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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. Ras Trent

    August 2, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • Socal Reggae

      Dude – check out my site: http://socalreggae.com

      August 2, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
  2. hrpufnstuf

    Snoop Poop! That's what I'm calling him. Along with his buddy, Poop Doody.

    August 2, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
  3. Destiny

    Hold on...WHY IS THIS NEWS????

    Ok...carry on.

    August 2, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
  4. cygnus

    He could be a very amusing Rastafarian!

    August 2, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  5. magnum12

    What about changing his name to Dog Poop.

    August 2, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • ATL_Guy67

      He should be now known as Poop Dog.

      August 2, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
  6. bbstacker7072

    What a freakin' loser.

    August 2, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • sam stone

      why is he a loser? i would be willing to wager that he has generated a lot more income than you have

      August 2, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
  7. Socal Reggae

    August 2, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  8. What value

    So what do i care? Why is this garbage in the news making CNN headlines? Next: Snoop Lion farts. Everyone asks about the odor. Thanks CNN and Snoop Garbage for wasting our time!

    August 2, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • poosawoosa

      What's he smoking now?

      August 2, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  9. wence1

    Good for you snoop.. I aient mad atch ya... ( pac voice) jah bless up king!

    August 2, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
  10. Matt

    Can't believe I clicked on this. Why does the media give this crap legs?

    August 2, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • sam stone

      you not only clicked on it, you responded to it.

      August 2, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
  11. BilleDee

    ...and this new "development" in Snoop's life wouldn't (coincidentally?) have anything to do with his recent weed bust in Norway – and in providing him with the defense of "Um..Mon....I needed these 8 grams of ganga because of MY RELIGION". Nah. Didn't think so. Naive me.

    August 2, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  12. Toad

    To get into a little more depth on the ways of Rastafari, check out the film Coping With Babylon–The Proper Rastology. Another good one is called Roaring Lion–The Rise Of Rastafari. There are others, but those are both reliable and interesting.

    August 2, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  13. Tom

    That would be "tenets" of Rastafarian, not "tenants"
    Tenets are things you believe in.
    Tenants live upstairs.
    And usually play their music too loud and stay up late.

    August 2, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  14. lou

    I smoke to ease myself after hard days, it's the best therapy there is.

    August 2, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
  15. Shockobynium

    Hey Snoop LION, don't ever compare yourself to Bob Marley, you are not the reincarnation of Bob Marley. But if you follow in the footsteps of the great masters like Marley, you can put out some great Reggae music. Now remember this Snoop LION, Bob Marley never used drum machines, or synths, or anything fake, so if you are going to become a reggae artist, get a band. REAL DRUMS, REAL BASS, REAL EVERYTHING !!!!! So, Mr. LION boy, get you act together and put out some real reggae music with LIVE DRUMS, and throw all your beat boxes away!!!!!!

    August 2, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • Zion Train

      Let me take a guess... Bob Marley is the only reggae you've ever heard. Or maybe the theme song from "Cops". The whole idea of rapping, sampling, and remixing came from toasting over records on a soundsystem and making dub mixes of a single for its B side. Bob Marley is respected (rightly so) and deified for popularizing Reggae and the Rastafari faith worldwide, but he also Westernized it to the point that it sounded like rock music. Reggae was around long before Marley and long after. I don't really take Snoop's conversation very seriously either, but I can't help but think that if Snoop announced he was a born-again Christian, people wouldn't be reacting this way. That said, Dubya claimed to be born again and killed people on a daily basis for 8 years. I don't think Snoop is hurting anyone by smoking weed.

      August 2, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
  16. WindowBlindsShopper

    I didn't care to read the 16+ pages of responses, but did anyone catch the blaring grammar errors? "Tenant" instead of 'tenet', and "then" instead of 'than' in that same sentence?

    August 2, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • Forrest

      The "tenet" "tenant" thing is a bit funny, I received an SMU Alumni magazine recently that made the same mistake. The quote it was in was even bolded and huge on the page. I don't know why writers have apparently lost the ability to distinguish the two, but it bodes ill for the rest when even our professionals are ignorant of these things.

      August 2, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
  17. ed

    It's not about the money mon, it's about the weed!!!

    August 2, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
  18. Jataka

    Really? All of a sudden he is Rastafari? He probably doesn't even know anything about it. What a ploy just to garnish more fame and money. I hope he knows that Rastafarians expect rich members of the community to give back to the poor.....when was the last time he gave back to anything? Fail.

    August 2, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • kweinaqila

      In the Bible, anytime a brother elevates in his divine assignment, his name is changed. I respect the brother. I never approved the namd "Dogg", because I see man as a god, not a dog. However, a lion is a king. And I am glad to see my brother elevated to the status of King from dog. Nuff Respect Snoop Lion. Give him some time, he may even drop the Snoop!

      August 2, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
  19. Grump-diddy

    It's about the MONEY.....he now has a new audience. What a faker.

    August 2, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
  20. bil z'bub

    Um.. hey story writer.. do MOAR RESEARCH... only the white man say rastafarianism. the rastafari reject the ism so if you want to respect the religion and do it REAL justice, do MOAR RESEARCH.

    dummy.

    August 2, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • Blue rodeo

      Did you even read the article? Or are you too stoned to read more than the first paragraph. Idiot.

      August 2, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • patrickmcevoy

      Hey bil - MOAR READING! There's a whole paragraph full of words n' stuff about just what you were saying, if you'd bothered to read it. Sort of makes your "dummy" comment ironic, huh?

      August 2, 2012 at 7:07 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.