In 2001, growling batboy Billy Corgan abandoned his Smashing Pumpkins mentality of “God is empty, just like me” to write positive, spiritual odes like “Jesus, I” and “Yeah!” for his doomed religious venture Zwan (which he recently associated with “thousands of lies upon lies upon lies.”)
In 1979, Jewish-born Bob Dylan reintroduced himself as a Christian with gospel albums like Slow Train Coming. In 1992 Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys rapped over samples of his own greatest hits on a Youtube gem/my future wedding song called “Smart Girls.”
Oh, and while we’re at it, Snoop Dogg is no longer calling himself Snoop Dogg, but Snoop Lion, because he’s making reggae music now. Why? To quote the Lonely Island song “Ras Trent” about an Ivy League stoner with dreadlocks, Snoop Lion has been bit by “Rastafarian-ism!”
While Reincarnated is a documentary built on the ego of Snoop Dogg, it is but a singular episode in an entire saga of artistic evolution. With this tale of Dogg turned Lion, Reincarnated is not only an unconvincing look into how someone would drastically change their direction, but most of all an indictment of the pretentiousness often inherent in the creative shift of many mainstream performers as they attempt to evolve, while maintaining marketability.
Presented by Vice Magazine, Reincarnated is the story of how an extremely successful gangsta rapper travels to Jamaica and decides he wants to make reggae music. (In his words, Snoop Lion says, “Part of me going to Jamaica was to find the truth.”)
He flies to the country and meets its civilians and artists, like Bunny Wailer (stepbrother of Bob) and is invited to experience Jamaican culture. Snoop Lion channels his inspiration from the environment into electronic music created in a fancy resort studio by producers like Diplo and then he smokes a lot of weed (weed gets a special thanks in the movie’s credits).
During this journey, he even identifies with Rastafari culture so much that he aims to change his identity entirely, changing his performer name from Snoop Dogg to Snoop Lion.
Of all featured personalities in the film, aside from Snoop Lion, perhaps the most resonant is the man’s goofy “cuz’n” Daz, who seems placed in the movie to provide its essential Id. Here is a man simply along for the journey, basking in the amount of marijuana available to him, ultimately missing the point of the trip. He’s like an embodiment of the other reason a tourist would venture to Jamaica, which certainly keeps things in perspective.
Snoop Lion does display reverence for the people and he at least appears interested in what they have to tell him about Rastafarian culture, but the the movie itself still leaves it open as to how much “Daz” Snoop Lion has in himself, especially when he takes all of this back to the states.
How much does Snoop Lion actually understand Rastafarian culture? How much different is he from the title character in that song “Ras Trent,” who loves Rastafarian culture simply because marijuana is a religious element?
This is a documentary that certainly ends at the wrong point in its story. The last scene, in which Snoop Lion walks onstage to play for Ras Trents everywhere, closes the bubble that this movie is made for, as opposed to making the film more open for an audience made up equally of fans and cynics. With his tale being told in a doc such as this, one would like to see how Snoop Lion stands behind his change and also how his audience accepts it or doesn’t.
Here’s a tasty epilogue, which should be a part of the main feature: Bunny Wailer has since come out against Snoop Lion and criticizes him for misrepresenting Rastafari culture. While the timing is certainly too late to be included, there’s still no way that the attitude of Reincarnated would dare venture to this type of discussion, despite its importance to such a radical artistic change at the expense of a vulnerable culture.
Reincarnated’s conclusion, in which Snoop Lion takes the stage (still using his microphone holder that says “SNOOP DOGG” in big jewels) confirms that this documentary is at best a heads up for Snoop Dogg/Lion’s fans that times have a’changed (at least temporarily) and that a legend of gangsta rap now sings songs called “No Guns Allowed,” albeit with an incredibly phony Jamaican accent.
At the same time, there’s an irony with the type of biographical content in this doc, as Reincarnated touches upon the “Behind the Music” details any fan of Snoop Lion would know, sans a couple of factoids.
Snoop Lion’s journey certainly repeats the story of many major artists, but the elements of pretentiousness in this change are super-sized, especially considering the initial questionable artistic merit of Snoop Lion’s particular craft. Here is someone who doesn’t even write his own songs and he can’t sing his melodies; aside from lyrics. He is detached from the creative aspects of his own music.
The genre or style that he chooses to associate himself with can be picked and dropped just like any of his other physical accessories, and they have the same surface level value. With Reincarnated, Snoop Lion’s reinvention is equated to a person who simply adds red and yellows to a usually black wardrobe. It is made very apparent here that if Snoop Lion wants to wake up tomorrow morning and decide to be a country star, that instant shift is possible.
Reincarnated plays best as a travelogue, instead of a doc that aims to challenge impressions of its subject. The documentary seems to hope most that people (fans, really) will best understand Snoop Lion and even Rastafarian culture, by simply seeing the sights and people he did.
Snoop’s journey through Rastafarian culture is our journey as well, and perhaps that’s a bad thing; at the end of the documentary we are not fully convinced of the sincerity of his latest obsession, aside from the fact that his daughter says he is happier.
A brief discussion with him about the commercialization of Rastafarian culture seems to fall on a nodding head with deaf ears and this moment bugs the rest of the doc. It also brings to light a question not dared ask by this egocentric documentary; how can we feel sympathy for someone who has already made huge profits off his image of violence and general gangsta negativity? A promo movie like Reincarnated proves that this apparent reincarnation is going to preach ignorance more than anything like “peace, love and struggle.”
Snoop Lion says in the film that he sees his life as “stages,” which is fitting to his saga as an entertainer who has done many different things. However, this Snoop doc certainly doesn’t indicate this new stage to be more significant than any of his many others; this apparent spiritual and mental reincarnation feels equal to that time he directed Hustlaz: Diary of a Pimp, or when he starred in that crappy horror flick Bones. Here’s hoping his upcoming country album “Snoop Tractor” will make for a better doc in 2014.