Mar 15 2013
Jonathan Kim is an independent film critic who writes and produces film reviews for Uprising and other outlets. He is a former co-producer at Brave New Films.
When I heard that rapper Snoop Dogg now wants to be called Snoop Lion and would be releasing a reggae album, I, like a lot of people, had a nice scoff. After all, for over twenty years, Snoop Dogg has been virtually synonymous with rap, and there’s always something ridiculous about an artist changing their name to take a stab at another genre — I’m looking at you, Garth Brooks, or should I say Chris Gaines. Besides, are we really supposed to believe that Snoop Dogg, the quintessential West Coast gangster from Long Beach, is now a Rastafarian? So when I went to see ‘Reincarnated’, a documentary about Snoop’s trip to Jamaica to record his reggae album, I was fully prepared for some ridiculousness. But I was very quickly reminded that Snoop has spent his entire career defying expectations and breaking barriers, and should never, EVER be underestimated. And neither should ‘Reincarnated’, which, to my surprise, is one of the best music documentaries I’ve ever seen.
In the beginning of the film, Snoop says something that sounds like a brag but is simply the truth: that Snoop has been at the top of the rap game from the moment he burst onto the scene in 1992, has made songs that will live forever, and has literally accomplished everything there is to achieve in the world of rap. But even though Snoop, aka Calvin Broadus Jr., has barely aged since we first saw him with Dr. Dre in the “Deep Cover” video, the film finds him at the age of 40 wanting to leave a legacy more positive than songs mostly about violence, crime, and objectifying women.
So Snoop travels to Jamaica, the home of one of Snoop’s heroes, Bob Marley, to see the birthplace of reggae, get the blessing of Marley’s descendants and bandmates, and learn more about the indigenous Jamaican religion, Rastafari. At the same time, Snoop plans to soak in the vibe of Jamaica and translate it into a reggae album free of rapping recorded with DJ/producer Diplo and his team, which is a fascinating process to watch. All of this, of course, is done while smoking a heroic amount of weed, apparently during every waking moment.
But ‘Reincarnated’ goes beyond reggae, since to explain what brought Snoop to Jamaica, it’s necessary to look at where he’s been. Using new interviews, Snoop recounts his mindboggling rise from frequently incarcerated gang member, drug dealer, and pimp to an international rap superstar and one of the most charismatic and likable figures in all of entertainment. Yet Snoop could never shake the specters of violence and death, with his 1993 murder case, the deaths of close friends Tupac Shakur and Nate Dogg, the dangerous fallout from his relationship with Suge Knight and Death Row Records, and an unexpected tragedy that even reaches Snoop all the way in Jamaica.
But with Snoop in such a reflective mood and wanting to break from his past, this is hardly a retread of ‘Behind the Music’. Snoop shows a vulnerability and earnestness I’ve never seen before, revealing pain, weariness, and regrets Snoop usually keeps hidden behind facades of a gangster or a fun-loving pimp. At the same time, he still manages to be the funny, charismatic icon he seems to inhabit so effortlessly.
‘Reincarnated’ is that great type of documentary that follows an utterly captivating subject doing what he does best at a unique and extraordinary moment. Snoop’s life story practically embodies the history of gangster rap, from its dangerous roots to its dizzying heights and its pointlessly violent lows, and having survived it, Snoop now hopes to leave it behind and reinvent himself both musically and spiritually as an advocate for peace, love, and togetherness. While the jury’s out on whether this will result in great music, Snoop has proven people wrong before and has more than earned the right to take any musical foray he wants. Snoop’s motives and the respect he has for reggae, its legends, and Rastafari seem totally genuine, and the life and career that brought him to this point is a totally fascinating one that speaks volumes about modern America, the black experience, the growth of an artist, and a uniquely American form of music.
‘Reincarnated’ is rated R and opens today in select theaters as well as iTunes and Video On Demand.