Directed by Andy Capper.
Hip Hop artist Snoop Dogg changes his name to Snoop Lion, travels to Jamaica, emerges himself in Rastafarian culture and produces his first reggae record.
In July 2012 Snoop Dogg announced his new stage name, Snoop Lion, to mockery from any number of followers. He had travelled Jamaica, converted to Rastafarianism and been renamed by a Rasta priest. This news came a few months after the announcement of a new album, Reincarnation, of which Reincarnation the documentary is a companion film.
Director Andy Capper follows Snoop and his entourage around Jamaica, writing and recording the album, visiting sites of Rasta and reggae heritage, including Trench Town, the home of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, and spending time with the latter himself. We hear about his lifelong affinity for the culture, his adolescence in California gangbanging, his relationship with his wife and children and his desire to bury the Snoop Dogg image and be reborn as a symbol of unity and love.
It’s clear not only from the credits – produced by Snoopadelic Films; Snoop and his wife Shante – but the tone of the film itself that this is made by friends of the man more than interested documentarians. The two are of course not mutually exclusive, a close friend can be the best person to engage with the many facets of a subject, but here it’s clear throughout that we’re watching other people enjoying themselves and promoting an album. (Consider the moment in which Snoop offers a blunt to the camera, smiling knowingly). And for a short while this is a pleasure. Jamaica is a wonderful country to be photographed, the ever-present red/yellow/green tricolour is enormously evocative, and for what I assume is the majority of the audience, being around people puffing thick plumes of herb smoke is calming and comforting.
This also shouldn’t suggest that the film is insular and ignores the possibility of inviting a wider audience. Far from it, Snoop is always a pleasure to be around, and the central conversation around which the film is built sees him quietly introspecting about his youth, giving himself up to police to protect his children from fear, and smiling intriguingly while telling us he “can’t say” who has been out to kill him.
It’s precisely the cut from this moment to another topic which indicates a prominent problem with Reincarnated, which is its reticence from investigating on any but its subject and director’s pretty limited terms. Of course, this isn’t the film’s intent – it’s a self-made confession of sorts (and a promotional tool, presenting Snoop Dogg/Lion as a hero of the masses), so taking issue with this is subjective, not cinematic. I want to know more about Snoop’s life as a pimp, which I’m sure he’s genuine in his rejection of, his understanding that it was a selfish phase and one he can take the principles of – businessman-ship for one – and put to fairer use. But I want to know what brought about this shift in more detail, which is what a 90-minute documentary suggests to you it offers.
Cinematically-speaking the film is in movements dull, intriguing and relaxing. Its insistence on repeatedly reminding us that Rastafarianism is about clarity, love and unity without going into any great depth about its past – both distant and recent, such as the use of herb-smoking, the growth and meaning of reggae music, and the importance of Dudus (aka Christopher Coke, a hugely-respected Jamaican gang leader) – becomes increasingly frustrating. Rather than guiding its audience through the meaning of its star’s spiritual-emotional reincarnation, it becomes a hangout film for the worst kind of stoners, yawning unsubstantiated political statements in a haze of their own egos.
And it’s on this note that the film ends. Snoop is still in many ways the same show-off, Adidas-clad, personalised-silver-mic’d MC when he takes to the stage for a performance. Maybe we would expect more of him, that a change in wardrobe or stage attitude would tell us he has really changed. Or maybe we can take comfort in the fact that he’s not leading people with lyrics about “bitches” anymore.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★