Challenges of Discernment 2: Snoop Lion
Snoop is no longer a Dogg. He’s come over from the dark side and reached out to the light. Now, he is a lion. I can deal with that. Lions might be unconscionably social creatures, but you can’t deny either their sexual prowess or their felinity.
When artists take radical changes in direction, they are always or almost always doing so in direct response to their career and what came previously. My editor and I have had a few conversations about this influential, controversial, and often stoned music figure. We agreed that it was going to be an engaging challenge integrating the new, reggae-derived music that Snoop is delivering on Reincarnated with our previous experiences with his music. Where we diverge, however, is in our history of thinking about him and his place in culture. My editor has only recently appreciated gangsta rappers as legitimate objects of cultural interpretation–something having to do, no doubt, with his Northern European and Christian school upbringing–while I have been listening to Snoop’s dope rhymes since I became sapient. It’s a little-known fact that tigers are rather enamoured of hip-hop music. Hard to say why, but there you go.
Snoop Dogg is a talented rapper who is bounteously gifted and, shall we say, lyrically disquieting. I find his voice compelling and his flow practically flawless most of the time. His history is rather checkered and the quality of his releases is not as consistent as some, but there’s no denying his impact and visibility in the hip-hop world. His significance to that genre is the main source of all the publicity around his much-hyped transformation from badass urban rapper to peace-loving rasta mon.
He still has lyrics in one of the new singles about killing people. So much for making child-appropriate music.
On that subject, I find it helpful when criticizing songs in general and hip-hop in particular to pay attention to why songs are written, what audience they’re directed to, what their subjects and themes are, and at what time they were composed. These might seem like elemental, if not elementary, aspects of all music criticism. Yet, it’s important to remember that these rules apply across genres. We should neither hesitate to point out the misogyny and violent content in such lyrics nor condemn their presence before considering them critically. In some cases, there might be a compelling reason for insensitive or provocative lyrics to be there beyond empty gestures of offence.
I want to leave this one fairly open. I’ll just say that I can overlook problems with representation and even direct statements of murderous intent if the quality of the music is there. I might write a more in-depth review of a Snoop song later, outside this series. For now, take a look at this song and see what you think:
Now, as for the transformation itself. It might be tempting to view the Snoop Dogg/Snoop Lion transformation as a simple redemption narrative. That is indeed one perfectly valid interpretation, and it’s the one that Snoop has chosen to package and market his Reincarnation album and accompanying documentary. It’s too early to see for sure, but judging by the lyrics from “Here Comes the King” I think a case could be made that there is more continuity than not between the two personae. See what you think.
First, note that Snoop was born to sing reggae. That voice is so well-suited to Major Lazer’s distinctive production that it’s hard to believe the two haven’t worked together before. Second, notice the aforementioned persistence of militaristic themes and violent imagery. And, of course, the central, highly monarchical core of the song, proclaiming Snoop the “king.” Well, if I were a reggae insider, working my way up in the ranks to barely scrape together a viable media presence, I would question this American interloper’s self-proclaimed ascension. Nonetheless, the beats and lyrics don’t disappoint, and though I have one skeptical eye out, I’m looking forward to giving Reincarnation a spin later this year.