In the life of Snoop Lion (or Doggy Dogg, for those who were done with hip-hop after Chronic 2000), there have been many steps made purely for monetary return. A partial list: various malt liquor endorsements, the AOL commercial co-starring Jerry Stiller, iFizzle, a line of clothing for dogs, an anti-viral ad campaign entitled "Hack is Wack." One is to be excused if news of Reincarnated, the rapper's reggae album produced by Major Lazer and featuring the drumming talent of the Police's Stewart Copeland doesn't set fire to one's creative synapses.
Thank Jah he and his wife Shante co-executive produced a documentary about the making of the album in Jamaica for Vice. Somewhere in those 96 minutes, I started to feel better about things.
Witness, in a scene from Reincarnated the documentary as Snoop stands astride a roof in the Tivoli Gardens neighborhood of Kingston. Was it planned for the Vice cameras, this re-enactment of his first music video in Long Beach? It could have been, right down to the adoring throngs gathered in the street below.
Snoop explains in one of his many sit-downs with the camera that he was ready to "find a new path" for his career.
Reggae seems a likely transition for one of the world's most famous stoners, and the connection to Jamaica does seem to go deep for Snoop. He describes the downtrodden Tivoli Gardens residents -- described in the film as adrift after the extradition and imprisonment of 'hood king Christopher "Dudus" Cook by the United States government on drug trafficking charges -- as spiritual kin to his neighbors back in Long Beach. One things for sure, it doesn't matter if you're in Jamaica or the United States, Snoop is one of those celebrities that everyone loves, no matter how many 40 ozs. he's endorsed.
Don't think that Reincarnated isn't filled with glamour shots of massive branches of Jamaican weed grown in the hills by the Rastas, the camera staring lovingly as Snoop blazes from a host of homemade smoking accoutrement and blunts. Goofy herb hijinx play throughout, most often by Snoop's cousin Daz who has the film's most memorable line: "I'm smoking a blunt in the jungle!"
You do get the impression that Snoop is into Jamaica for more than just the marijuana. Reincarnated follows him as he makes a pilgrimage to Bunny Wailer, who is the first in the film to call him by the new moniker he has halfway adopted these days (Snoop Lion has his own Twitter account these days, but someone is still tweeting from Snoop Dogg's handle.)
He visits Tuff Gong Studio, a school for boys from rough homes famed for creating ace reggae musicians, makes a trip to Bob Marley's original block back in Trench Town, ceremonies with Rastafarian priests. He compares the Marley-Bunny-Peter Tosh tough knocks trinity to that of 213, his original group formed with Nate Dogg and Warren G (Lil 1/2 Dead, that group's less-famous member, is absent from these musings to protect their symmetry.)
Feast your eyes: track offa Reincarnated the album
This is not to say that Reincarnated is a Jamaican album. Though Snoop luvs Tuff Gong, we watch the album itself be recorded in a 10-day stint at the luxe Geejam Studio, which is "also a fully functioning resort," as Diplo describes. The team assembled is light on dread-head. "That shit do look like Scooby Doo when you add these motherfuckers in here," Snoop laughs about his imported album team.
Snoop allows, at the beginning of the film, that he feels he's taken hip-hop as far as he feels he can. "I know Obama wants me to go to the White House, but what the fuck can I perform?" Jamaica provides a respite from SoCal's distractions, although tragedy does still seep into Reincarnated when a younger family member dies. Lay-back reggae beats do seem more fitting to a man who says he wants nothing more than to spend more time with his family (in one touching scene, Shante and the couple's luminous daughter Cori B. contribute vocals to an anti-gun violence track on Reincarnated.)
It's interesting to watch hip-hop legends get old and start dealing with legacy. Snoop has hinted that he's the incarnation of Bob Marley, and in some ways the comparison is apt enough. One wonders what kind of hip-hop Marley would have made, had he lived to this stage in his career. Or, at the risk of heresy: what product endorsements. Tuff Gong kitchen cleaner? Buffalo soldier wings?
Reincarnated opens Fri/15 at Opera Plaza Cinema