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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. Billy C

    "more interested in the sacrament of ganja then the tenants of the faith"

    Did you mean "tenets"?

    August 2, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
  2. save the world and slap some sense into a christard today

    he ought to come out with his own line of new rasta hair products – he could call them "snoopy p00py"

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

      You're not half as clever as you think you are.

      August 2, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
  3. Valerie

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

    Why is it that I find this absolutely hilarious???

    August 2, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
  4. Socal Reggae

    I'm very surprised at the shear numbers of negative comments here. Snoop wants to go Rasta? Let him go Rasta. What do you care? Seriously. Now go check out socalreggae.com and click on the NEWS link for the blog. We have some great footage in there of the up and coming Socal Reggae Scene. Smoke one for me Snoop!

    August 2, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
  5. dr.kno

    ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!

    There is a reason they call it 'dope'...

    August 2, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
  6. oliver

    Well, he's talented, and charismatic (not that I really care for his music) undoubtedly anything he produces will have the highest production values.

    It'll probably be good. (not that I listen to reggae) I guess that's for the reggae folks to decide.

    August 2, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
    • Valerie

      I agree. I am not a fan either but he is very charismatic and the production value of his work will be undoubtedly very high (no pun intended!)

      August 2, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
  7. Jackie

    Never liked him, never will. Always been a bad artist, if you can call him that. Oh yeah, rap is (C)RAP!

    August 2, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • oliver

      You made a subjective condemnation of a music genre. Therefor your other opinions on the subject are irrelevant.

      August 2, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  8. A.Leon

    Please STOP reporting on all these people with tiger blood and lion light who are so out of touch with reality that no one cares anything about their distorted view of themselves.

    August 2, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
  9. Elphaba

    I like Snoop Whatever. But I think this is more of a new gimmick. Those who espouse Rastafari as an excuse to smoke weed think they have a legal right to do so because of their "religion" even though it's illegal in the U.S. Take away the weed and the faux Rastas will disappear into a new "religion" that espouses smoking weed.

    August 2, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
  10. CAMEO35

    ...........NOOOOOOOOOW YOU DONE IT!................THAT LAST HIT OF LACED WEED JUST MADE SNOOP DOG A FULL BLOWN IDIOT..................................BLOOD-CLOT MAN..........................

    August 2, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • Moonlit

      Nah lace fi Ital mon.

      August 2, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
    • Ain't no big deal

      Snoop has been a known pot lover for decades. The only difference is that now he's gone from inner city rap, which is full of mysogyny, hate, and violence, to the more gentle message of Rasta. I would guess that this is more a function of getting older than anything else. He doesn't need more money. He's already a multi-millionaire from his record sales, concerts and product endorsements. Funny how people are calling him all sorts of names. I bet most of the haters make something like $30,000 a year at Walmart, selling Snoop-authorized sneakers. See any irony there?

      August 2, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
  11. Bob

    I always have gotten a kick out of seeing my fellow Americans transform themselves to look like Rastas and dole out this dribble so they justify being pot heads.

    August 2, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • LionsMaine

      To a simple man it could seem that way.

      August 2, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • Moonlit

      Like when christians go to church to justify pollution, oppression, abuse, brutality and sin?

      August 2, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
    • Even Steven

      Bob is a loser, poor bob. his girl left him for a guy who smokes pot.

      August 2, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
  12. LionsMaine

    Not respecting another mans religion or way of life is what causes attacks like Aurora. These comments represent some of the educated in this country, and are some of the most ignorant. Then you whine and cry when some place gets shot up and wonder why. I hope the ignorant people here understand what responsibilities they bear. True to their ignorance I doubt it. Even if they understand they don't care or rationalize their behavior. The next time something happens I hope they remember it is as much our societies fault as the person doing it. If you all never learn then it will never stop.

    August 2, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • 666metal

      A crazy person is what causes the shooting in Aurora nothing else.

      August 2, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • Moonlit

      Who drove dem crazy mr Metal?

      August 2, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
  13. Don Lee

    Good for him.

    August 2, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
  14. Bob A. Booey

    Any excuse to smoke weed...what a sham!

    August 2, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • retief1954

      Try it sometime before you condemn people who use it. It's not nearly as big a deal, or as "bad", as most non-users seems to think. Just unclench for a little bit and you might be surprised at the experience.

      August 2, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
  15. Socal Reggae

    Shoreline Rootz-brought to you by socalreggae.com

    August 2, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
  16. Sid Higgins

    He looks and sounds ridiculous. Bring Snoop Dogg back.

    August 2, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
  17. MA

    The weed in Jamaica was too strong for him. He will get over it as soon as the effect wears off.

    August 2, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
  18. Calvin

    aahhhhhhhhhhhhhhchooooooooooooooooooidiot. Excuse me.

    August 2, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
  19. 666metal

    What a fake.

    August 2, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  20. Bryan

    Why not "Snort Dogg" or "Smoke Dogg" or "Irrelevant Dogg"?

    August 2, 2012 at 3:16 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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.