A hip-hop icon's chronicle of reincarnated rap culture
By Elena Oumano
Rapper Snoop Dogg's not the first African-American musician to be smitten by reggae culture. For the most part, though, Black American traditions, both religious and musical, are too entrenched and compelling themselves to cede to Haile Selassie worship over the one drop riddim. Still, old school Rasta-reggae's fiery moral rhetoric, loping beats, and marijuana-laced visions of peace, love, and equal rights haven't lost their appeal, as evidenced by the newly converted Snoop. This well-crafted documentary, Reincarnated follows an older, perhaps wiser Snoop, now distanced from the violence of his O.G. rapper persona and his penchant for walking girls on leashes, as he explores Jamaica, the birthplace of Jah music, and joins in its effort to revive a flagging cultural dream that the universal language of reggae will bring the world together.
There's always been a Jamaican flava to Snoop, as some observe in the film, and it's not just the permanent wreath of ganja smoke encircling his head; it's also in his own cranked-down rhythms and the left turns in his personal style. Over the course of 98 minutes, as he divides his time between lushly filmed touristic sites such as Port Antonio's seaside Geejam compound of state-of-the-art recording facilities and luxury guest cottages where he knocks out Reincarnated, his surprisingly authentic-Jafaikan accent included-debut reggae album, and the harsher realities of downtown Kingston's Tivoli Gardens and Trench Town, he morphs from Dogg to Lion before the viewer's eyes.
It would be easy to dismiss Reincarnated, film and album, as an aging American rapper's desperate scramble for currency. But there's no denying Snoop's sincerity here and the film neatly interlaces its Jamaican scenes with footage from his American experience accompanied by his perceptive commentary on the parallels between ghetto life in urban California and Jamaica. Despite on-screen interactions with reggae icons like Bunny "Wailer" Livingston and Marley's son Damien, Snoop doesn't come across as overly Bobish or making what would be a foolish bid indeed for Marley's mantle. In this film, at least, he's modest and gracious, a reformed man trying to practice the One Love he's now preaching.
A telling moment takes place in Tivoli Gardens, where over 70 people recently died trying to keep the government from extraditing their "don," Christopher "Dudus" Coke, to the U.S. where he's now imprisoned. When a rum-addled local gets in Snoop's face, he smiles and mildly counters, "You need some of this Cali weed," passes him a spliff, and everyt'ing is irie, mon.
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