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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. BEAR

    If he was truely a Rasta, he would honor his serene Majesty, Emperor Hailie Selassie's memory thru proper imperial dress and self discipline. Modern day Rastas have used the religion to justify laziness and dope use.

    August 7, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
  2. GOD PARTICLE UK Dave

    WOULD YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF A SORE LOSER? :( :( :( :( :(

    August 7, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
  3. alumette

    He is copying the original guys who were the Raggae dudes. It looks like a political and marketing move. If he is sincere, he will give it all up for a good cause. These Raggae guys were talented. Snoop is not. He is a trashy and offensive pimp. He made it because he was "different", actually a dope head who cannot sing, dance or play an instrument. Gosh....what a loser.....

    August 6, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • PAUL

      FREE WEED FOR EVERYBODY...;0)

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VUMfDOLA1G8&w=640&h=390]

      August 6, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
    • sam stone

      Yeah...what a loser....want to put his net worth up against yours?

      August 7, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  4. Jack W

    I'm not debating whether this is a religion or not, or what Snoop is trying to do, this is just a sidenote: The name Rastafari was Emperor Haile Salessie's name at that time. He was an Ethiopia prince (Ras) when he came to Jamaica and his name was Tafari (Ras Tafari). He later was crowned Emperor Haile Salassie I.

    August 6, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • Blog Me Blog You

      bolloks

      He was already a RAS in Ethiopia And TAFAri , which means one to fear , he didnt bev=come Rastafari in Jamaica , you must be white .....Sn00p is a CLOWN , there goes is career too

      August 6, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • Blog Me Blog You

      bolloks

      He was already a RAS in Ethiopia And TAFAri , which means one to fear , he didnt become Rastafari in Jamaica , you must be white .....Sn00p is a CLOWN , there goes is career too

      August 6, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
  5. Tracy

    I wish Snoop well! And I hope any changes made in his life are positive, peaceful and deep. I've always liked that guy and think that he (don't laugh now was one of out most under-rated and untested actors. I thought there was something special about him since I saw that first video of his back in the early '90s. Children like him too....Remember when Jim Carrey made that "Cat in the Hat" movie back inthe day? I always wondered what an awesome movie it would have been if the cast a (G rated) Snoop for the role & let him do the music... It is almost sad that the "Girls Gone wild" and the weed scene got him so completely. Snoop Lion has talents that he's never even tried.

    August 6, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
  6. Socal Reggae

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

    August 6, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • PAUL

      ONE LOVE!!

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

      August 6, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
  7. OkayMan

    I am actually insulted. Now to be honest I don't know Snoop's background but I know it was miles better than Trenchtown Jamaica. The audacity of this man to say he is the reincarnate of the great Bob Marley. I am an American black and I believe Bob Marley was a prophet and Snoop sang rap.

    August 6, 2012 at 10:14 am |
    • OkayMan

      ooh so sorry I misspelled cRap!

      August 6, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • JPX

      Of course Snoop became a Rastafari – the religion is just an excuse to smoke weed. All religions are so silly.

      August 6, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • Aine57

      I'd really like to know how it is possible to be the reincarnation of a person who was alive at the same as you, Mr. Lion.

      August 7, 2012 at 3:35 am |
  8. GOD PARTICLE UK Dave

    VIDEO CAMERAS READY!

    IT'S THE LAST OF THE ARGUMENTS TODAY! :) :) :) :) :) :)

    August 6, 2012 at 3:40 am |
  9. THC4All

    Snoop has found a justification for his affinity to marijuana. What's he gonna do now with his pimpisms?

    August 6, 2012 at 1:26 am |
  10. Zero Gods

    Oh, people.

    August 5, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
  11. Bill Hocter

    They "hash" it out .Deft.

    August 5, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
  12. Kenny

    This is so stupid. He has some great weed. That's all there is to it. I used to eat McDonald's but I find Shake Shack Burgers way better tasting. Am I going to work there? NO! Stupid!

    August 5, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • Aine57

      Isn't it rolled in cigar shape and size?

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

    If Snoop lion is a true rasta, when is he going back to Africa? Sounds like a chance to sell some more records and burn some more blunts.

    August 5, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
  14. Carby

    SNOOP DOGGIE DOG – just justifying his smoking pot 24/7 and his hatred for whites......

    August 5, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • D. Russell

      @Carby: where in that article defining Rasta did you devine hatred for white people. Rasta defy anyone who does not believe in equality and righteousness, regardless of race.

