The Washington Post

Snoop Lion and the struggle to find spirituality in hip hop

Earlier this week, Snoop Dogg held a news conference that left many wondering if the chronic was finally getting to him. On Tuesday, Snoop Dogg announced that he was changing his name to “Snoop Lion” and recording a reggae album. Yep, that’s right, a reggae album. Apparently, a recent trip to Jamaica gave Snoop a new outlook on life.

Rapper Snoop Lion performs on stage during a concert in Arendal. (NTB SCANPIX/Reuters)

His latest reinvention should not be mistaken as a gimmick. Changing his stage name to Snoop Lion is how Calvin Broadus Jr. has chosen to publicly acknowledge his personal and spiritual growth.

Snoop Dogg created his image and his brand by singing about murder, misogyny and marijuana. Now that he is Snoop Lion, he wants to abandon that image completely (with the exception of the marijuana) to spread messages about peace and harmony.

Peace and harmony? That’s not what we have been told hip-hop is about. The hip-hop audience can be as fickle as they are loyal. We complain about seeing the same negative images broadcast to us daily, yet we complain when an artist like Snoop Dogg changes his name due to his beliefs and puts out a song like “La La La.”

Hip-hop artists, with their worldly swagger and consumerist leanings, have always had a complicated if not fleeting relationship with religion and spirituality. For years some of the most popular rappers were adherents to the teachings of the Five Percent Nation: the Wu Tang Clan, Brand Nubian, Nas, Rakim and other rappers from the 1990s were often just as heavily recited by fans as rappers talking about money, jewelry and clothes. But those messages on faith have faded as the new generation of hip-hop has been ushered in. Kanye West with his 2004 single “Jesus Walks” and Lupe Fiasco’s openness on his Muslim faith have been other examples of rappers addressing the complicated issues of faith and spirituality.

That’s why its a refreshing moment in hip-hop for an icon like the newly named Snoop Lion to convey his newfound spirituality. And there are others. Shyne Po, formerly a hard-core rapper on Bad Boy Records, changed his name to Moses Levi Ben-David and now lives in Beliza where he studies the Torah daily. Last year, Texas rap icon Bun B of UGK was teaching a class called “Religious Studies 331: Religion and Hip-Hop Culture” at Rice University.

Snoop’s spiritual journey should be embraced by the hip-hop audience. As hip-hop grows older, so do its idols and pioneers. Snoop Dogg cannot continue to make songs like “Deep Cover” or “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted,” because that’s not who he is anymore. The 40-year-old Snoop Lion is different than the 20-year-old Snoop Dogg, and that’s the way it should be.

Ultimately, like many rappers, Snoop Lion recognized the existence of a higher being in his lyrics but doubted whether or not He was really there for him. Snoop’s journey to Jamaica and the name change shows his growth as a human being. Snoop Lion is willing to put his reputation on the line for his faith, for what he believes in. That’s what hip-hop has always been about.

Michael Livingston II is an occasional contributor to TheRootDC.

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