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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. Pete

    Respect Snoop!
    Keep searching brother!

    August 3, 2012 at 6:59 am |
  2. Amr Azim

    Under no way this is a religion! This man whatever his name is (Snoppy) needs to be examined. I truly believe his is 100% mentally ill. I cannot believe I use to listen to his old rap songs! Perhaps, I was crazy as well? May GOD forgive me!

    August 3, 2012 at 6:09 am |
    • Amr Azim

      Correction – I truly believe he is 100% mentally ill.

      August 3, 2012 at 6:11 am |
    • terk820

      It's hard to beleive this guy made money by singing.

      August 3, 2012 at 6:24 am |
    • sam stone

      how is this NOT a religion?

      August 3, 2012 at 6:40 am |
    • Emperor Son-of-Love

      why is all the mockery n hate over a mans realization of whom he decides to be? Maybe the real enemies of the country are those within not allowing us as Free people to actually remain Free. bun the sheggary...Esol

      August 3, 2012 at 6:43 am |
    • amr azim is stupid

      And your christianity is a religion? They are both equally fake. idiot.

      August 3, 2012 at 6:50 am |
  3. 96sixer

    Are you kidding me....why are we still talking about this friggen Idiot. anything to try and stay in the spotlight.....goes to show you, you don't have to have an education to be in the spotlight....can anyone say sports figures.....

    August 3, 2012 at 5:59 am |
    • Amr Azim

      This is the most stupid story ever reported by CNN!

      August 3, 2012 at 6:07 am |
    • sam stone

      amr: yet, you stopped to comment on it, increasing their revenue.

      August 3, 2012 at 6:42 am |
  4. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things.

    August 3, 2012 at 5:57 am |
    • Pete

      Atheism, or at least the doubt that god is going to do anything for us is what saved humanity.
      I'll give you a very clear thought experiment.
      1. Tow children with Luekemia

      One child gets to go to an American Hosptial with a pediatric oncology unit. The other child gets to go to a progressive Christian (or whatever religion you want) to be "prayed" for.

      Who has a better shot at a cure?

      August 3, 2012 at 6:58 am |
    • Jesus

      Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!

      August 3, 2012 at 10:20 am |
  5. Stripes The Zebragrrl

    Really a fascinating article. Modern music history is full of examples of artists who became famous making one kind of music, then reached an epiphany in their personal or spiritual lives, and changed tracks.

    I for one learned quite a bit about Rastafari from this article, a subject I've never really read much about. I've never been very into the styles of music that Snoop Dogg has created in the past, but in listening to the few songs of his I've heard, I can tell he really is quite a gifted performer. I wish Snoop Lion all the best in his spiritual and personal journey, and may his "change of tune" bring more awesome music to those who love it.

    August 3, 2012 at 5:23 am |
  6. Mike Mo

    Here, Snoop Lion proves that smoking too much weed makes you stupid. You're the reincarnation of a man who was alive when you were born. Ooookay then. Keep on toking on.

    August 3, 2012 at 4:40 am |
  7. bill

    Choosy choosers choose bongs.

    August 3, 2012 at 3:24 am |
    • sam stone

      choosy choosers choose vaporizers

      August 3, 2012 at 6:44 am |
  8. the thrue

    Snoop dogg is a dog even if himself is painted as lion

    August 3, 2012 at 3:15 am |
  9. maggotfist

    "It's an Afrocentric faith that... focuses on the return to Africa of its members,"

    It's something we should look at and support.

    August 3, 2012 at 2:45 am |
    • R

      I'm sure the native americans feel that all Europeans need to go back where they came from also....

      August 3, 2012 at 4:44 am |
  10. BorgKitten

    Snoop Dog Makes since because it's obvious that snoopy was a dog, he never changed into a lion. Why not name himself like Roaring Lion or Smokin' Lion, at least it would make a little more since XD

    August 3, 2012 at 2:06 am |
    • maggotfist

      "It's an Afrocentric faith that... focuses on the return to Africa of its members,"

      We need to support this.

      August 3, 2012 at 2:44 am |
    • Mike Mo

      @maggotfist Shove off, tosser.

      August 3, 2012 at 4:42 am |
  11. Biff

    It's easier for me to imagine a bunch of dogs sitting around smoking weed during a reasoning session, than it is a bunch of lions.

    August 3, 2012 at 2:03 am |
  12. pete

    He is an embarrassment to the black community. it is an insult to try measure up to the great Bob Marley. He has been in court for all kinds of crime including murder.

