Snoop Lion’s ‘Reincarnated’: Album Review

When the rapper formerly known as Snoop Dogg announced in a July 2012 press conference that, after an extended stay in Jamaica earlier that year, he had embraced the island’s religious philosophy of Rastafarianism, changed his name to the more Rasta-friendly Snoop Lion (“dog” is considered derogatory in Jamaican culture), recorded a new Major Lazer-produced album of reggae songs and filmed a documentary about the experience, the whole endeavor smacked of a gimmicky mid-life crisis. Nearly a year later, it seems Snoop is completely sincere about the transformation…but it’s hard not to pick apart the presentation. When you’re commissioning a film documenting a supposedly profound transitional moment in your life, it’s easy for the exercise to seem like a very bored and very stoned millionaire’s very expensive new hobby. Snoop basically admitted as much in the July presser: “Rap is not a challenge to me. I’ve won every accolade you can get in rap, they call me ‘Uncle Snoop’ in rap. When you’re an uncle, it’s time to find something new.”

Granted, that motivation for reinvention is much less cynical than if Snoop tried to tailor himself to become more sonically suited for 2013, like if he had made an entire dubstep album under his DJ Snoopadelic banner. Adopting the trappings of reggae legends Bunny Wailer and Bob Marley (whom Snoop believes he is “reincarnated” from) is many things, but a shrewd decision to sell more records it is not. So, discounting the hype and speculation surrounding Reincarnated (out today, ), as well as the poorly reviewed documentary, we’re left with an album that, barring a few glaring missteps, ends up being a competent, fun, somewhat mindless marriage of American pop music and contemporary reggae.

The newly christened Snoop Lion forsakes rapping — and in turn his violent past as one of hip-hop’s most revered champions of gangsta rap — to sing in a happily stoned and oily tenor over Major Lazer’s (basically, Diplo‘s) slickly produced reggae-pop. The machine-gun drums and light speed electronic flourishes of ML’s sophomore album, Free the Universe, are mostly absent. Diplo primarily focuses instead on surrounding and supporting Snoop’s consummately chilled-out style with day-glo bursts of bouncing guitar, waltzing drum sections and a cacophony of cartoonish blips and blares, all while enabling contemporary reggae artists like Mavadao, Mr. Vegas and Popcaan to rub shoulders with Hot 100 mainstays like Drake, Akon and Miley Cyrus.

The opening trio of tracks (the airy, swaying “Rebel Way,” the catchy, hopped-up starburst “Here Comes the King” and the blaring weed stomp “Lighters Up”) offers the clearest impression of Snoop and Diplo’s motives, providing Reincarnated a proper introduction with this cluster of catchy, expertly produced island bangers. “Here Comes the King,” in particular, is so effervescent and happy it’s practically weightless, bopping along with goofy organs and echoing drum splashes. Angela Hunte (songwriter of Jay-Z‘s “Empire State of Mind”) delivers the finest chorus on the album here: “We at war with the army of the haters / And when we kill em’ we smoke em’ like papers / Somebody get me my crown because I’m feeling it now / You might be a lord, but here comes the king.”

The breathless gallop of “Get Away” provides a good change of pace, allowing Snoop to explore a metaphorical “escape” from his violent past without bludgeoning listeners over the head. The Obama-quoting, news clip-splicing lament of “No Guns Allowed,” however, proves to be a painfully awkward platform for Snoop and a particularly pensive Drake to reject gun violence. The track’s earnest outlier status becomes even more apparent when the silly, stupid fun of “Fruit Juice” (a track where Snoop literally lists the types of fruits he likes to make juice from) immediately follows, appearing on the album like some high teenager who can’t stop laughing at a funeral.

The LP’s uneven second half starts off with another awkward pairing: the samba-inflected pot paean “Smoke the Weed” and Snoop’s somber reflection on the street violence of his past, “Tired of Running.” Reincarnated closes with a more logical duo: one last infectious island hop on the fantastic Rita Ora feature “Torn Apart,” followed by the light but ultimately clunky and insipid Miley Cyrus collaboration “Ashtrays and Heartbreaks.”

In spite of some massive hiccups, Snoop’s effortless charisma and innately relaxed delivery — along with Diplo’s chops as a master curator of Caribbean styles — allow Reincarnated to rise above the novelty factor that initially seemed primed to doom the album. The real question: is Snoop Dogg’s transformation into Snoop Lion here to stay? It’s hard to see him sticking to reggae for more than a couple albums, but for the time being, he’s enjoying the hell out of his time in the islands.

Best Song that Wasn’t the Single: “Lighters Up” might be Snoop’s best stoner anthem to date, thanks to Dipo’s triumphant, stomping, horn-laden production.

Best Listened To: When you can’t afford to actually visit Jamaica.

Idolator Score: 3/5

Patrick Bowman

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