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August 2nd, 2012
08:20 AM ET

Snoop Dogg is a Rasta now, so what's Rastafari?

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN) - Rapper Snoop Dogg announced Monday that he's burying his name and old career, all because of a religious experience with Rastafari, an Afrocentric religion with origins in Jamaica. Snoop Dogg wants to be called Snoop Lion and instead of rapping on his latest album now he'll be singing reggae.

"I want to bury Snoop Dogg and become Snoop Lion," he said at a Monday press conference. "I didn't know that until I went to the temple, where the high priest asked me what my name was, and I said, 'Snoop Dogg.' And he looked me in my eyes and said, 'No more. You are the light; you are the lion.'

"From that moment on," Snoop said, "it's like I had started to understand why I was there."

Snoop Lion has a new single, "La la la," and a documentary "Reincarnated," which follows his recent trip to Jamaica and chronicles his conversion experience. It debuts at the Toronto Film Festival next month.

So what exactly is Rastafari? Here are some basic questions and answers:

1. How old is Rastafarianism?

The Rastafari movement began in Jamaica in 1930 and quickly spread.

"It's an Afrocentric faith that... focuses on the return to Africa of its members," says Richard Salter, a religious studies scholar from Hobart and William Smith Colleges in New York who studies the movement. "Sometimes that return is a return in body, actually going back to Ethiopia, and sometimes it's more of a spiritual return."

Nathaniel Murrell, a religion professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, said the movement Rastafari grows out of the Judeo-Christian tradition and out of the colonial experience. He says Jamaicans oppressed by colonial overlords saw the new faith as a means of liberation.

A key belief for Rastas is the notion of death to all white and black oppressors; the religion embodies a theological push for equality on all levels.

Salter points to Bob Marley's "Redemption Song," as a key to understanding that point.

"The line, 'emancipate yourself from mental slavery,' - if someone can convince you that you are inferior, then they have really oppressed you," Salter said. "So you can emancipate yourself from that and recognize the divine within you, your real value."

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2. So what do Rastafaris believe?

Rastas believe in God and use the term Jah, shorthand for Jehovah, a name for God that is common in the Jewish scriptures. Many Rastas see Halie Selassie I - the longest serving emperor of Ethiopia, who died in the 1970s - as a Christ-like figure.

Experts point to a wide diversity in the faith but say there are six key groups of Rastas, called mansions, that would be similar to denominations in other faiths.

Rastas hate "isms" and "ians" because of the value they place on all individuals. As a result, Rastas prefer the term Rastafari as opposed to Rastafarian or Rastafarianism to describe the movement.

Noel Leo Erskine, a professor of theology and ethics at Emory University in Atlanta, says it's nearly impossible to gauge how many people call themselves Rastas because there are no formal churches or membership structures and no hierarchy.

Erskine said that based on Jamaican migration and the prevalence of Rastas globally - he notes the presence of groups in Israel and Tokyo - his best guess is that there are around 1 million self-professing Rastas around the world.

3. How do Rastas practice their faith?

The most common outward expressions of Rastafari are Rastas' dreadlocks, penchant for smoking marijuana and vegetarian diets.

Rastas read the Bible and several other religious texts, though because the movement is so diverse there is no single canon.

Lifestyle choices are important for Rastas. Allowing one's hair to grow into long, matted dreadlocks serves as a reminder to practitioners that they have made a covenant to live naturally, Salter said.

Marijuana smoking is seen as sacramental to Rastas, who believe it brings clarity and strength (more on that below).

Another central practice is something called "reasoning." Rastas get together and smoke and have a "reasoning" session in which they hash out important spiritual ideas.

The practice of vegetarianism comes from Rastas "ital lifestyle" short, for vital, and according to Salter is intended to promote life in all its forms.

4. What's the Bob Marley connection?

Marley brought Rastafari to the American masses in the late 1970s and early 1980s through reggae music. It was massively popular and brought a watered-down version of the movement to the popular consciousnesses.

Snoop said this week that he had no plans on recording a reggae album in Jamaica but that, "When the spirit called me and basically told me to find something that is connected toward the Bob Marley spirit, because I've always said I was Bob Marley reincarnated."

Marley, the world's most famous reggae singer and practitioner of Rasta, died in 1981.

Emory's Erskine said that as Snoop moves forward with his music, he should look to the reggae star.

"Within Rasta there are guidelines, guidelines of dignity and songs of empowerment," he said. "I think Bob Marley provides a good guide for him in terms of the way forward and way not to belittle women and belittle others."

5. Is it a religion?

"[Rastas] are insistent that they don't see Rastafari as a religion because religion exposes itself to manipulation by people in power, so they see it as a lifestyle, as a way of life practiced by Rastas," Erskine said.

That said, there are many who practice the way of life with the same devotion found in other faiths. Religious scholars classify Rastafari as a religion.

