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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. HeavensMusic

    Listenening to Ben Harper he also sings of "Jah" I always felt it was Jehovah he was referring to. Kinda nice to see it in the article. Snoop has touched so many people and been such an influence on our culture. It is Great he has embraced something he can show his "kids and grandparents" as he said in another interview. Lets look for the good in our lives. Let this Man embrace the spirit that communed with his and wants to bring forth good works. The indians of this land already new the significance of the weed plant, who are we to say about the marijuana plant. Washington DC legalized it. And we all know they need the help. GO SNOOP LION GO, and as you know Christ came into his own and they accepted him not.

    August 2, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • elbebo

      Snoop just found a religion that will allow him to smoke as much weed as he can without being judge. Now he can say to the world I smoke weed because my religion demands it. LOL

      August 2, 2012 at 11:56 am |
  2. retroman

    there goes 10 minutes of my life... wasted!

    August 2, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      But as Moleman said, "I'd have only wasted them anyway".

      August 2, 2012 at 11:44 am |
  3. Johnny the D

    Looks like Snoop has had an esplifany.How noble....

    August 2, 2012 at 11:42 am |
  4. Sagebrush Shorty

    And the dumbing – down of America continues.

    August 2, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • Rastaman

      what's your point sagebrush, other than to spread misinformation?

      August 2, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • enoughznough

      LOL, you are correct Sagebrush, yet garbage like this is looked up to! The sad fact is that we are near the bottom already..

      August 2, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • pillionaire

      Information about a different culture- flawed and simplistic as the summary is- is dumbing down? Pretty sure it's the opposite.

      August 2, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
  5. enoughznough

    Snoop Poop should be he new name. What a do oooofus!

    August 2, 2012 at 11:38 am |
  6. Pau

    Hahaha.... Oh my goodness....

    August 2, 2012 at 11:38 am |
  7. Martin

    rastafaris are no more ridiculous than christians, jews or muslims. no point in ridiculing anyone.

    August 2, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • Chris

      Well you are right on the one hand, the pool of stupid belief is wide and deep. However what is called for is more not less ridicule of the ridiculous.

      August 2, 2012 at 11:46 am |
  8. ryan evans

    totally cool to make fun of someone's religious conversion as long as it wasn't to a judeo-christian one. That would be in poor taste, right CNN?

    August 2, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Technically, it is Judeo-Christian. Same deity anyway.

      August 2, 2012 at 11:37 am |
    • Rastaman

      +100

      August 2, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • readthebook

      What does Judeo-Christian mean anyway? For Jews, Christ was justa Rabbi. For Christians, Jews betrayed Christ. So where's the love. Muslims are closer to both Jews and Christians in that all of them are Muslim prophets.

      August 2, 2012 at 11:46 am |
  9. asdf

    Once all the African-American Muslims find out they can eat pork, drink, and smoke weed this will be the third most popular religion in the US.

    August 2, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • Martin

      As a Christian, you believe in religious tenets created by dark people so check your intolerance. Fool.

      August 2, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • asdf

      @Martin – I'm an atheist, so I don't really care about that. Also, I do all three things listed above. I think Islam's spreading among African Americans is a real shame because if there's one thing us whites can learn from them its how to cook a pig. Although I guess it would be nice to understand music and dancing too.

      August 2, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Black people have stopped understanding music. Compare Ornette Coleman to basically any popular black musician today.

      August 2, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • asdf

      @Rational – I guess you're right. They really dragged us into Jazz and Rock N' Roll, but these days the people on the frontier of music are white nerds.

      August 2, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • Rastaman

      ASDF: so you think black people 'dragged' white people into jazz and rock n roll? and the best thing you can learn from black people is 'to cook a pig'? you sound like a racist

      August 2, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • asdf

      @Rastaman – well I guess "dragged" wasn't the right word. They invented it, and we were just along for the ride. It was ultimately a good thing, and somethign they don't get credit for. As for the pig thing, you would've called me a racist regardless of what I put there unless it was something like particle physics which just lacks any credibility whatsoever. Of the things that black people generally do better than whites, I believe that BBQ is probably the one I appreciate most.

      August 2, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • stee

      Rastas don't eat meat.

