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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. Rastaman

    Who Feels It Knows It

    and Who Jah Bless No Man Curse

    Guidance and Knowledge, Calvin

    August 2, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  2. 1centfree

    Sounds more to me like Snoop's last batch had a little too much "chronic" in it.

    August 2, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  3. BobZemko

    Now he just refers to women as "dem ho's, mahn!!!"

    August 2, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  4. MissFitzX69

    And this make CNN news.... your kidding me!

    August 2, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • Christian

      and you can't use the right term of "your?" You're kidding me!

      August 2, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
  5. jason lion

    this article got me in the mood to listen to some reggae

    August 2, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  6. Meteorite

    Rastafari! Go Snoop Go! Glory to Jah. :)

    August 2, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  7. Sarah

    Eric, you spelled ganja wrong.

    August 2, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  8. arosebyanyother

    Tenants? Who are they? Are they the missing editors of this article?
    "tenants of the faith"

    August 2, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • crattus

      At least the money saved by not hiring a competent editor can go towards the rent!

      August 2, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
  9. us_1776

    Man Dogg, the Jamaican bong is mighty good.

    But time to come down off the binge don't ya think?

    .

    August 2, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • Lama

      Yeah, cuz Snoops been really lazing around not doing anything for the past 20 years. I'm sure you thought you were being hip by referring to a "bong", something your college roommate told you about but you never used. Snoop Dogg or Lion or whatever he wants to be called has made BOATLOADS of cash and is incredibly successful.

      August 2, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  10. thizz19

    umm,, how can he be the reincarnation of Bob Marley if he was born before he died? smh

    August 2, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • Gesus

      I was thinking the same thing!! You can't be reincarnated if the person is still alive when you are born. I guess he will have to stop calling women ho's since that would "belittle' women, and no more meat...I guess chicken is out the window.

      August 2, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • pillionaire

      Further, Rastas don't believe in re-incarnation, excepting, in some cases those who believe that Marcus Garvey is the re-incarnation of John the Baptist and Selassie I as reincarnation of Jesus. Not even that is across the board though.

      August 2, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
  11. I call B.S.

    He is a great business man. Wake up.

    August 2, 2012 at 11:04 am |
  12. alyarby

    A so-called religion that advocates "death to all white and black oppressors" doesn't deserve to be reported as a religion. Not surprised that Cnn gives it umpteen amounts of coverage. Just one more gimmick for a former rapper to be "reborn" as a reggae artist. Yaaaawwwwn.

    August 2, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • Daniel

      thats why its not recognized in the US as a religion

      August 2, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • Dude Looks Like A Laity

      Those are Nathaniel Murrell's words and interpretation. It's also not a religion, so stop trying to categorize based on your own ignorance/convenience/xenophobia/wisom.

      August 2, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • tacc2

      Daniel: Yeah, you know, because the government gets to say who's a true believer and who isn't. Personally, I agree with the sentiment of, "Death to all black and white oppressors". Maybe they should just shorten it to, "Death to all oppressors". This way, you get the yellow, brown, and red ones too.

      August 2, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • SMH

      @tacc2 Ilike the way you think!! bravo my man (or woman) bravo!!!

      August 2, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
  13. Jason

    He must have smoked some really good weed down there.

    August 2, 2012 at 11:01 am |
  14. OregonTom

    It is always nice to hear of somebody making a positive change in their life.

    August 2, 2012 at 11:01 am |
  15. Seamus Callan

    I just don't have enough imagination to be religious.

    August 2, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • AndriconBoy

      I have a wonderful imagination. I'm just too reasonable and rational.

      August 2, 2012 at 11:03 am |
  16. Bob

    Seems like he downgraded from a Snoop "DOG" to a Snoop "Cat"

    August 2, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • cloudraptor

      More of an upgrade, actually.

      August 2, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • John Eight ThirtyTwo

      Different people have different preferences among pets, and it's pointless to argue. But there's no disputing that dogs have been domesticated far longer than cats, and far more thoroughly. A housecat is more wild than a pet dog. A lion, obviously far more so.

      Not for nothing has the lion long been called "the king of beasts". Maybe your pet dog can explain to a lion that that's a mistake. Good luck with that, Fido. Or Fifi.

      August 2, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  17. Jah

    Rahtid, mon!!

    August 2, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  18. Mariam

    Didn't realize the movement has been around since 30s. What are the results of the movement to Jamaicans?

    August 2, 2012 at 10:58 am |
  19. James

    People have all sorts of beliefs and religions which can be a powerful force in their lives. As long as religion is used as a guide to do good rather than evil, all power to them but unfortunately religion is being used too often to divide and kill.

    August 2, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • Barney

      Precisely. If I were Satan, what would be my goal? Well, I would use religion as a weapon for power, and to discredit the religion on the first place. What better way to divide us from God and Christ? We humans are hard wired to put credibility and faith in man. This is a mistake. We cannot say Christ isn't real because some people in "the church" do evil things. That's putting man's credibility before God's, which is ridiculous, and precisely what Satan wants us to do. We are sinful, God is not. We must put our faith in God. Even Bob Marley did. He died a Christian.

      August 2, 2012 at 11:25 am |
  20. Roger Clark

    Who said that reggae does not sell? Someone has to carry on the legend and work of the prophet
    Based on research (consisting mostly of US, CAN, UK album certifications) Bob Marley records released by island records have sold upwards of 70 million to date. This does not include official counts from Africa, Asia, Jamaica, and South America to name a few, where unofficial estimates sight millions of more sales.

    August 2, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • Jahfree

      Yeah Bob sold a lot. He passed away in 1981 too.

      Not many others made as big of a following.

      I like reggae a lot but havent heard any roots since the 70s.

      I think Snoops hip hop career is more lucrative than his reggae career will be.

      I think its a good thing. I thiink he should spend a year up in the mountains of Jamaica though and write a lot of music.

      August 2, 2012 at 11:31 am |
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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.