I don't mind when artists step outside of their genres. I loved Kanye's 808s and Heartbreak. Flying Lotus's Duality mixtape under his Captain Murphy moniker was one of the most interesting rap albums of last year. And I think it's cool that k-os did a rock album.
Snoop Dogg's just released a reggae album. I really hoped I'd like it. Not because I love Snoop Dogg but because I didn't want him to be (any more of) a joke. He did, after all, contribute some great rap songs to the 90s (Murder Was The Case, Gin And Juice), and some really famous ones the following decade (Beautiful, Drop It Like It's Hot). And, I like reggae music, and would welcome a good commercially successful reggae album. For a genre that exudes positivity and love, it doesn't get enough of either.
But Snoop Dogg (er, Snoop Lion) didn't just make a reggae album. He co-opted the entire Rastafarian movement to remake his image, and it reeks like a publicity stunt. A couple of Jamaica vacations and an idiotic name change do not a Rastafari make.
The Rastafari movement has a near-100 year history in Jamaica, and is deeply spiritual, even religious, for many. As an ideology and way of life it deserves respect and consideration, and not to be bandied about in the name of record sales. I'm not saying Snoop doesn't believe its tenets, just that it's suspiciously fortuitous he had a documentary crew in tow when this reinvention happened.
With the Diplo-executive-produced Reincarnated album, he has won over a number of critics, including some from the CBC and Pitchfork. And maybe that's because it's hard to hate on a record with songs like No Guns Allowed - an album strong point with an inarguable message.
But unlike Drake and Cori B. (Snoop's daughter), who appear on the track, Snoop has been arrested a number of times on gun-related charges. We're supposed to believe that this is a newly mature Snoop. But I'm skeptical that this phase will last.
What makes it different from Snoop's very profitable Pimp era of the early to mid-2000s, in which he donned extravagant, 70s-style pimp-wear, travelled with a gaggle of hos, and sang "I'm 'bout to show you how my pimp hand is way strong?" At the time, Snoop says in his documentary, he was living out every little boy's dream. (Shucks, who can blame him then?) Anyway, being a pimp was very profitable for Snoop, spawning some of his most successful singles.
Unfortunately, Reincarnated will probably be among the bestselling reggae albums this year.
And here I am contributing to the hype, and to Snoop's cause, and his pocketbook. But I couldn't resist warning you: this is probably just a dogg in lion's clothing.