      August 2, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • SeeNN1

      Of all meats, pork is the most despised by Rastafari. A rasta who eats pork or it's by-products is not one at all.

      August 2, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
  10. answerman28

    Well atleast reggae is MUSIC unlike rap which is a social disease and an embarrasment to the human race.. go snoop.. Glad you've awakened to "try" some real art.

    August 2, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Reggae is pretty crap also.

      August 2, 2012 at 11:36 am |
  11. codevendor

    meow wow wow yippie yo yippie yay :)

    August 2, 2012 at 11:31 am |
  12. Jah

    Hey Snoop, don't bogart that joint.

    August 2, 2012 at 11:30 am |
  13. asdf

    ...like people need an excuse to smoke weed. puh-lease.

    August 2, 2012 at 11:28 am |
  14. InfernalPix

    Poor Snoop... always one step behind. He should have renamed himself Snoop Mountain Lion.

    August 2, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • Trujo

      LMAO!!!

      Sharp comment my dear friend.

      August 2, 2012 at 11:44 am |
  15. Rational Libertarian

    Could someone tell this idiot that his and Marley's lives overlapped, so how is he Marley reincarnated? Perhaps he's possessed by Marley? I'll call the exorcist.

    August 2, 2012 at 11:25 am |
  16. Dexter

    Another belief system that is in contravention of the holy scriptures. Again in violation of the truth, true Christianity, what the first century christians taught, believed and guided by the holy bible. Smoking weed I'm sorry to say is in violation of the scriptures. The scriptures talk about spiritism and the use of drugs which Jehovah God the true God detest. As for Halie Selassie just another way of saying we are replacing the greatest man on earth, Christ Jesus. Christ was the LAW, he replaced the Mosaic Law and gave himself up as a ransom sacrifice for mankinds sins, the bible is very clear and indepth about that. Furthermore the use of Gods true name shows respect, but doing his will is what is in important. Unfortunately and in all due respect this movement though meaning well does not meet Jehovahs approval. Thank You Kindly

    August 2, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      So you now what meets the G Man's approval? Are you Jesus Christ reincarnated?

      August 2, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • asdf

      I guess that's why jesus' first miracle was getting everybody wasted on wine.

      August 2, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • easye123

      Oh Dexter... your clarity is clouded

      August 2, 2012 at 11:31 am |
    • therealpeace2all

      @Dexter

      " Unfortunately and in all due respect this movement though meaning well does not meet Jehovahs approval. Thank You Kindly"

      Obviously, they don't necessarily give a sh!t whether it meets 'your' 'opinion' on Jehovahs approval. Thank You Kindly.

      Peace...

      August 2, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • save the world and slap some sense into a christard today

      if rasta man don't share his weed, slap him too.

      August 2, 2012 at 11:45 am |
  17. sweetongeeks

    I'm pastafarian. My his noodly appendages touch and bless you all the meals of your life.

    August 2, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • sweetongeeks

      *may* Oh the shame.

      August 2, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      RAmen.

      August 2, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • therealpeace2all

      @sweetongeeks

      LOL... It may be a recipe for life-long 'diabetes' ! :D

      Everything in moderation... Including worshiping His Holiness the FSM

      RaMen

      Peace...

      August 2, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • asdf

      You fools sow the carbs of your own destruction!

      August 2, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • Angeldaemon

      Ahhh the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. :p

      August 2, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
  18. therealpeace2all

    FROM THE ARTICLE:

    " 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. "

    LOL...the irony of it... this is just too dam-n funny as it is written ! :D

    However, 'in practice'... I believe I have an understanding of what they are attempting to do.

    Peace...

    August 2, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • Sagebrush Shorty

      It was started by a guy named Rasta who was also fairy.

      August 2, 2012 at 11:37 am |
  19. edith philyaw

    I I thought america was the land of religious freedom give the guy a break.

    August 2, 2012 at 11:21 am |
  20. Barney

    Actually, it's been written by many that Bob Marley actually was a Christian and took Christ into his life long before he died. He struggles with his new found faith because it conflicted with his Rastafari roots. One can be a Christian and a Rastafari. Bob Marley was one of the greatest, and loved Jesus Christ.

    August 2, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • Rastaman

      Its also possible to love the man named Jesus and not be a Christian

      August 2, 2012 at 11:30 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.