In the world of rock, the suggestion "it's better to burn out, than fade away" has been debunked so thoroughly that the prospect of seeing 70-year-old Sir Mick Jagger strut onstage fills stadiums. And the irony of their classic lyric -- "hope I die before I get old" -- isn't stopping The Who from reliving their mod years in the upcoming Quadrophrenia tour despite being well past their self-imposed expiry date. Hip hop, on the other hand, continues to be a young man's game where longevity is often undermined by homicide, incarceration, insolvency or a generation gap that sidelines pioneers like Grand Master Flash and Rakim.
Against this background Reincarnated, the new documentary on Snoop Dogg, is a fascinating in-depth account of what happens when a famous OG (original gangsta) really becomes an middle-aged OG. Directed by Vice Magazine global editor Andy Capper (The Vice Guide To Liberia), the film chronicles a month-long pilgrimage to Jamaica by the 40-year-old star where he records a reggae album and ends up reborn as Snoop Lion, the Rastafarian.
When Snoop Lion first debuted as a reggae artist at Toronto's Hoxton club in August during the Caribana festival, critics suspected his intentions were as real as his hastily braided "locks." Claiming to be the reincarnation of Bob Marley diminished his credibility even further; Snoop was already 10 years old when the reggae legend died in 1981. As such, the faux patois in lead-off single "La La La" triggered snide references to Snoop Lyin' across social networks.
Through its translucent honesty and depth, however, Reincarnated reveals a rapper who clearly has gone through a transformation bookended by the same factors that also shaped the music legend Bob Marley: poverty, violence, collaboration and ultimately global stardom. Between visits to hidden marijuana fields in Jamaica's Blue Mountains and rough Kingston neighborhoods to a rarely seen Nyabinghi Rasta ceremony where Snoop is given the Ethiopian name, Berhane ("The Light"), Reincarnated is perhaps the most insightful account of an artist grappling with mid-life angst since Metallica's Some Kind Of Monster. And true to character, Snoop tackles his existential struggle with humor, aplomb, self-reflection and weed. Lots and lots of weed. Indeed, one of the funniest scenes involves the aforementioned trip to the Blue Mountains where, after inhaling some of the purest ganja anywhere, Daz the ever-blazed cousin, is literally knocked off his feet, fuzzingly announcing to the camera "I'm smoking a blunt in the jungle!" A more serious scene also involves Daz, chilling alongside a freestyling Snoop in a SUV, receives a call informing him that his young nephew has passed. The specter of death is aptly recurs throughout the otherwise upbeat film.
Throughout Reincarnated there are telling instances of a recording process where Snoop and wunderkind producer Diplo develop songs supported by a team of engineers, singers and musicians including the joyfully sagacious Bunny Wailer (who renamed the Dogg to Lion) and venerable ex-Police drummer, Stewart Copeland. Previews of several fresh sounding reggae tracks are heard including "Ashtrays and Heartbreaks" -- a poignant song for deceased friends and family. In one scene, Snoop confesses a need to record "softer" music for various reasons including an admission "my songs are too hard. I know Obama wants me to come to the White House, but what the fuck can I perform?"
Whether this career and spiritual shift for a long established gangsta brand is successful hardly matters. The documentary is likely to become a rap/reggae/pothead classic, adding to enduring relevance of hip hop's favorite uncle. Bless up Ras Lion.