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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 • Faith Now • Media • Music • Race

soundoff (906 Responses)
  1. solex

    Publicity stunt. Becoming older and no longer relevant in the black music arena forces him to change his persona.

    Remember when Mike Tyson "converted" to islam once his boxing days were over?

    Same idea.

    August 2, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
  2. sirql8

    Snoop and ganja-heavy rastafari...a perfect match if ever there was one.

    August 2, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
  3. King Lion

    I smoke therefore I am.

    August 2, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
  4. xeno

    It's ironic that a religion that claims to strive for equality for all then treats its women as second class citizens. Look it up. The rules for women in this religion are very much oppressed.

    August 2, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • LionsMaine

      I treat my women with RASPECT. Ya dun know.

      August 2, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
  5. disagreement

    only place to go after this is snoop dragon.

    August 2, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
  6. Rasta Jobsian

    First he was Snoop Doggy Dogg. Then it was Snoop Dogg. Now it is Snoop Lion. Next it will be Snoop Mountain Lion. Don't forget to upgrade!

    August 2, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
  7. Bob the Cat

    One less Dogg in the world is a good thing.

    meow

    August 2, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
  8. Joshua

    Can't help but to think that the key draw for Snoop was the weed. haha Honestly though, I haven;t referred to him as "Snoop Dogg" since the 90s. I just refer to him as Snoop and therefore the "Lion", in addition to being kind of odd, would also be somewhat inconsequential.

    August 2, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
  9. bam

    spurt

    August 2, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
  10. John

    hmmm so what's the difference between Snoop Dogg aka Snoop Lion and Rush Limbaugh calling women b's and ho's?

    August 2, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • Lion Forest

      Both are bad and should be discouraged in using such language. But there is a huge difference between El Rushbo and Snoop. Snoop is an entertainer, like it or not...Rushbo is a news source. Snoop isn't taking seriously, Rush Limbo is the head of republican rhetoric. Therefore Rush has greater responsibility and accountability.

      August 2, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • JJ

      context my dear Watson. Context.

      August 2, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
  11. Robert-n-Austin

    Good for you Snoop, hope you find peace and happiness.

    "And God said, Behold, I have given you every plant bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, which has seed in its fruit; to you it shall be for food."

    August 2, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • DOH!

      Yes, Robert – FOOD, not a mind-altering substance. This is mis-applied Scripture and eisegetical trash.

      August 2, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • virologist

      I suppose that means I can make myself a poison ivy salad.

      August 2, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
  12. Johnouk1

    Well, at least you'll never hear of a Rasta or Rastas executing people, stoning them to death, abusing women and advocating the murder and execution of anyone who doesn't agree with them. How many terrorists are Rasta's? I'll take a weed smoking vegetarian who listens to Bob Marley ANY day of the week! Peace.

    August 2, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
    • Ben

      According to the article: "A key belief for Rastas is the notion of death to all white and black oppressors." That sounds an awful like Islamic fundamentalism to me. Also (not pertaining to your comment, Johnouk1), God is NOT referred to in Jewish scriptures as "Jehovah." Jehovah is an attempt by various non-Jewish sects to pronounce the unpronounceable group of Hebrew letters used to spell "God" When Jews read that group of letters, we say, "Adonai." I could get into the backstory on this subject, but I'll make space for the anti-Obama faction that always seems to have something completely unrelated to say about every topic discussed here!

      August 2, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • DEMOCRAZE

      ...but rastas fu*k all the women, make illegitimate kids and not take care of them and treat women like they are 2nd class.

      August 2, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
    • Johnouk1

      Well Ben, they may have a belief in the "notion" of death to all white and black oppressors, but when was the last time you ever heard of any of them actually acting on it. When is the last time a gang of Rasta's kidnapped some poor bugger and cut his head off on video to supposedly let us all know how much they hate us and want us to be like them?

      All I'm saying is I'll Rastafari over some of the other crazy extremist religious "cults" any day of the week.

      August 2, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • Ben

      Johnouk1, with all due respect, that's a pretty weak argument. I'm with you on your implied denunciation of Islamic terrorism, and I think as long as the Rastafari's keep smoking the ganja we're pretty safe from terrorism on their part (!), but I just can't get right with ANY creed, religious or otherwise, that espouses even the "notion" of death to its adversaries. Similar notions are exactly what sets Islamic fundamentalists on their self-righteous path of wanton death and destruction. Actions start with notions, and it only takes a couple of kooks to turn a notion into an action and begin a movement that threatens the world.

      August 2, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  13. John

    It's o secret he loves to smoke chronic, ganja, weed, marijuana, that's no different than anyone else who chooses to smoke it. People are taught not born racist.

    August 2, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
  14. Ramen

    I'm starting my own religion that is similar to Rastafari. We smoke tons of weed, but instead of being vegetarians, we eat lots of bacon cheeseburgers and our living god is Chuck Norris. Join us!

    August 2, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • MatchlessG11

      Ramen, Just remember your "god" Chuck Norris, beleives in God.

      August 2, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • Deric

      While Chuck Norris may be a " living god", I bet he never defeated Mussolini....lol.... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haile_Selassie_I http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Italo-Abyssinian_War

      August 2, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • retief1954

      Chuck Norris! What about the Flying Spaghetti Monster? Flying Spaghetti Monster > Chuck Norris

      August 2, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
  15. TheDudeAbides

    He'll have a Mormon awakening next.

    He'll change his name to "Snoop Bain".

    Oh yeah. I went there.

    August 2, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
  16. John

    Ok so now that he chooses to be a Rastafarian and acknowledges his Afrocam roots that makes him a weird and bad person, I don't think so. Nobody critize people going to Europe etc to visit their ancestry. People are taught not born racist/hidden racist hypocrites.

    August 2, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
  17. DoubleEM

    Getting them all back to Africa...
    No wonder it's not popular within USA blacks...

    August 2, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
  18. wines2much

    What about "Deeeeezzzzzz nuts"??????????????/

    August 2, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • The Doctor

      Would those be "chin nuts"???

      August 2, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
  19. DEMOCRAZE

    Snoop has just joined another bunch of psycho-movement ...more abuses and more irresponsible behaviour all the way. Loved Bob Marley but not his rasta thing.

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

      If you say that Bob Marley was great but you think he oppressed women or didn't approve of his "rasta thing" actions, how can you square that in your mind? Either you support him or not. You are responsible for supporting him.

      August 2, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
  20. Anne

    Dear America,

    Please keep your Dogg leashed when he goes out or keep him in his kennel.

    Thanks
    The Caribbean

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

      I'd rather he was just put down like that other dog. What was his name? Two Pack, or something stupid like that.

      August 2, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
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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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.