Arts Online

Snoop Lion's Reincarnated wins over a skeptic

Wed, 24 Apr 2013 11:45:53 -0500

Snoop Snoop Lion, formerly Snoop Dogg, performs at SXSW 2013 on March 14 in Austin, Texas. (Rodolfo Gonzalez/Austin American Statesman/Associated Press)

If you're as passionate about music as I am it's easy to dismiss an American reggae album with Miley Cyrus featured as a guest. Yet here I am, Beats headphones slung over my ears, nodding in agreement at Snoop Lion's reggae pop album, Reincarnated, which hit stores yesterday.

Although the former rapper's Rastafarian 'awakening' and simultaneous retirement from hip hop was well-documented in last year's documentary, Reincarnated, which premiered at TIFF, few people had heard the music until this month.

That's when No Guns Allowed came out, a bouncy but melancholic sermon against gun violence, featuring Toronto rapper Drake lamenting on April's tragic Danzig Street shooting in Toronto.

Some critics, like Pitchfork's Corban Goble, remained optimistic about the upcoming record, writing, "For those still questioning the sincerity of Snoop Dogg's reggae-centric resurrection as Snoop Lion, know this: musically, he really means it."

What makes Snoop a spokesman?

Others, such as myself, did not. I was skeptical of Snoop Lion promoting himself as a spokesman for the abolition of gun violence.

Being a big hip-hop guy, I took issue with Snoop Lion's sudden departure from the "keeping it real" mantra, which goes something like this:

So and so rhymes about making millions selling drugs when really he's a former corrections officer — he's not keeping it real. He sucks. Snoop Lion's claiming to be the reincarnation of Bob Marley when really he's only vacationed in Jamaica and that's his exposure to Rastafarianism — he's not keeping it real. He sucks.

Rap, from its very inception, has been a cross between reportage and ghetto poetry. The government cuts funding for music in schools, so the next generation of James Browns and Marvin Gayes make do with two turntables and a microphone.

Having risen from a culture that is historically excluded, naturally these young, talented musicians communicated differently. Rappers grew up watching their heroes, such as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, murdered on national television, and distanced themselves from the mainstream. That's how hip hop was born — as a reaction — and it clings to its symbols and its exclusive (sometimes abrasive) language still.

Potential for mainstream acceptance

With that in mind, I can't knock Snoop Lion or what he's trying to do with Reincarnated. He has a lot of positive things to say, he's just never said them in a language decipherable, or tolerable, to the masses.

"There's so much death, there's so much destruction, there's so much mayhem and there's so much misunderstanding in music," he says in the first track.

"We're losing so many great musicians, and we don't love them while they're here, and I want to be loved while I'm here, and the only way to get love is to give love."

At a total of 16 songs with bonus tracks, Reincarnated includes standout records Lighters Up with its bouncy horns and bass guitar strums, the Jamaican dance hall ode to tropical nectars, Fruit Juice and So Long, a laid-back reggae number with lots of steel drums and funky bass.

Whether you want to bump and grind on the dance floor or recline oceanside, you'll feel cheerier after a dose of Reincarnated. It combines syrupy pop production values with a tinge — a vacation's worth — of the islands. It would be interesting to hear what the Jamaicans think of it.

Snoop Lion says his new direction, in music and life, is about unity and love. Here's a guy raised in the most violent neighbourhoods of Los Angeles, who's made a career in a culture that prides itself on exclusivity and suddenly he embraces pop.

That's what Reincarnated is at its core, a mainstream pop album, tastefully produced by the likes of Diplo, of the M.I.A. Paper Planes phenomenon, but still featuring Miley Cyrus. A month ago I would have called that resignation, to the fact you can't be yourself to get heard by the masses. Now I'd call it reincarnation.

Or better yet, growing up.

And that's never easy.

— Peter Marrack

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