You’ve probably heard a lot about Snoop Lion in 2012. But, in case you haven’t, the story basically goes like this- after an epiphanic journey to Jamaica, famed rapper Snoop Dogg changed his name to Snoop Lion, hooked up with Major Lazer (the side project of Diplo), and recorded a reggae record.
If Snoop wants to make a reggae record, that’s cool. Who cares right? He’s a malleable artist who has made all kinds of music- he even recorded a country track (with Willy Nelson, of course). And who’s to judge his transcendent experience in Jamaica? If Snoop wants grow dreads and become a rasta, more power to him.
If anything is for sure, he’s definitely got our interest. Still, we’re pretty skeptical.
What should we take from it? Is it appropriation of a culture, or a real, legitimate foray into reggae? Why is Snoop making a reggae record with American producers and not a slew of Jamaican board operators? Is it any more acceptable for Snoop to let loose a fake patois accent on “La La La” than, for instance, a California reggae band with a white lead singer? Where’s the line between promoting and celebrating a style of music and culture, and appropriating it? Why is Jahdan Blakkamoore not credited on his most recent single despite being a contributor? And why is the American music press not bringing any of this up?
We decided to parse out a bit of what we know so far about the project in hopes of giving us and YOU a better idea of what it’s all about.
This whole transformation begins with the documentary Reincarnation, which followed Snoop’s journey to Jamaica and his eventual, supposed transformation into a Rastafarian. The film premiered on September 7th at the Toronto film festival and doesn’t pull any punches. Incredible PR push for a forthcoming album or a real life transformation?
Snoop is conscious of the touchy issue of appropriating a style of music without any nod to the country of origin. As he explained in an interview at Miss Lily’s, Snoop wanted to help with the struggles of the Jamaican people and not just take their music. As he said, “I saw a lot of poverty, I saw a lot of poor people, and I saw a lot of people not eating…. I didn’t want to just come out there, steal their music, steal their culture, and run back to America and get rich off of it.”
The result was Mine Gardens, a charitable group that will develop self-sustainable gardens in Jamaican towns to provide Ital fruit juices to junior high school students. Judging from their Facebook, the project does seem to be getting off the ground with two gardens developed in low-income areas of Kingston. To learn more, check out their Causes page.
Print and online publications that never cover reggae or dancehall are all over these new Snoop Lion tracks. Which makes sense to a certain extent. They’ve covered Snoop for decades, and he’s long proven himself to be one of the most bankable, quotable, sell-able figures in hip-hop. In fact- he is perhaps the ONLY rapper from his era to still consistently sell records. Why stop just because he’s decided to switch genres?
That being said, wouldn’t it benefit the readers of these publications if the writers covering those tracks actually had some real knowledge of either dancehall or reggae? Thus far, by the way they’ve written about the tracks, it’s rather obvious that writers are working with little knowledge of the history (or current state) of reggae. Think about it: would Afropop write about Norwegian death metal without consulting an expert on the music? Of course, not.
Maybe this seems like no big deal, but it does run the risk of inaccurately contextualizing and framing the music in a way that is fundamentally false.
Jamaican DJ Guest Spots
Snoop Lion’s most recent track “Lighters Up” features Movado and Popcaan, two of the biggest dancehall artists out of Jamaica. It’s also important to note that Popcaan is a prodigy of Vybz Kartel, who had a long-running beef with Movado (one that mirrored the fighting between their conflicting factions/gangs Gully and Gaza). So, despite the fact that the feud between the two has subsided as of late, having these two on the same track is kind of a big deal (and also an example of something that NO ONE has seemed to catch).
Ultimately, their appearance seems to be more about the opportunity to reach a wider (read American) audience than about contributing to a real-deal dancehall record. After all, for any artist outside the U.S. of A (and most within it), if Snoop picks up the phone and asks you to guest on a track, you say “yes.” The amount of coverage earned from featuring on a Snoop track is invaluable, especially for a Jamaican artist with crossover potential. Hopefully, this has the intended result: to bring dancehall and Jamaican artists to a wider audience.
Production on the new album is being headed up by Major Lazer, a side project for Diplo, an American-producer known for taking the signature sound of various styles and genres from both within the states and internationally, and then remixing/re-fixing them into his own sound. Such use has not come without controversy.
The real question, though, is: why isn’t Snoop hooking up with any Jamaican producers or musicians? Wouldn’t they be the obvious choice for making a legitimate reggae record?
So far, when Snoop has branched out beyond Major Lazer, it has been to tap producers like Ariel Rechtshaid of Foreign Born (another U.S.-based band), 6blocc AKA Raoul Gonzalez of Long Beach, and Dre Skull of NYC. So far, the only Jamaican to appear on the production is long-time Jamaican drummer Supa Dups, who is more known for his work in U.S. hip-hop and R&B.
I guess we’ll have to wait and see if Jamaica is better represented behind the boards once the album drops.
Reincarnation is due out early 2013.