Ian Burrell writes: “What’s my mutherf***in’ name?” drawled Snoop Doggy Dogg in the debut single from his debut album Doggystyle in 1993. The question is as pertinent as ever. Having previously truncated his moniker to Snoop Dogg, the world’s most recognizable gangsta rapper upgraded to Snoop Lion to reflect his surprising conversion to the ideology of Rastafarianism. But he kept the Snoop bit, derived from his childhood resemblance to the dog Snoopy in the cartoon strip Peanuts.”
Snoop Doggy Dogg. Scooby Dooby Doo. There has always been an element of caricature to his profile, even when he was associated with the notorious Death Row records. The covers to his early releases were illustrated by canine cartoon images drawn by the artist Joe Cool. This childishness, together with the smoothness of Snoop’s verbal delivery, helped to soften the aggression of his thuggish lyrics and created a global superstar. This week he releases his first reggae album, Reincarnated, to reflect his Rasta transformation. “I was at the forefront of the most violent time in hip-hop. I was young. I was fly. I was pretty. I was flamboyant. I was the greatest of all time,” he says, evoking the bravura of America’s greatest ever sportsman and another religious convert. “But I’m reckless at times and that’s what forced me to find a new path and I chose to be peaceful.” The words are taken from a new documentary – mostly filmed in Jamaica and also called Reincarnated. Made by the youth publisher Vice, it was launched at the Toronto Film Festival. Snoop’s conversion is having a multimedia launch.
At the age of 41, this married father of three children is apparently ready to leave his mack daddy days behind and embrace a new philosophy. So is this Snoop’s coming of age? Can we take him seriously? For Rastafarianism is a serious practice, rooted in Bible study, meditation and a strict diet. “Smoking weed and loving Bob Marley and reggae music is not what defines the Rastafari indigenous culture,” Snoop was recently warned by the Ethio-Africa Diaspora Union Millennium Council in an angry letter apparently prompted by the former pimp’s loose language in recent interviews promoting his new record.
More damagingly for someone who is trying to begin a fresh career as a reggae artist, Bunny Wailer – the genre’s greatest living icon and a practising Rasta – has denounced the American as an imposter, accusing him of “outright fraudulent use of Rastafari community’s personalities and symbolism”. The morals of hip-hop are often confused, but “keeping it real” is a requisite trait. “I’ve always been me. I’ve never faked the funk,” Snoop protested recently. He evolved into Snoop Lion following a visit to a temple of the Rastafarian Nyahbinghi Order in Jamaica.
Snoop’s given name was hardly lacking in resonance. Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jnr grew up in Long Beach, California, in a neighbourhood infested with the Crip gangsters whom he would later reference in his music. [. . .]
Snoop is not renowned as a wordsmith, though lyric writing is a key attribute in a rapper. The quality of his output between his debut album and Reincarnated is variable. He has struggled to convince some fans that he can work independently of Dre. (His work on the 2001 Dre anthem “Still D.R.E.” was another career highlight.) But he is admired and liked by his peers where jealousies can have deadly consequences. “You might not realise how extensive and hot Snoop’s body of work is until you go to a concert and start hearing all of those hits back to back,” said the rapper Kool Moe Dee of Snoop’s live performances. [. . .]