We're used to many things emanating from Mr Snoop Dogg. In his 20 years as a cultural totem, he's sold 30 million albums, directed a pornographic film, been acquitted of murder charges, boasted of being a pimp, banned at various times from Norway, the UK and Australia, been cited for his charity work and become a football coach for his son’s team.
Even so, this is a turn up for the books - his conversion to Rastafarianism, with a new moniker - Snoop Lion - to mark the occasion. His latest album is reggae-influenced, inspired by a ground roots trip to Jamaica to record with producer Diblo, an excursion caught on camera by a probing documentary.
Snoop Dogg opens up on his chequered past in the documentary shot in Jamaica
But, is this a commercial exercise by a master of reinvention, or something more profound? The film's director Andy Capper of VICE has his views...
“He a very sensitive guy. Some people have said ‘cash-in’ but it’s a risk more than anything. There’s many ways he could do that, that’s what people want. This new thing freaks people out.
“It’s a new phase for him, talking about gun control, anti-war. There’ll be people for whom he’ll always be Snoop Dog, but he wants his songs to mean something outside that gangsta world.
“One thing I didn’t include in the film, was that, just down the street from VIP records where he dances on the roof, was a store where the owner sold weed and taught Snoop about Bob Marley and Rastafarianism. So this has been brewing for a while.”
Snoop, with all his baggage, wasn't a man easily willing to bring down his guard, even in the relaxing environs of Jamaica...
“It was hard at first. We’d never met, there’s this weird English guy asking him to do all this weird stuff. We were forced together for three weeks, so it was a risk as to whether we’d get on or not.
“We did one interview with him on the balcony, it was tough for him to talk about some things, but I eventually convinced him to open up a bit more about Tupac and his family. I wanted to make an emotionally rich film, and show the heartache that’s happened to him.”
What was the biggest surprise in making this film? Capper chuckles...
“He sources the strongest weed I’ve ever experienced, I don’t know how he does it! He can be very charming. He can be the gangster Snoop, but he’s sweet and friendly too.
Snoop Lion was embraced by Rastafarianism in a ceremony lasting hours in Jamaica
“He put me in my place on Day One - we were walking up a steep hill of a marijuana farm, and he said, ‘you don’t have to tell me that, I can do whatever I want.’ He pretty much went along with things, but he’s the boss.”
In a serene contrast, Snoop was embraced by Rastafarianism after an extended religious ceremony... “the experience in the temple just blew everyone’s minds, it went on for hours”.. and moved by what he saw around him...
“I could see him visibly moved in Tivoli Gardens, third world poverty,” reports Capper. “He’s a hero in some regions, many poverty-stricken, because he came from those roots, and still has fingers in those pies.”
Not everyone's convinced. Bunny Wailer, who greets Snoop like a lost son in the film and bestowed on him the name Lion, has since questioned the rapper’s intentions and commitment to the Rastafarian ideology.
Asked to respond, Snoop said recently, "If I was Snoop Dogg: '(Expletive) Bunny Wailer.' But I'm Snoop Lion right now, so I'm chilling."
He stressed that he was not trying to get rid of his Snoop Dogg tag.
"I'm going to always be Snoop Dogg. I can't throw that person away and get rid of him.
"To me, the Lion is the growth of Snoop Dogg - me growing into the next phase of my musical career, the next phase of my life. But at the same time, I can never get rid of who I am.
"I'm an East Side Long Beach Rollin 20s Crip, first and foremost ... I'm Snoop Doggy Dogg, then I'm Snoop Dogg, then I'mSnoop Lion. But it's all the same."
What is his director’s opinion, having spent so many hours in the company of this cultural chameleon?
“This is something coming from deep inside him. All the things that have happened to him recently have come from somewhere deeper than just a marketing meeting, it’s heartfelt.”
'Reincarnated' is in UK cinemas from 22 March. Click here for screening details. Watch the trailer below...
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