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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. Darth Cheney

    We all handle our midlife crises in different ways...

    August 2, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
  2. Bryan

    This dude and a lot of others like him are Minstrel shows. "Let me be as black, ignorant and foolish acting as I can be to make money...". Now step-n-fetch-it for the cameras, Snoop.

    August 2, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • Jaymar

      I so agree with you.

      August 2, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • LionsMaine

      I don't understand how you can possibly judge him when you don't know anything about him but a glamorized persona created for an american public. That persona only works based on bias and racism and was crafted by fascist socioeconomically experiments. This man is making positive changes in his life, which is more than I see from most of my white friends.

      August 2, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
  3. ph

    a n egro makes lots of money rapping about drugs, guns and ho's...then decides to smoke weed full-time, declaring himself to be (in his mind) the reincarnation of Marley?

    he is furthering the notion that no amount of money could make him any more than a selfish person, completely unaware of the impact he could have if he chose to step up and lead in philanthropy.

    August 2, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • LionsMaine

      So to choose a path following the an exemplary man is selfish? How did you come to that conclusion? Besides the fact that he is black to you.

      August 2, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  4. Fiona

    "... Actually going back to Ethiopia...". Right. Like that's where every black person hails from because they are all descended from Ethiopian kings. Puh leeze!

    August 2, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • LionsMaine

      Ethiopia is the birthplace for all of mankind. Regardless of race.

      August 2, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • Bryan

      This fool doesn't know where he's from. Ethiopia is on the east coast of Africa. The slave trade routes to America ran out of west Africa; around the areas of the Niger River and the Congo River. He doesn't even know his history. Ethiopians were mostly domestic slaves IN Ethiopia until Italian forces took over and abolished slavery there in the 1930's.

      August 2, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • LionsMaine

      @ Bryan. For you to suggest that the italian invasion of Ethiopia was a good thing proves your ignorance about history. Wome people should just STFU. People like you spread lies and it leads to massacres like in aurora.

      August 2, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
  5. Yehoshua Ben Israel

    Here is my reply to the CNN article on Snoop's conversion to Rastafari:

    As someone who used to consider myself a Rasta, I can say this article is GENERALLY correct. For some reason Rastas have been confused with stoner hippies in the minds of many. It is good to see this article made a distiction between the two.

    I left my Rasta livity because Rasta creates much confusion. This happens because there is no central doctrine that ALL Rastafari agree on. I cannot spread confusion, so I stopped calling myself a Rasta and I never mention it unless in these settings. Many in Rastafari bicker back and forth claiming who is and who isn't a Rasta. There is also an element of racism amongst some Rastafari. I have since become a Messianic Hebrew. I personally believe Yah (Jah) used Rastafari as a way to draw me closer to Himself and the Truth of His Word. But because of the confusion in Rasta, I cannot promote it.
    ...
    Some Rastas do read and use the Bible to try to spread light, love and respect to the world. This is the kind I was, but even then confusion was great. It is my hope that Yah will use Rasta as a means to Draw Snoop Lion closer to Himself and the Truth of Yah's Word thru the Messiah Yeshua.

    By the way, Bob Marley converted to Christianity and was baptised into the Eithiopian Orthodox Church before he died. He did not die a Rasta, but a Christian. Also, Halie Selassie stated that he was not the Messiah.

    August 2, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  6. snowdogg

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

    Wondering how many have returned to their "roots"?

    August 2, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  7. wyattbuchanan

    I see now Calivn has masterd the fine art of justfying bad behaviour. He "conversion" to be a Rasti-man is an attmept to find a rlilgous justfication to continue smoking weed, which he has glorifed for years. I am sure he said “I am a good and ethical person. I have decided to do this; therefore this must be an ethical thing to do, since I would never do anything unethical.” (lol).

    Effective, seductive, and dangerous, this rationalization short-circuits ethical decision-making, and is among the reasons good people do bad things, and keep doing them, even when the critics point out their obvious unethical nature. Good people do bad things sometimes because of complacency and self-esteem begins with a conviction, often well supported by their experience, that they are incapable of doing something terribly wrong. But all of us are capable of that, if our ethics alarms freeze due to our environment, emotions, peer pressure, and corrupting leadership we can wind up doing our own thiugn and asking for the stamp of "God" on it.

    August 2, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • Lindsey

      i'm not a really religious person, but am spiritual, but the weed smoking helps with a lot of medical conditions as well, like migraines, like i have so, i can see why he wants to make it legal. but if that's what they believe in, you shouldn't make judgement about doing that. marijuana has been around for 5, 000 years and was the first plant (kinda like tobacco) ever harvested by humans, and has been used by many many cultures for many different reasons, including spiritual and medicinal. and it helps me to not have to take 16 pills a day for my migraines, so don't bag on and judge something that you have no idea about....