Rastafari has provided sanctimonious cover for loads of college students more interested in the sacrament of ganja then the tenants of the faith. Remember that kid who lived on your dorm floor, grew dreadlocks, hung a lion flag, and smoked a lot of weed?

"That's been something the movement has had to struggle with," Salter said. "They have to define who a Rasta is. Is it a 21-year-old sitting in a drum circle out in the woods in some Northeastern liberal college taking bong hits, or does it require something else?"

6. So do they really smoke a lot of weed?

Yes. A lot.

Sometimes called the wisdom weed, Rastas believe the marijuana plant first grew from the grave of King Solomon, who the Bible calls one of the wisest men ever to walk the planet.

Salter notes Rastas believe smoking the herb is biblically sanctioned, though he points out they believe "it is not for recreation, but a food that feeds their spirit.”

“I bet Snoop Dogg, excuse me Snoop Lion, is particularly interested in that,” he added, noting the musician's advocacy for supporting the legalization of marijuana and his frequent use of it in music videos.

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7. So is the Snoop thing a gimmick to sell records?

It's too early to tell whether Snoop will stick with his awakening as a Rasta. Rastas don't convert; rather, they "awaken" to the faith they see as always having been there.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Americas • Culture & Science • Media • Music • Race

soundoff (906 Responses)
  1. Scott Wallace

    Isn't all religion based in what man thinks he believes. Since no has ever actually talked face to face with God. Wouldn't anyone who follows any religion be a fool then?

    August 2, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • sam stone

      i did. but, i had a couple handfuls of magic mushrooms in me at the time

      August 2, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • wisdomVS

      If God really wanted the whole earth to have faith in him you'd think he would show up and converse with us on a regular basis, give us instructions, scold us for our stupidity, and generally take interest in us as his children... right? If a man ignores his children and never comes to their aid he is called what? A dead beat dad.

      August 2, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
  2. John

    Is Scientology, Mormanism, etc a Religion? Rasta's believe in God, cant say that about those other so called Religions. Rastafarians and Native Indians smoke natural herbs/ganga, weed, marijuana, whatever you want to call it and they are open with it unlike the other judgemental hypocrites closet smokers. It's also legal in Amsterdam, they have no shame in it, it's a hug profit more than tobacco, duhhh

    August 2, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
  3. mark

    as long as snoop feels strongly about his life and how he changing it , what most of you intellectual deprived individuals say doesn't really matter

    August 2, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
    • wisdomVS

      So you think a weed head is an intellectual? Lions, tigers and bears... oh my!!!!

      August 2, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • Hugh Jass

      I think you'll find that most of us intellectuals tend to know how to roll one.

      August 3, 2012 at 9:17 am |
  4. debbie338

    One of the ultimate goals of Rastafari is to repatriate to Africa. Why hasn't Snoop gone already? It's not like he can't afford it.

    August 2, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
    • wisdomVS

      So get on the boat, forget about us, put the blame on me. Ohhhh... you'll not see a yellow ribbon rounnnnd the old oak treeeeee!!!!!!!

      August 2, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
  5. Pixie dust

    Should get your facts straight before 'enlightening" the masses. The movement did not start in Jamaica it started in Ethiopia which is in Africa dear Einsteins.

    August 2, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
  6. Johnny the D

    Is The Snoop really the black version of The Donald?Lets see.They are both shameless promoters of themselves.They both have whacky hair.They are both rich and they both say incredibely stupid things.Yep,looks like they are brothers from different mothers.Who'd a thunk it....

    August 2, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
  7. Byteme

    First of all, WHO CARES???
    Second of all, when his money runs too low, he'll RUN, not walk back to gansta wrap music.
    Finally, WHO CARES???

    August 2, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • wisdomVS

      Yo mon the Snoop Azz be caring.

      August 2, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • Byteme

      I'm sorry, but I don't believe in that particular brand of fraud. :)

      August 2, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • Grammar Girl

      Gangsta wrap? I think you rap, dear.

      August 2, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
    • Zackary Dryer

      Way to go Grammar Girl, I think you meant "I think you MEAN rap" next time be correct before being pretentious.

      August 2, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • Hugh Jass

      I'm guessing your own album of "wrap music" wasn't as successful as Snoop's?

      August 3, 2012 at 9:18 am |
  8. John of WBL,MN

    Can we still call him Snoop-a-

    loop?

    August 2, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
  9. The Jackdaw

    Snoop is about as spiritual as a potato. Lion. What a jakazz!

    August 2, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • wisdomVS

      Hey... that's a name that is probably more relevant... Snoop Azz!

      August 2, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      Snoop Sloth

      August 2, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
  10. re:adriconboy

    your too lazy to clean your own toilet huh?

    August 2, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
    • AndriconBoy

      Not at all. I just can't get that ring out with using something that will damage the porcelain, and I'm out of ideas. I have even tried Lime-Away and similar products.
      I figured the floating magic sky man could "magic" it away, and since he's so full of $#!+, he won't mind working on such a receptacle.