    August 3, 2012 at 2:03 am |
    • tedfred

      Your am embarrassment to the black community. Snoop is thinking about bigger things..

      August 3, 2012 at 2:19 am |
    • sam stone

      how man times has he been convicted of murder, petey?

      August 3, 2012 at 6:46 am |
  13. guest

    Smoking isn't healthy. Remember that young mother so stoned she left her baby on top of her car and dropped him in the intersection. Killing brain cells isn't spiritual.

    August 3, 2012 at 2:02 am |
    • sam stone

      yeah, guest.....people that smoke weed are always leaving their kids on top of cars while they drive away.

      August 3, 2012 at 6:48 am |
  14. rasta

    So...Snoop Dog upgraded to Lion. He's still one operating system behind the Mac OS X.

    August 3, 2012 at 1:26 am |
    • therealpeace2all

      @rasta

      LOL ! :D

      Peace...

      August 3, 2012 at 2:17 am |
    • wisewoman1

      The funny thing is that in Jamacia, the word 'Ras' is a swear word, similar to the word it rhymes with. So tourists think they're being complimented when someone looks at them, nods and says "Ras," but in fact, they are being insulted!

      August 3, 2012 at 3:01 am |
  15. Mo

    Given that snoop dogg sold a hell of a lot of hip-hop albums (over 12 million), and made over $100 million; i highly doubt he is moving to reggae for sales. the reggae base is much, much smaller than the hip-hop base; furthermore, the roots reggae base is dwarfed by the hip-hop base.
    Might just be that the man has seen a lot in his life and has decided this is where he needs to be. along with that, i think he might be succesful as a reggae singer; his lyrical style was always melodic, as opposed to the monotonous (or at most tri-tonous) style of pretty much all other rappers.
    Jah bless, Snoop Lion... maybe you can use your celebrity to bring awareness to reggae. what would even be greater of a blessing would be for you to study the likes of bob, peter tosh, burning spear, steel pulse.. understand the underlying consciousness of their music and imbue your reggae with such consciousness to enlighten this darkened world.

    August 3, 2012 at 1:23 am |
    • Bryant @ NorCal

      Heh, Artist havent made money selling music since the 80s. Also Snoop not worth $100M but def far from poor...lol. The real money is from concert ticket sales, ads, and anything in between (husslin'). Good to see Snoop keep busy :)

      August 3, 2012 at 1:42 am |
    • Jah

      Emphasis on "darkened"

      August 3, 2012 at 1:42 am |
  16. Hashley Roachclip

    Snoop don't listen to these haters and jokers, it's no problem man. You've been dancing on the fray for years man and now I think you found your true calling. Now it's time to sit down with some good people for reasoning and come up with some music to feed the soul. You feel your the reincarnation of brother Marley who's to say you're not. Keep it pure, keep it clean and be true to yourself. I've long admired your spirit but not much of a fan of your music. However I think you are on course for something great, we can't wait to hear it. Go easy and good luck brother.

    August 3, 2012 at 1:22 am |
  17. Mastodonrocks

    Guess this is Snoops way of retiring lol.

    August 3, 2012 at 1:00 am |
  18. Roger K

    Let me get this Str8, snoop is now a member of some sort of Jamaican Christianist like cult whose members wear dreadlocks, and justifies pot smoking on some biblical semitic king that lived thousands of years in the middle east. This batsh! crazy stuff is news how?

    August 3, 2012 at 12:57 am |
    • Andrew

      Opinions are like butt-holes, everyone's got one and they all stink

      August 3, 2012 at 2:15 am |
    • sam stone

      yet, you stopped to comment on it.

      August 3, 2012 at 6:50 am |
  19. eville11

    mid life crisis... Prince did it too. and every time I go to Jamaica I have a religious experience and my name ends up being "He who forgot three days" or Wander-man or Day-tripper, or something along those lines. But Snoop Lion? how about Smoke Lion.... or Lion King, is that taken already?

    August 3, 2012 at 12:49 am |
    • Golyadkin

      Prince's thing wasn't a mid-life crisis. It was a REALLY ingenious way to get out of a bad contract. His contract said that the label own the rights to everything from "Prince" so he changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol until the contract expired.

      August 3, 2012 at 1:06 am |
  20. Blue

    The Rasta guy was one of the most annoying friends in GTA IV...

    August 3, 2012 at 12:42 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      I couldn't understand a word.

      August 3, 2012 at 12:46 am |
    • Blue

      The Rasta guy probably didn't understand himself...

      August 3, 2012 at 12:50 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.