Over the past year or so, Snoop Dogg and his camp have been working diligently behind the scenes to rebrand the 40-year-old legendary gangsta rapper into Snoop Lion, a nebulous, Rastafarian persona whose only parallel to Snoop Dogg could be found in an affinity for marijuana. As the story goes, Snoop Dogg experienced a cathartic awakening on an impromptu trip to Jamaica – “the spirit called me,” according to the man born Calvin Broadus – and as result, ended up recording an album with Diplo. To accompany that album, Reincarnated, Snoop recruited VICE to film a full-length documentary to shed light on Snoop’s transformation.
While Snoop Dogg isn’t the first musician to change his moniker, his “reincarnation,” so to speak, has received a mixed reaction (I embraced the change almost as soon as it was announced, writing on AllHipHop.com that the public should give him a chance). All the superlatives aside, Reincarnated offers up plenty of refreshing reggae riddims and a very approachable sound that is some of Snoop’s best work in years.
Setting the pace as the album opener is “Rebel Way,” a hazy, mid-tempo song that presents a singing-rapping Snoop Lion. Over the Diplo-produced, roots reggae-inspired jam, The Lion warns that “you can’t run away/you gotta face this,” seemingly to make sure his fans stand with him. Transitioning to “Here Comes The King,” the first of two G-rated, feel-good positive songs on Reincarnated (“No Guns Allowed” with daughter Cori B and Drake being the other), Snoop is in full Lion mode. On the album’s standout, “Lighters Up,” Snoop is joined by dancehall stars Mavado and Popcaan in a call for unity, which, given his background, is quite a powerful statement. Elsewhere, on songs such as “So Long,” Diplo provides a sound that can be best described as adult contemporary reggae.
On an otherwise cohesive album, the EDM-inspired “Get Away” and flat-out corny, female-praising “The Good Good” sound out of place. Same can be said about “Fruit Juice,” a bombastic riddim that, oddly enough, is a pro-juicing song. Coming from Snoop, who follows with “Smoke The Weed” (feat. Collie Buddz), that’s quite ironic and, however admirable, just doesn’t add up. One of the biggest surprises of the entire Reincarnated album is “Ashtrays and Heartbreaks” with a Miley Cyrus-sung chorus. However unlikely on paper, it is undeniably good and is perhaps the best collaboration Snoop has done since jumping on the remix to Katy Perry’s “California Girls.”
When all the smoke clears and it just comes down to the music, the transformation from Snoop Dogg to Snoop Lion is a very palpable one, something that can be felt intrinsically in the music. While Snoop Lion is far from “Bob Marley reincarnated,” his new-found persona has redeeming qualities. Snoop Dogg can always revert to his substantial catalogue, but Reincarnated marks an emergence of an alter ego befitting one of hip-hop’s elder statesmen.