      August 5, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • Koali

      Worshiping the creature more than the Creator. Making graven images.
      ---------
      There is one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism; one Name given under Heaven by which we must be saved. Jesus Christ.

      August 5, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
    • Alejandro.ivar

      @ Carby, taking information out of context as you did is dangerous and identifies a larger problem amongst most people. Please read more carefully as Snoop does not hate white people... I however hate stupid people...
      @ Koali, with regret I must inform you there were many faiths before Christianity and discrediting one based off its priciples does not ratify nor add validity or credibility to yours. Especially when one could argue just how controversial your particular faith came into fruitation and its very existance. Think outside the box folks.

      August 5, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • RoyToys

      D. Russel, did you not read the article? Quote, "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."
      So who gets to define the oppressor?

      August 6, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • PsykoGhost

      @ D.Russel: Maybe you should go research Rastafari and then you'll realize that they USED to believe that black was the master race and the white man should be subjugated to the black man's will, UNTIL Hailie Selassie aka Ras Tafari, said that is not what he wanted to be represented in his name.

      August 6, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
  15. SnoopPoop

    He's a satanist,..he blatantly shows it on his "murder was the case" rap video selling himself to devil for mammon. EXPOSE Him ALL,pass the info on.

    August 5, 2012 at 9:58 am |
    • Seyedibar

      Hail Satan!

      August 5, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • PAUL

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

      August 5, 2012 at 11:08 am |
  16. Sviggy_6

    I know Snoop has never abondaned his responsibilities as a man.

    For him to be at the right place at the right time was all to be followed by blessings. He is the son of the universe indeed.

    Through the powers he has been the champion of black urban lifestyle realies, ghetto particularly, I have always felt Snoop being.

    He must carry on taking advantage of the lion share present to him.

    1love
    @www.756freelance.co.za

    August 5, 2012 at 4:01 am |
    • THC4All

      What?

      August 6, 2012 at 1:22 am |
    • Tracy

      I think the negative stuff was outside influences, a lot. Record companies are only interested n what sells... In his youth he got hooked up with the love of the lifestyle. But there is a difference about him. He never really fell down the hole like so many others. I'm looking forward to seeing what he becomes.

      August 6, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
  17. Smokey

    Marijuana is a sacrament, its use is not to be taken lightly, it is a burnt offering to the most high and not a casual thing to smoke and act foolishly. People say, "legalize it." I disagree, we live in this society under the rule of the law of man, we do not live under the rule of the law of God, our laws are wicked and our society, Babylon. Marijuana is Holy and should not be incorporated into Babylon legal system, it exists under God alone and is His gift to His children, it's not compatible with the laws of man or the wickedness of society, it exists outside of the Combine which is enemy of all.

    August 5, 2012 at 3:44 am |
    • Tracy

      Although, I am not religious, I agree. Proposition 19 in California was a bad trap they escaped. It wasn't about protecting small family growers... It was about paving the way for wallmart and Marlboro and a bunch of corrupt government clods looking for yet more money and power. De-criminalization, sure... But these guys were going to legislate and poison. Bad stuff.

      August 6, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • Motty

      You don't need any mind-altering drug in order to meet the real living God.

      Or, you can be deceived into thinking you can be like God. Same old deception, new attractive packaging.

      August 6, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
    • sam stone

      disagree if you wish. legalization is coming

      August 7, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • sam stone

      motty: how do you know this? i have felt very close to god with a belly full of magic mushrooms

      August 7, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
  18. Reality

    As noted on p.23:

    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 5, 2012 at 1:28 am |
  19. csx

    There is stupid, and then there is really stupid.

    August 4, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
  20. GOD PARTICLE UK Dave

    YO! MY GREAT RASTA BUDDIES! :)
    Charge up your video cameras ready to record the street comedy of the Final Confrontation!
    The Devil has just been informed that God's enemies the riff raff are now in the wilderness years & the Devil is very happy for us, even though his dodgy empire is ready to collapse!
    The riff raff will now be deprived of every possession & will run naked in the streets – hence comedy mode!
    God TV has been informed of the above via http://www.god.tv/prayer/prayer_request
    Rejoice & video the comedy Final Conflict my Forever Rasta Buddies! :) :) :) :)
    LIGHTS! CAMERA! ACTION! FILM AWHILE! THEN ATTRACTION!

    August 4, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
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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.