      August 2, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • saywhat?

      What exactly is he doing that is unethical? Surely you don't mean smoking ganga, that's simply an organic plant that grows wild and is purely natural and only illegal due to fear and misunderstanding. It is also arguably and certainly better and less dangerous than alcohol, over the counter pharmaceuticals or cigarettes for relaxation, to calm nerves, or for recreational use as alcohol is often used, as to alter one's mind, and those are all perfectly legal. You're very confused. Are you a Scientologist?

      August 2, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • Steve

      Lindsey... marijuana was the first plant ever harvested by humans? That's about the dumbest thing I've ever heard. Ever heard of something called "eating"? It ranks a lot higher on most people's list of priorities than getting high.

      August 2, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
  8. mike

    Snoop is an idiot. Bob Marley rejected the Rasta movement toward the end of his life and converted to Eastern Rite Catholism in the Ethopian Orthodox Church.

    August 2, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • saywhat?

      And then Marley was probably, upon his death, baptised into the Mormon Church as everyone is unbeknownst to their family members. Look it up in the social security death index for your dead relatives, that's where they get their prey. Those @$$clowns baptise everyone, no matter what faith or lack thereof they might have been. That Marley might have been duped by fear (he was human) that christians are controlled by doesn't negate his previous decades-long belief in Rasta, and that you think it did makes you look very narrow minded.

      August 2, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • not quite

      That's not quite right...read a little more.

      August 2, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
  9. Bryan

    Snoop Dog has officially become a cartoon.

    August 2, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • majikmuzik

      Good for him. He's evolving, and rasta and reggae embrace afro-amer heritage.

      Not all Rastas smoke the herb. This article, and the gal in the vid suck.

      I'm white, 6'2", and the angle that this reporter takes is offensive. Snoop is a father, an artist and has the right to be driven and evolve, regardless of his upbringing and past.

      George Bush Jr. was a drunk driving coke head. Rasta is not a bad place to evolve to, and weed is the safest substance out there.

      August 2, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • Steve

      Right, majikmusik, because all African cultures are the same, and a religion invented in Jamaica in the 1930s is a perfect representation of it as well. Joining a religion that preaches, for no logical reason, that the now dead emperor of Ethiopia in eastern Africa (who many of them believe is really alive) is God, is a great way to celebrate one's west African heritage.

      Thanks for telling us your height, by the way. It was a very valuable addition to this discussion.

      August 2, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
  10. Jerry

    So snoop lion finds a religious way to justify and legitimize his smoking of weed.

    August 2, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • snowdogg

      You have a problem with "chronic"?

      August 2, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • pockets

      I am sooooooooooooo happy he said he was "bored" with Rap and "Tired" of it., like 99% of people the music is simply trash. Just total garbage. Reggae is at least lyrical and you have to have some degree of talent to "sing" and not go on about guns and 'ho's'. Women must be soooo sick of the trash talk,and put down's. Time to move on to another form of music for those with "talent' the rest will end up on the road side.....its way past time.

      August 2, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
  11. Great

    Great Dog...er... I mean Lion. I thought there for a while they had turned you into a moslem. Just don't get caught with the Ganja. That plant should be legalized anyways.

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

      No problem mon... In Jamaica you can score at the airport.

      August 2, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
  12. New Dad

    How is this news worthy?
    Snoop Lion was a Crip gang member while in high school. Shortly after graduation, he was arrested for cocaine possession and spent six months in Wayside County Jail. (Wiki)
    I pray that my son becomes a gang member, drug dealer and gets arrested and raps about it... otherwise HOW is he going to become a multimillionaire? If being a drug dealing Crip is NOT his style, maybe I can help him get on a reality show where he can b/c famous for being unemployed and undereducated.
    Whatever it takes! :)

    August 2, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • sunsetlove

      Worry about your own children instead of other people's children....

      August 2, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
  13. blaqb0x

    So smoking MJ can be protected under religious freedom? YES!

    August 2, 2012 at 11:54 am |
  14. Yehoshua Ben Israel

    As someone who used to consider myself a Rasta, I can say this article is GENERALLY correct. For some reason Rastas have been confused with stoner hippies in the minds of many. It is good to see this article made a distiction between the two. I left my Rasta livity because Rasta creates must confusion. This happens because there is no central doctrine that ALL Rastafari agree on. Many in Rastafari bicker back and forth claiming who is and who isn't a Rasta. There is also an elecment of racism amongst some Rastafari.

