I’ve always been Rastafari, I just didn’t have my third eye open.”
Like any self-deluding rapper-turned-Rastafarian, he has his haters. Earlier this year, Marley’s respected sideman Bunny Wailer threatened him with a lawsuit for his “outright fraudulent use of the Rastafari Community’s personalities and symbolism”, while the Ethio-Africa Diaspora Union Millennium Council, aka the Reggae Police, have demanded he change his name, lodging the objection: “Smoking weed and loving Bob Marley and reggae music is not what defines the Rastafari Indigenous Culture!”
So let’s call this what it is – another rapper alter ego. After all, when he’s not busy being Snoop Lion, the entertainer born Calvin Broadus Jr also likes to spin some wax in the George Clinton-loving guise of DJ Snoopadelic. The Snoop brand is clearly flexible enough to encompass his adventures as rapper, DJ and now singer – although he gets some guests in to help out with all that complicated vocalising stuff, including Miley Cyrus, Drake and, a bit more like it, barking Busta Rhymes and a couple of Jamaican ragga artists, Mavado and Popcaan.
Sadly, the album is not as bonkers as this entertaining background story might suggest. Reincarnated is a competent pop reggae record, ably produced by Major Lazer, aka Diplo, and, if Snoop Lion fails to convince that his immersion in Rasta culture is little more than the product of a febrile weed dream, at least he drops some sunshine hooks along the road to commercial diversification.
Rebel Way begins with a reference to the “mayhem and misunderstanding” in music and proceeds with some fairly banal “we got to make a change” sentiments but overall is an agreeable loping roots reggae joint with some lovely plangent guitar work.
The undeniably contagious single Lighters Up is more south central Los Angeles than downtown Kingston. Positing the peace-and-love notion that there ain’t no turf war that can’t be solved by passing the dutchie, this laidback call for unity seems destined to become a summer festival favourite.
No Guns Allowed is another attempt from the man who once opined that Murder Was The Case to convince that he is a lover not a fighter, while Tired Of Running is, indeed, a lethargic effort to evade his past, which is hardly up there with Jimmy Cliff’s Sitting In Limbo.
Fruit Juice makes full use of dancehall reggae and hip-hop’s shared heritage of objectifying women – or maybe Snoop really does love a sip of Del Monte on a hot summer’s afternoon. He also obliges convention with Smoke The Weed, an enjoyable celebration of one of the cornerstones of reggae culture with a cheeky Soul II Soul reference (“weed is life, weed is reality”) thrown in for free.
But for much of the album, he is not even dabbling in a genre, but simply appropriating a reggae veneer. The sweet brass section at the start of So Long turns out to be a false dawn and the track is soon downgraded to a Black Eyed Peas-level exercise in radio-friendly reggae pop, while The Good Good is insipid stoner beach party fodder for trustafarians.
He drops any pretence at authenticity on Get Away to create a decent reggae-flavoured club track with a serviceably melodic hook. Ragga dubstep track Here Comes The King is one of several numbers to feature Empire State Of Mind writer Angela Hunte, her cartoony delivery reminiscent of Nicki Minaj, while Rita Ora makes a marginally more convincing guest appearance on Torn Apart than Miley Cyrus, who must be about due her Britney/Bieber breakdown moment. She provides a squeaky cameo on Ashtrays and Heartbreaks in a possible bid for a Rihanna makeover.
Snoop eventually gets his tonsils around the ragga intonation on bonus track Boulevard but, on Remedy, he can only listen to and learn from the glorious Busta Rhymes, who has a natural affinity for the more strident delivery of Jamaican music. One can hardly condemn Snoop for being seduced by reggae’s good vibrations, but it will be interesting to see if his Rasta romance outlasts the summer holidays.