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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. PAUL

    This Is Just A Chance For Him To Smoke More Weed!!

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bVtL4r6rOnI&w=640&h=390]

    August 4, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
  2. Socal Reggae

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2HoznhOOofw&w=640&h=390]

    August 4, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
  3. ufadoof

    He most likely changed his "name" for business purposes. Man, Americans are an ignorant bunch. 420 4TW!

    August 4, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  4. little flap

    Praise Jah! ( Hallelujah ). Praise Jehovah God!

    August 4, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
  5. Grim Reaper

    You'll always be Calvin the hoodrat to me. He can't sing but someone needs to let him know that his 15 minutes is up-time to become an actor and sing at welfare rallies.

    August 4, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  6. Dave

    Fire up and blunt and praise the lord!

    August 4, 2012 at 7:28 am |
  7. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    August 4, 2012 at 6:16 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 6, 2012 at 11:42 am |
  8. Ken Margo

    Shouldn't he be called Snoop Rasta Rottweiler.

    August 4, 2012 at 12:03 am |
  9. BigM

    I respect that... he did this cause he wanted too.. don't hate him because of that. Respect him instead..

    August 3, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • Moderate1981

      Not only do I agree but the older anyone gets you change. We know him as Snoop... his kids know him as dad. Go Snoop and let those that label you label. It is his life.

      August 3, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
  10. John

    Snoop is not stupid. This is all about getting his name back out there. I am from the Caribbean and Rastafarianism is not a hair style it's a belief. So all the red, yellow and green is not needed to identify his so call belief. When he truly starts living like a Rasta (No worldly possessions) I would start to believe that he has changed. At this time he is just exploiting the religion like a lot of so call “Rastas”.

    August 3, 2012 at 9:19 am |
    • cyberhackster

      A moron_by any other name is still a_moron

      August 3, 2012 at 9:38 am |
    • the voice of reason

      It's as good as any other religion.

      Plus, you get high.

      Like many xtians do.

      hmmmmmm

      August 3, 2012 at 11:56 am |
  11. modernman

    Rastafari is deeply rooted in Christianity. I did a thesis on it years back. It is a fascinating culture as well as religion.

    August 3, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • the voice of reason

      Their use of weed is very similar to the use of peyote by the Native Americans. At least the ones that early xtians in this country didn't kill .

      August 3, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • Smokey

      Biblical Aaronic Priesthood called Levites, the Priesthood of Israel used hashish oil for anointing of the priests of Israel. The recipes for the holy anointing oil are preserved and still can be read today, the foundation of biblical faith is burning offering to God, what is that offering? It is marijuana.

      August 5, 2012 at 3:49 am |
  12. Your Religion Might Be Bullshіt If...

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MtX_R-V5Cws&w=640&h=390]

    August 3, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • photoshock

      This is to inform the person who posted this video, I am a friend of the person who made this video and he's not going to be mad about you posting it. In fact he's going to be surprised that someone remembered this video and posted it on another location/website. His work is one of parody and is quite enlightening in that he is a good person, not a religious person, in fact he is now an atheist who uses reason and logic to make his life meaningful.

      August 4, 2012 at 2:46 am |
  13. John

    All you people out there talking crap about Snoop and his awakening are just ignorant. If it was some former child teen star who suddenly found Christ you would all be saying how great it was and how wonderful they are off drugs and caring for their children....blaa, blaa, blaa. But because it's snoop an b/c he smokes pot, you just go and lump him into a box with a bunch of thugs from the LA rap scene, many who have grown up and become gangless members of society.

    You all need to grow up and stop pointing the finger and look at yourself. I am not one of spiritual enlightenment and probably never will be. However, give the guy a break. If he wants to find his own happieness through Rastafari then let him. Don't be a hater just because you can't face yourself in the morning mirror.

    August 3, 2012 at 9:07 am |
    • mikey

      I have no problem looking at myself in the mirror, which is evident by the fact that I've never felt the need to change my name , or my Religion.