    I have since become a Messianic Hebrew. I personally believe Yah (Jah) used Rastafari as a way to draw me closer to Himself and the Truth of His Word. But because of the confusion in Rasta, I cannot promote it. Some Rastas do read and use the Bible to try to spread light, love and respect to the world. This is the kind I was. It is my hope that Yah will use Rasta as a means to Draw Snoop Lion closer to Himself and the Truth of Yah's Word thru the Messiah Yeshua.

    By the way, Bob Marley converted to Christianity and was baptised into the Eithiopian Orthodox Church before he died. He did not die a Rasta, but a Christian. Also, Halie Selassie stated that he was not the Messiah.

    August 2, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • therealpeace2all

      Interesting opinions.....

      Thanks.

      Peace...

      August 2, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • mcmorin

      Tell me about this: "A key belief for Rastas is the notion of death to all white and black oppressors". Is this true? I have not really seen or heard of Rasta violence.

      August 2, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • @Me Too

      Perhaps this is just what I need too... I hate the fact that pot is illegal becaue it is a very peaceful and caring influience on people in general...as opposed to alcohol...
      My initial experience with God was with the influience of Columbian pot isn 1975... It did not lead me to believe in Jah but in Jesus... that was and is the only name given among men to be saved.. :)
      confusion came from ignorance.. I've mad many discoveries directly from teh holy Spirit Himself ; bu tI wish to acceleraqte my capasity to understadnas only under the influeinc eof pot can appereciatly provide :) :)

      Still I am full of wisdom without the use of pot...just by the covenant God has made with me...but it takes so long for me to comprehend when pot would make me see almost immediately.. :)

      August 2, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • Steve

      Rasta violence: there's plenty. Read an article in Time called "The Most Hom.ophobic Place on Earth?" Don't go to Jamaica if you're openly g.ay - you're asking for a beating or worse. The country overall has about the world's highest murder rate (not that their religion is causing all of that, but it's certainly not preventing it very well).

      August 2, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
  15. Corey

    It's the capital S oh yes so fresh N double O P... L – I – O – N – Y... L – I – O – N ya see? (Yea that doesn't work anymore)

    August 2, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • ARTHURDOYLE828

      That ish was tight, son!

      August 2, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
  16. lightzz

    Snoop iz the man...

    May the divine bless us all...

    August 2, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  17. Common

    How about some positive comments. All of this negativity is just a sign of the ignorance of small minded americans. Let the man be a rasta. If you don't like weed, then just turn your head, but don't talk down to pot smokers. It's not the most popular illicit drug for no reason, with no socio-economic borders. If this man found a spiritual connection with anything, people should be proud. Peace

    August 2, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • Bill

      Weed is just like any other drug, and its users smoke it for the same reason as they do other drugs. They want a high. If there was no high, people would not smoke it. That simple.

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

      Weed is not like every other drug. It is one of the most nutritious and useful plants on the planet.

      August 2, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • ME II

      @LionsMaine,
      "Weed is not like every other drug. It is one of the most nutritious and useful plants on the planet."
      Seems unlikely, what's your source? (for information)
      I'm sure the seeds are similar to other plant seeds in nutrition and the fiber material is very useful, but otherwise it's just another plant.

      August 2, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  18. LionsMaine

    This article and its comments is the reason for followers to exist. Christ followers can say they worship a zombie, but I chalice is nah right. Ya dunno a bl**dclat ting. Rastafari is a path to the truth on this planet since the starting of the great wars of our time. Our time. The only possible time of your revelation. Ya waan fi hide HIM truth and do it enmasse. Ya do it with propaganda engineered by fascist US educational doctrine. Tell me seh who H.I.M. is? TELL ME? Ya dun know!! We chant dunga babylon. Stop oppression wherever you see it. You are responsible for the fate of the world. The true American dream and founding is in direct correlation with H.I.M. teachings and must stay that way. http://www.rastafarispeaks.com/HIM_UN.html

    August 2, 2012 at 11:48 am |
  19. meh

    Such a BS artist – no matter what hat he wears. Get a job jerky and pay for your pot the old fashioned way

    August 2, 2012 at 11:48 am |
  20. Kris

    I agree that smoking weed can be a spiritual thing. I don't expect many to agree with me, but I don't really care. I know what I know, you know what you know. Fire up.

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

      So you do not smoke it to get high?

      August 2, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • Kris

      @Bill – of course my man, just saying it's more than getting high and eating Doritos as some like to suggest.

      August 2, 2012 at 12:57 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.