      August 2, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
  11. Anchorite

    What? Cannabis didn't come from Ethiopia. But COFFEE did! So in actuality, most of America, which uses caffeine (in many ways the opposite of THC) as a central drug in their rat race religion, are the most Afrocentric.

    August 2, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      Since when was religion supposed to follow logic?

      August 2, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • Steve

      Wow, I actually learned something from reading a CNN article. Good job, Anchorite.

      August 2, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
  12. fred

    Now that it's mentioned, has this snooop person ever done anything except be a drag on society ?

    August 2, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
    • royale76

      Actually yes, he has: he coaches baseball for underprivileged kids.

      August 2, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      Nope! And now he drags down society with Lion power like a disgruntled Care Bear!

      August 2, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • Bladepolisher

      Good point Fred!! His name ought to be Sniff Pups!! He's always maintained his multi-million dollar existence on the "Gangsta" fringe promoting that crap he calls music. With his pants down below his cheeks, he thinks he gets respect, when really, the only people who give him respect are either those who fear him and his thugs or those who want his money. Frankly, I can't think of one reason that anyone would give a %*&# what he calls himself. Let's not forget, it's the media that's turned this burd from a flunky to a Full Fledged Fool!! Who cares what he chooses as a name? I liked my suggestion!!

      August 2, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • sam stone

      he has generated a hell of a lot more income than you have

      August 2, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • easye123

      Have you?

      August 2, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
  13. AndriconBoy

    So this is how Rappers try to stay relevant? "I had a lame made-up name in an attempt to make me sound cooler than I really am, but I got tired of how stupid it sounded. Now I have a new lame made-up name. Maybe it will make me sound cool again!"

    Sadly, given the demographic of people who actually buy his music, it's likely to work.

    August 2, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
  14. Buzzz

    Why can't I just do a couple of bong hits without any feigned religious or medical justifications.

    August 2, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • wisdomVS

      You may... but if your stash is heavy then you may also acquire some free accommodations complete with free meals, free dental care, free health care, free uniforms, TV time and yard time, and maybe even a room mate that calls you "Missy".

      August 2, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  15. RocMon

    Hey Greg... do you believe the parting of the sea story? which ferry tale to you subscribe to?

    August 2, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • todd in DC

      "Fairy tale". A ferry tale is a story about a boat that moves people and cars. But I digress.

      I'm a pastafarian. Hail the Flying Sphaghetti Monster. May his noodly appendages encompass us all!

      August 2, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
  16. morsecoder

    Pot smoking felon attempting to revive a fading career with a name change.

    August 2, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • Evan Kirby

      Oh no, he smokes pot. He's a felon, a criminal, a stain on the face of our society... shut up. I am more than willing to bet vital parts of my anatomy that you have zero knowedge on him or marijuana with the exception of the negative propganda that is jammed into the tiny brain of yours, which is too weak to figure things out and think for yourself.

      August 2, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • Mister Jones

      20+ years in the rap game ain't a bad career ...

      August 2, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • Bladepolisher

      TO EVAN KIRBY: " I am more than willing to bet vital parts of my anatomy"?? Well, I guess your brain isn't going anywhere..... Hey, do you mind if I volunteer a few of your organs to people who actually use their brains?

      August 2, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
  17. Mugoman

    Ticket to Jamaica – $700
    Ground transport to Rasta temple – $35
    10 blunts – $300
    Realizing, after the haze of smoke clears, you just publicly pulled a "Prince" – PRICELESS

    August 2, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • Dante

      Well scripted and cleverly connected the Prince connection. AWESOME.....thanks for the laugh.....Long live Snoop Lion!!!. I hope your end does not match that of your mentor Bob Marley.

      August 2, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • Kevin

      Too funny!

      August 2, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
  18. cc

    White people stole Black peoples history!! Liars!! You are gonna be exposed for every lie you have told!

    August 2, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • wisdomVS

      Thous shalt split Hell wide open you reverse racist... you ain't even funny, much less logical.

      August 2, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
  19. dowdotica

    snoop the dog? to snoop the lion? I've spent a lot of time trying to dig what to snoop about!lol but snoop lion. why not just 'snoopin' around"? or "snoop around clown"? I love the dude, really but....

    August 2, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • Bladepolisher

      TO ANDRONICO'S BOY: Having problems removing the ring in your toilet? Try cleaning up after you eat.... if that doesn't work, try stapling some steel wool to your tongue. I got a feeling your one of those guys who like a lot of gravy!!!!

      August 2, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
  20. cc

    Yahweh Lives and is cleansing the earth as we speak. HaleluYah!!!

    August 2, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • AndriconBoy

      Can you send your magic cleaning floating sky man to get rid of the hard water ring in my toilet. It's driving my nuts.

      August 2, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.