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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. 'merican made

    snoop has become...comfortably numb.... is there anybody in there ????

    August 2, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  2. Socal Reggae

    August 2, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  3. weezer

    Like Snoop needed an excuse to smoke more weed.....

    August 2, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
  4. duane - st.pete Florida

    CNN cutting edge news........hahahahahhahaa

    August 2, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
  5. Bible Clown©

    "Haile Selassie" is also named Ras, or Lord, Tafari. You might have mentioned along the way that Marcus Garvey had a dream that threw him out of bed, thundering "Look to Africa, where a black king is crowned!" He picked up his paper and saw Ras Tafari had built a new city in the desert, and began trying to bring his people to Tafari. When he finally arrived, the king thought he was nuts and wouldn't let him stay, and his shipload of idealists ended in Jamaica. Was that so freaking hard to say?

    August 2, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
  6. dont be a sucker

    Just another 'artist'..(pardon me while I contain my puke) who has loooong been irrelevant to the brainwashed masses and is trying to satisfy his ego

    Puff Daddy...P-Diddy...Diddy comes to mind

    August 2, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      "who has loooong been irrelevant" I'm no rap fan, but irrelevant? Dude, he's a millionaire. He sells out concerts and his tunes make money. Everybody knows his name, including you. Now super-size my fries and quit whining.

      August 2, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
  7. Abdul

    No more sippin on gin and juice for Snoop Lion.

    August 2, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
  8. GOD IS IMAGINARY

    all religions are BS

    Jesus never existed dot com

    August 2, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • More like

      you don't exist. I believe you are a bot, therefore...you are a bot.

      August 2, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • @Me Too

      Jesus lives in me today :) :)

      from the page of the bible came he to me...

      to me it's not about religions but all about Jesus...

      the infilling of the Holy Spirit proves to me that Jesus does exists and that in me is he .. :) :)

      this puts a smile on my face every day... whether that day is good or bad in my opininon whether I like it or not...

      because Jesus will be there the next day with me.. :)
      He manifests himself to me every day... already today has he sone so.. :) l

      August 2, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      "He manifests himself to me every day..." Right. Cool story, dude. Take a picture next time He manifests, ok? We'd like to see it.

      August 2, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
  9. BUFFALO

    All together now!: " WHO FUC*ING CARES?"

    August 2, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      All together now: "Buffalo cares!" At least enough to come here and post?

      August 2, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
  10. Abdul

    Rasta is a nice faith with well meaning principles. Snoop dog's past isn't consistant with Rasta. He is going to have to change a lot. I hope he does.

    August 2, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • @Me Too

      I don't see it that way... it's all about having access to marijuana and not being harrased by the feds...

      we may all become Rasts if they don't legalize it... in fact I may threaten Christianity with the... :) :)

      My initial expefiece with God was under the influience of columbian in 1975 : )

      August 2, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
  11. Harry

    And here I thought Rastafari was just about smoking weed... silly me!

    August 2, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
  12. A smart guy

    Anyone who views some nobody Ethiopian ruler as a Christlike figure is a fool. Rastafarianism is a joke and should be treated as such. No, I don't have to respect them either. It's stupid...period.

    August 2, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • Satan

      Any one who views Jesus Christ as a god like figure is a fool. Christianity is a joke and should be treated as such. No, I don't have to respect them either. Its stupid...period.

      August 2, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • Aron

      Yep. Just like every other religion. A big JOKE. On the other hand, the Rastafari tend NOT to go around using their religion to condemn everyone else.

      August 2, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • Oualie

      Need a hug!

      August 2, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      " nobody Ethiopian ruler " Google him; he was pretty awesome, and the city of Addis Ababa is still there. He was a major figure, which is why it's weird that the article skips over him so much.

      August 2, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
  13. Welshmadman

    Uh.....he believes he is Bob Marley reincarnated?????? Can you say burnout..... His whole career has been about demeaning values and morals...especially towards women. That is so contradictory to how Bob Marley lived his life....and the crap about him marrying his High School sweetheart..... Try Googling Snoop Dogg Cheating...the pics don't lie. There are countless sources...so don't give me that "He's a stand up guy and good to his wife" line.

    August 2, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • GetOffYourHighHorse

      What he did in his past is irrelevant as he is "converted". It's what he is doing now and will do in the future that will weed out (pardon the pun) his intentions toward respect of women, etc.

      August 2, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  14. Dennis

    Seems to have a handle on the weed smoking.

    August 2, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  15. Brad

    sounds like he smoked a little too much when he was in Jamica.....a non-jamican singing reggie.....that aught to be interesting

    August 2, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  16. Bible Clown©

    Not a word about Marcus Garvey? Light up a burning spear.

    August 2, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  17. MrApplesauce

    Let's see..

    Snoop is part of the 1%, creates jobs (recording, editing, marketing, packaging, selling his records, etc), has found religion...

    and is hated by the Right because? He's black and likes weed.

    If only he was white and like cocaine, he'd be a hero.

    August 2, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • A smart guy

      I'm not on the right and I hate what he is doing. He's pathetic for it. It's not religion. It's a joke and you are frankly a fool for having any respect for what he is doing.

      August 2, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • MrApplesauce

      I don't give a crap what he's doing. Pathetic is caring about him and his personal life choices.

      August 2, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • You seem

      to be doing a lot of caring about him. That's quite a defense you have constructed out of cardboard.

      August 2, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • @Me Too

      if marijuana was only legal in these states ... then this woud not be hapning :)

      August 2, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  18. Nate Higgers

    Blacks: nature's clowns.

    August 2, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • Kris

      Don't hate others because you hate yourself.

      August 2, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • Black and Lovely

      White Supremists such as yourself = the devil

      August 2, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • @Me Too

      snoppy may be leadign the way to all being Rastas whereby Pot is legal for religious purposes in these United States.. LOL

      LOl LOL :) :) :)

      August 2, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      Don't reply to hatebots – you make it harder for us to remove them.

      August 2, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
  19. Joe

    Ganja Mon

    August 2, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
  20. Heywood

    nice ro see him finally entering the music business

    August 2, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
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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.