The rapper formerly known as Snoop Dogg has announced that he is changing his name to Snoop Lion. The new moniker is part of the rapper’s transformation from an iconic hip-hop artist to an aspiring reggae singer – one that comes as both a surprise and, perhaps, an inevitable career move. That move includes a new Diplo-produced single called La La La and the upcoming documentary Reincarnated, set to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.
Some have been taken aback by the fact that Snoop does not consider this a lark (Popdust can hardly believe that he intends to record an entire album, not just one track), and even the trailer itself calls this an unexpected journey of a modern icon. Snoop declares that he is tired of rapping, and has made it clear to the press that he has no intention of rhyming again.
But does this twist really come so far out of left field? When last week, Drake declared that he was the first to meld rapping and singing together successfully, many were quick to point out that any number of artists had done it before him – and better – including Snoop, who has sung the hooks on tracks like Sensual Seduction and shared the mic with his pal Willie Nelson on country track Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.
Not to mention his usual, one-of-a-kind smooth delivery. Snoop’s vocal stylings have even inspired celebrated music critic Robert Christgau to, however reluctantly, place the rapper in the same elite category of singers as Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, and Kurt Cobain, among a few select others. Snoop’s ability to glide effortlessly into a softer, more sing-songy tone made him stand out from the other gangsta rappers of the ’90s, cementing his voice as an instantly recognizable rap institution. A transition into reggae only seems fitting for him and what Christgau highlights as his unique vocal grain.
If the trailer is any indication of Snoop’s intentions, the rapper clearly wants to be taken seriously in this next phase of his career and life. The first few moments of the video are dedicated to some of the low points in his past – the murder charges, the death of his close friend and frequent collaborator Nate Dogg – that forced him to make a new path. While it may be easy to speculate that the rapper’s venture into reggae and conversion to Rastafarianism is only fitting for one whose fame as an artist in recent years has perhaps been eclipsed by his image as a marijuana enthusiast, Snoop’s foray into a new spiritual and musical world seems to go much deeper. His self-purging of his old persona – (Expletive) Snoop Dogg, he says in the recording booth – echoes Garth Brooks’ desire to retreat into the mind of Chris Gaines and gain safe passage into a new musical genre. But Snoop says he isn’t just reinventing his artistic persona, he’s reinventing himself: I didn’t just wanna come here and say I made a record in Jamaica and grew some dreadlocks, he says in one clip.
It is unclear whether fans will take to Snoop Lion – the response to La La La on YouTube seems to be mixed – but I support the move. In his place as an elder of the hip-hop community (Snoop will be 41), he is no longer complacent about being known as Uncle Snoop – and why should he be?