      August 3, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
  14. Joe Mahma

    .
    .
    Snoopie is a walking cliche.
    .
    .

    August 3, 2012 at 8:54 am |
  15. daniel

    He was only enlighntened to rasta becuase now he has an excuse to smoke weed....other wise he would just be a thug smoking weed. now hes a spritualist with a cause..... smoking weed.

    August 3, 2012 at 8:54 am |
    • sammmms

      He already has several excuses to smoke weed.
      1) He's in the rap industry
      2) He's extremely famous
      3) He's black. (Just kidding)

      August 3, 2012 at 9:11 am |
  16. Spartacus

    jerome wrote...

    WHAT IS BAD ABOUT HAVING A RELIGION?

    Nothing bad in having one, the problem is 100% and with absolutely NO Doubt anyone and everyone that practices one.

    Religion, all of them, do nothing today other than celebrate all of mankind's differences at the very time in it's history when all of mankind should be and so desperately needs to be celebrating our similarities.

    August 3, 2012 at 8:41 am |
    • Tim

      I'm confused at your statement. Are you saying that its ok to have a religion, just don't practice it? This doesn't make any sense. And just so you know, religion doesn't just point out differences. It actually helps many of those who practice. For many people, including myself (although for me its more spiritual and less religious), it gives them a reason to get up and live every day. The only reason you feel like religion is evil is the ***holes who claim that they are superior because of their religion. That is not what religion is about. Religion is about finding a personal path to God and putting forth love into the world.

      August 3, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
  17. Barack Obama

    If I had a Rasti son, he would look like Snoop Dogg....errrr, I mean Snoop Lion.

    August 3, 2012 at 8:36 am |
  18. Charlotte

    All I can say here is : hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Oh...and DON'Tfor a minute think this piece of crap is in any way, shape or form on the same level as Bob Marley. Please.

    August 3, 2012 at 8:34 am |
    • Chris

      Who even said that? Both are religious morons. Bob died from being a religious moron and not seeking treatment.

      August 3, 2012 at 8:42 am |
    • Mike I

      This chris guy is a fool. Bob did chemo and all sorts of other treatments. Its a myth he didt get treatment. He was bald when he passed from the chemo that killed him.

      August 3, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  19. Snoop Rich White Guy

    Rap is an open sore on the ass of REAL music. Just look at the black thugs and white males (Wiggers) who drive around blasting it from their cars. They will all have severe hearing damage down the road which is why my daughter is becoming an Audiologist. Complete morons and dregs of society.

    August 3, 2012 at 8:33 am |
    • Tony

      If rap music is so bad then why does it dominate the airwaves? Why does it influence our culture as much as it does? If you don't like it then don't listen to it, it's that simple. You make assumptions of all who enjoy the art form ("dregs of society") but know nothing about us. I like rap music. I also make a good living working for a Fortune 500 company, own my own home, have no criminal record and have never been arrested. These are not things I would attribute to the "dregs of society".

      It's easy to sit in judgement of others, but I've got a questions for you: What have you created? What great accomplishments have you made? What have you done to gain the admiration of others? What talents do you have and how have you used them to differentiate yourself from the masses? Go ahead, tell us how you've set yourself apart from the rest of humankind? Go ahead, list them and let the entire internet judge who well you've done.

      August 3, 2012 at 9:32 am |
    • Lux

      Does that mean she drives around in an Audi not listening to hip hop?

      August 3, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • Miami

      @ Tony – Hip hop is dead. It's all about the house music. untz untz untz

      August 3, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • OkayMan

      My my, how you have summed up my feelings so eloquently and succinct. Please carry on.

      August 6, 2012 at 10:10 am |
  20. Qev

    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.'

    Lol... PRICELESS!

    ONLY someone who takes Snoop (and Rap) TOO seriously could possibly be offended (as opposed to highly entertained) by that statement.

    August 3, 2012 at 8:32 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.