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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. creative36

    In the end cats are better than dogs. Period.

    August 3, 2012 at 8:11 am |
  2. Reality

    As noted on p.21:

    Putting the kibosh on all religions to include "pot-laced" Rastafari:

    • There was probably no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • There was probably no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    prob•a•bly
    Adverb: Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Rastafari

    "The Rastafari movement, or Rasta, is a spiritual movement. It arose in the 1930s in Jamaica, a country with a predominantly Christian culture where 98% of the people were the black descendants of slaves.[1][2] Most of its adherents worship Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia (ruled 1930–1974), as God incarnate, the Second Advent, or the reincarnation of Jesus. "

    Read more: http://www.answers.com/topic/rastafari-movement#ixzz22QKGVQHq

    August 3, 2012 at 8:10 am |
  3. rabbitone

    rasta is for dumbos

    August 3, 2012 at 8:07 am |
    • jerome

      WHAT IS BAD ABOUT HAVING A RELIGION?

      August 3, 2012 at 8:22 am |
  4. Seyedibar

    hahaha! Snoop's no rasta, but switching religions is a smart way to preserve your right to smoke weed now that California is cracking down on the medicinal stores.

    August 3, 2012 at 8:05 am |
    • beancounterz

      And I can say that christians don't really believe in their religion, they just use it to LEGALLY be bigots and commit hate crimes.

      August 3, 2012 at 8:27 am |
  5. jimbo

    Why doesn't he just call himself Snoop Dipshlt? It would be much more appropriate.

    August 3, 2012 at 7:57 am |
  6. dan

    How completely stupid. Not as stupid as P Diddy, but still pretty stupid. Who can take any of these guys seriously? Sad comment on "music" today.

    August 3, 2012 at 7:57 am |
  7. BlueColoreMinded

    So cute Association with Ras Tafarians for the sake of their Spiritual Liberation and Vibration.

    August 3, 2012 at 7:55 am |
  8. werewolf1

    Name ten people who care.

    August 3, 2012 at 7:55 am |
    • jimbo

      You've set an impossible task. Better settle for one.

      August 3, 2012 at 7:59 am |
    • rick

      you stopped to comment on it, as did many others. so, there ya go

      August 4, 2012 at 7:26 am |
  9. andyoo

    he finally somke too much weed.

    August 3, 2012 at 7:55 am |
  10. Dave

    I love Snoop and the first tape I ever bought was the "Doggystyle" album. I really hope this is some dumb phase and/or publicity stunt. "Bow wow wow yippy yo yippy yay." <--if you are a snoop fan, i am sure u couldn't read that without singing it.

    August 3, 2012 at 7:54 am |
  11. Trish

    I totally support Snoop Lion. I think it's great that he has found God, and that he is steering away from he mysogeny of rap. Go Snoop LIon!

    August 3, 2012 at 7:39 am |
    • skippy

      ironic b/c my only real complaint against rastafari religion is it is a VERY misogynistic religion....

      August 3, 2012 at 8:11 am |
  12. sick of christian phonies

    Snoop Lion? I guess it's better than Snoop Marmoset or Snoop Star Nosed Mole...

    August 3, 2012 at 7:36 am |
  13. june16

    Snoop Dogg, Bob Marley is irreplaceable. DONT try this at home.
    PLEASE.

    August 3, 2012 at 7:20 am |
  14. Marti58

    That must be a pretty potent weed – that enables you to go from dog to lion..

    August 3, 2012 at 7:17 am |
  15. A possibility

    Maybe Snoop is just sick and tired of all the "gangsta" "hoochie" crapm and is trying to distance himself from the rap scene.

    August 3, 2012 at 7:15 am |
  16. The_Pope_is_just_another_man

    Only in America would some one care about this stupidity.

    August 3, 2012 at 7:15 am |
  17. Rapper Snapper

    'Snoop Lion'?

    Snoop Idiot is a more appropriate name.

    August 3, 2012 at 7:12 am |
  18. june16

    The weed in Jamaica is so stroooong and very powerful (ask me about it). It can make you speak tongues. As soon as Mr Snoop Marley wakes up from being high, he will speak proper English. Sit back and watch.....

    August 3, 2012 at 7:11 am |
    • sam stone

      As opposed to California where he is from?

      August 7, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
  19. Peter

    Great let him return to Africa and take all the third world blacks that are living on the dole here in the Northern Hemisphere back with him, I am all for that

    August 3, 2012 at 7:10 am |
  20. Jimminy

    It's too bad. I will miss Snoop's witty raps. Hopefully he will be rapping again soon.

    August 3, 2012 at 7:03 am |
    • Mirosal

      I don't think Snoop, or any other rap "artist", knows a damned thing about music. The only thing he knows is how to take 5 seconds of someone else's song, loop it for 5 minutes, and tack on a stupid silly rhyme to it. Not a lot of talent needed there. I wonder if Snoop knows the difference between a whole note and a half note, or a tuba from a clarinet?

      August 3, 2012 at 7:27 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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.