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What To Take Away from Snoop Lion?

snoop-dogg-snoop-lion-8.7.2012
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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.


Reincarnation

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?

Mind Gardens

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.

The Press

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.

Producers

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.

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  • Kasata

    What to take away from Snoop Lion? Music. The tracks sound great.

    1- He has Jamaicans on the record in conspicuous places, Mavado, and Popcaan, who cares if he doesn’t have a Jamaican drummer. Maybe he has production people in place in the US that he has a great work-flow and relationship with, those kind of relationships make great records.

    2- If you want to scrutinize the production team then lets scrutinize all the African musicians who have used American musicians and producers as well. Toumani? Rail Band? Everything ever produced on World Circuit? Those are great records.

    3- Appropriation of culture is a non-issue really, there is no way to “steal” culture as many think. Were Jamaicans appropriating culture when they were imitating American vocal trios in the 60′s and 70′s? Appropriation of culture is not the opposite of legitimacy. If you are making a musical product that you believe in and are inspired by, or even curious about, another culture in the process that is fine. You are subject to critical stylistic scrutiny but not procedural scrutiny. The bulk of this piece on Snoop is procedural scrutiny. Snoops process is up to him.

    3a) Was Million Styles appropriating culture when the European born toaster won a dancehall toasting competition in Jamaica? I think he was actually contributing to it.

    4- It actually seems like Snoop has given all of the journalists and fans a lot to work with in terms of the context for his inspiration around this project. He has’t left a lot of critical questions un answered with regards to the the “what” and “why” of this project.

    So why, Afropop are you skeptical? Because a non-Jamaican cannot make a reggae album? Maybe it’s just music that has arisen out of a genuine inspiration. Reggae music itself is a mixture of traditions if you go back far enough, so what really is the problem here?

    • http://twitter.com/Saxonius Saxon Baird

      Hi Kasata –

      Thanks for your response. Although, I encourage a re-reading because you seem to approach this piece as me calling out Snoop but rather it was more an examination of the various aspects of that have gone into the personality of Snoop Lion.

      When referencing cultural appropriation, I am speaking of the appropriation of a minority culture by a dominant culture in that the said “minority culture” is somehow subordinated in some socio-political, economic, etc, way to the appropriating culture. (This would also speak to your point on African musicians , Jamaican vocal groups, etc). Which actually makes Snoop Lion even more interesting and complex since within the U.S. he comes from a minority culture both racially (african-american) and culturally (hip-hop).

      While you can’t necessarily “steal” a culture, you can certainly re-frame and recontextualize its history, origin, etc. Will Snoop do that with a single reggae record? Of course, not. Does that mean we should ignore the complexities and circumstances that exist surrounding it? No, we shouldn’t do that either. We’re keeping the conversation going. Something, as mentioned, much of the press around the record has failed to do.

      Also, I think you fail to take into consideration the economic factor here. Where is the money going and where is the money being made? I think wondering if this is one big PR stunt to promote a new record or if this is a real-deal reggae record is a legitimate question. If you yourself were going to set out to make a heavy metal record, would you turn to musicians and producers who had mostly worked in an entirely separate genre?

      Also, just for clarity I did mention that both Mavado and Popcaan were featured. And I actually mentioned that he DOES have a Jamaican drummer, not that he does not.

      Finally, the amount of complexity and nuance that goes into “dancehall” and how it is performed and produced is not something one can pick up on a whim. Million Stylez is clearly well-versed in these details and I am a big fan of him and makes the comparison between Snoop Lion and him a bit of a gas, innit?

      (Also, we actually have delved into the nuances of dancehall a bit in a program called “From Shanghai Jazz to Tokyo Rastafari” detailing the rise of dancehall and sound systems in Japan, I encourage you to give it a listen.)

      • Kasata

        Hi Saxon,

        Thanks for the response and continuing the dialog. After reading your response I still feel that your assessment of the “complexities and circumstances” surrounding the album are colored by a kind of guardian complex around what constitutes a legitimate reggae record. I say this because the piece *does* set a tone of calling Snoop out. When you say, “Still we remain skeptical” that does actually amount to calling Snoop out because it essentially means that the burden of proof is on him to prove that he has made a legitimate album. One sees this a bit in the world music press and in Ethnomusicology. A reviewer will set out criterion that determines who can make an African album, who can make a reggae album, what they can and can’t do etc. The fact remains that if you go to Jamaica and Africa you see a lot of crossing over in terms of genre and a lot of interest in experimentation and a lot of folks from those places wanting to make albums using conventions from other cultures.

        On the issue of subordination, Snoop has not subordinated Jamaican, Reggae, or Rasta culture at all, if anything this album is an aggrandization of it.

        Thirdly, with the “Mind Gardens” project Snoop has made sure some money is flowing back to Jamaica. So where is money going to and where is it being made? Well at least some of it IS going back to Jamaica which is more that many would do. not to mention the amount of folks that will now be looking at Jamaica who might’ve not otherwise.

        Also, could this really be a PR stunt? Doesn’t he stand to LOSE more that he can make with Hip-Hops revenue dwarfing Reggae and Dancehall put together for 2 years does this really make any sense at all for Snoop to risk alienating his Hip-Hop fans he’s been developing for so long? It would be an odd strategy for a PR stunt I think. There is no recontextualization of culture here either, Snoop isn’t trying to rewrite rasta history, in fact there is a sense of humility about the whole project, but that’s just my opinion.

        I also felt compelled to respond to your piece because you really didn’t say much about how the music sounds at all before digging into examining whether or not Snoop had the proper permissions to make the record. SInce he made Killer tracks I think he has.

  • faddarootz

    venerable Mad Magazine thinks its all Broadway bound….

    http://www.madmagazine.com/blog/2012/08/03/the-snoop-lion-thing