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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. Sam Yaza

    i m not a fan of Rastas,.. even though you guys are coll people and awesome to be around you server the tyrant god

    August 2, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
  2. Bill

    Cult+Time=Religion.

    Yet another example.

    August 2, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
  3. albro

    How about this for a name: Snoop-Self-Righteous-Egotistical-Publicity-Hound-Dogg ?????

    August 2, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
  4. Mak

    Snoop Dogg hasn't found religion...he's found a lifestyle justifying his "habit"...he's kept half his name and his pot....this is a joke.

    August 2, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
  5. skarphace

    Snoop: "I've always said I was Bob Marley reincarnated."

    Hmmm .. Snoop was born in 1971 and Bob Marley died in 1981. Seems like he would see the contradiction there.

    Weed kills brain cells.

    August 2, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
    • Roy Blodgette

      Actually, it does not kill brain cells. Common myth.

      August 2, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
    • Roy Blodgette

      http://healthpsych.psy.vanderbilt.edu/2009/MarijuanaBrain.htm

      August 2, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
  6. DUBB

    WELFARE CHECKS, PLEA BARGAINS, SO CALLED REBORN BLACKS? REALLY?

    August 2, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
  7. Elliot

    He'll always be Sniff Doggy Doo to me.

    August 2, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
  8. cc

    He finally smoked one too many.

    August 2, 2012 at 10:34 pm |
  9. dede

    snoop says he's marley reincarnated? not once has he ever written any lyrics of activism, empowerment, love, peace. he is a thug and i hope that he will try to be a rasta for real and make a man of himself through it. he is a thug in my eyes.

    August 2, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
  10. paul

    poop on snoop

    August 2, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
  11. Bette

    An important fact! The wearing of dreadlocks is not relegated to " Rastas" . The style or choice has existed as long as the African has been present in the world... and that would be from the beginning of time. I believe that It is probably far better to wear hair in a natural state than to alter it with chemicals. In general, I firmly believe that hair presentation is just a choice we have as human beings... I love the Lord with all my heart and soul! and my hair is locked, I do not use or know the origin of the word "dreadlock"

    August 2, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
    • edgyone

      Chemicals. like washing... Nasty dread, nasty dread locks...

      August 2, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
  12. nme1801

    So Snoop says he's Bob Marley reincarnated. Snoop was born in 1971. Bob died in 1981. Check your math then pass that spliffy

    August 2, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
  13. Kpekn

    This is ridiculous. What a waste of time to read. He is not even talented and please do not call him an artist.

    August 2, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
    • edgyone

      Aw c'mon, you listen to "Ain't no Fun" then you tell me he has no talent!

      August 2, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
  14. tom e

    Snoop is a Dork now... Snoop Lion.. Hahahahahahahahahahaha

    August 2, 2012 at 10:12 pm |
  15. Lori

    after the pot doesn't do it for him anymore, he'll graduate to heroin–then he'll have a revelation (in a drug-induced state) that his name is Snoop Loser

    August 2, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
    • Simple

      Snoop has been smoking weed for over 30 years. Hasn't graduated to Heroin, yet, like most rock and rollers, as evidenced by how many of them are dead. BTW, I am a 43 year old, white, Rock and Roll fan. Facts are facts. Snoop is harmless, and is one cool cat. I have had the opportunity to meet him.

      August 2, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
    • Robert

      You're ignorant to the issue and you're logic is flawed.

      August 2, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
    • edgyone

      Snoop is middle aged contemporary of mine, you have no idea what you are talking about.

      August 2, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
    • Toad

      Simple: Very few rock and rollers have ever died of heroin. The most famous rock and roll heroin users, except the untalented Sid Vicious, have recovered: Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, etc. What kills rock and rollers most often is transportation: planes, helicopters, motorcycles.

      August 2, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
    • sam stone

      compare your net worth to his, lori. which do you think is the bigger number?

      August 3, 2012 at 7:29 am |
  16. k lion

    in rasta words. http://www.ireggae.com/sounds/rastawayoflife.ram

    August 2, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
    • k lion

      copy and paste that link in your browser and you get a good description

      August 2, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
  17. MI Snow

    Once a Dog... always a Dogg..

    August 2, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
  18. Sam

    Snoop Lion or Snoop Dog...

    He we forever be Snoop Doggy Dog to me...He's first album Doggy Style is epic.

    August 2, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
  19. jezabel

    snoopy poo-dog has been on a downward slide for a while
    this is just a marketing ploy
    nothing else
    and why is it these so called reborn blacks never actually go to africa and live there till they die?
    the hypocrisy is so ridiculous!

    August 2, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
  20. Jim Weix

    "It's an Afrocentric faith that... focuses on the return to Africa of its members... Sometimes that return is a return in body, actually going back to Ethiopia, and sometimes it's more of a spiritual return."

    I vote that we provide plane tickets, instead of welfare checks, and plea bargains that include free plane tickets.

    August 2, 2012 at 9:46 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.