Goodbye Snoop Dogg, hello... Snoop Lion? The seminal gangsta rapper, born Calvin Broadus Jr., announced this week that he is dropping rap for reggae, swapping Dogg for Lion, and softening his message and music for a broader audience. On a recent trip to Jamaica, Snoop told reporters, he underwent a spiritual awakening, wrote and recorded a reggae album, Reincarnated, with hit-making producer Diplo, and bade goodbye to his old persona. "This was like a rebirth for me," he said. "Rap is not a challenge to me.... 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." Where did this rebranding come from, and will it stick? Here's what you should know:
How did Snoop come up with "Lion"?
He got the idea from a Rastafarian priest. A documentary on the making of the new album — also called Reincarnated, and slated to debut at the Toronto International Film Festival in September — shows Snoop smoking marijuana with some Rastafarian priests. "I went to the temple, where the High Priest asked me what my name was, and I said, 'Snoop Dogg," he explained Monday night. "And he looked me in my eyes and said, 'No more. You are the light; you are the lion.'" (Watch the film's trailer below.)
Snoop says he hadn't planned on this musical rebirth in Jamaica, but "the spirit called me. And, you know, anytime the spirit calls you, you gotta know that its serious." He added that he's "always said I was Bob Marley reincarnated," and "I feel I have always been a Rastafari. I just didn't have my third eye open, but it's wide open right now." Reggae also appeals to a broader audience than gangsta rap, giving Snoop "a chance to perform for kids and grandkids." For that to happen, he says, it isn't enough to be "Snoop Dogg on a reggae track.... I want to bury Snoop Dogg and become Snoop Lion."
How different is the new album from his past work?
It's a pretty big departure. Snoop says that reggae references are "something I always had in my music," but that he wanted this album to be "true reggae music," like something you might find on "a record out of a 1970s collection." The peace-and-love aspect of reggae is also a pretty big departure from his 11 previous records. One song, "No Guns Allowed," even pleads for a handgun ban. Gun control is "not something particularly gangsta," says James Plafke at Geekosystem, but that's the point. As a rapper, Snoop Lion notes, "I could have never made a song called 'No Guns Allowed' because I'm supposed to be a gangster and we supposed to keep one on us at all times."
Will this name-change stick?
It looks that way, says FACT Magazine. "If you thought this merely marked a half-baked side-project from a stoned, rich, and bored man in his forties, think again: Snoop Lion is, apparently, here to stay." At the risk of sounding cynical, "how long he stays a Lion will depend on sales," says Australia's News.com.au. "Expect the Dogg to make its comeback when Snoop's reggae album runs out of puff." Snoop himself says his name change isn't a "Batman and Bruce Wayne" thing. Right now, "the Lion overrules," he tells Rolling Stone. But "it's not like you won't hear me being Snoop Dogg.... This is where I feel is best for me right now, best for us, for music in general."