There are few success stories in the world as improbable as that of Snoop Dogg, who went from being a gang member who was destined for an early grave to being one of the world's most beloved superstars, transcending the worlds of gangster rap and music to not only become a brand and presence across multiple platforms, generations and genres, but to almost become his own philosophy. Still, when I heard that Snoop Dogg now wanted to be referred to as Snoop Lion, had converted to the Rastafari religion, and was recording a reggae album, I was extremely skeptical -- it all just sounded silly -- and musicians who suddenly switched genres (or worse, names) rarely pulled it off.
But after seeing Reincarnated, the documentary about Snoop's trip to Jamaica and how his life and career have led him to this bold transformation, I knew that underestimating Snoop is a bad strategy. Reincarnated is an incredibly intimate film that captures a truly singular, captivating person as he re-examines his life and accomplishments and forges a bold new path and identity more consistent with the man he has become -- a man of peace, positivity, and spirituality. Despite my skepticism, Reincarnated is one of the best music documentaries I've ever seen, and it is a film that even non-fans of rap, Snoop or reggae will find inspiring. Watch my ReThink Review of Reincarnated below (transcript following).
Reincarnated is in select theaters now. To find out more about the movie and where you can see it, go here.
When I heard that rapper Snoop Dogg now wants to be called Snoop Lion and would be releasing a reggae album, I, like a lot of people, had a nice scoff. After all, for over 20 years, Snoop Dogg has been virtually synonymous with rap, and there's always something ridiculous about an artist changing their name to take a stab at another genre -- I'm looking at you, Garth Brooks, or should I say Chris Gaines. Besides, are we really supposed to believe that Snoop Dogg, the quintessential West Coast gangster from Long Beach, is now a Rastafarian? So when I went to see Reincarnated, a documentary about Snoop's trip to Jamaica to record his reggae album, I was fully prepared for some ridiculousness. But I was very quickly reminded that Snoop has spent his entire career defying expectations and breaking barriers, and should never, ever be underestimated. And neither should Reincarnated, which, to my surprise, is one of the best music documentaries I've ever seen.
In the beginning of the film, Snoop says something that sounds like a brag but is simply the truth: that Snoop has been at the top of the rap game from the moment he burst onto the scene in 1992, has made songs that will live forever, and has literally accomplished everything there is to achieve in the world of rap. But even though Snoop, aka Calvin Broadus Jr., has barely aged since we first saw him with Dr. Dre in the "Deep Cover" video, the film finds him at the age of 40 wanting to leave a legacy more positive than songs mostly about violence, crime and objectifying women.
So Snoop travels to Jamaica, the home of one of Snoop's heroes, Bob Marley, to see the birthplace of reggae, get the blessing of Marley's descendants and bandmates, and learn more about the indigenous Jamaican religion, Rastafari. At the same time, Snoop plans to soak in the vibe of Jamaica and translate it into a reggae album free of rapping recorded with DJ/producer Diplo and his team, which is a fascinating process to watch. All of this, of course, is done while smoking a heroic amount of weed, apparently during every waking moment.
But Reincarnated goes beyond reggae, since to explain what brought Snoop to Jamaica, it's necessary to look at where he's been. Using new interviews, Snoop recounts his mindboggling rise from frequently incarcerated gang member, drug dealer and pimp to an international rap superstar and one of the most charismatic and likable figures in all of entertainment. Yet Snoop could never shake the specters of violence and death, with his 1993 murder case, the deaths of close friends Tupac Shakur and Nate Dogg, the dangerous fallout from his relationship with Suge Knight and Death Row Records, and an unexpected tragedy that even reaches Snoop all the way in Jamaica.
But with Snoop in such a reflective mood and wanting to break from his past, this is hardly a retread of Behind the Music. Snoop shows a vulnerability and earnestness I've never seen before, revealing pain, weariness and regrets Snoop usually keeps hidden behind facades of a gangster or a fun-loving pimp. At the same time, he still manages to be the funny, charismatic icon he seems to inhabit so effortlessly.
Reincarnated is that great type of documentary that follows an utterly captivating subject doing what he does best at a unique and extraordinary moment. Snoop's life story practically embodies the history of gangster rap, from its dangerous roots to its dizzying heights and its pointlessly violent lows, and having survived it, Snoop now hopes to leave it behind and reinvent himself both musically and spiritually as an advocate for peace, love, and togetherness. While the jury's out on whether this will result in great music, Snoop has proven people wrong before and has more than earned the right to take any musical foray he wants. Snoop's motives and the respect he has for reggae, its legends, and Rastafari seem totally genuine, and the life and career that brought him to this point is a totally fascinating one that speaks volumes about modern America, the black experience, the growth of an artist, and a uniquely American form of music.
Follow Jonathan Kim on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ReThinkReviews