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. cc

    This is a watered down typical American article. Rastis have never refered to blacks as their oppressor.

    August 2, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • wisdomVS

      Weed is the only oppressor of the Rastis. Enjoy yo smoke mon. Bro' wants to be a dummy, think like a fool.... help thy self bro. White folk say, that's cool, then ask will they all be moving away to the island now?

      August 2, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
  2. jack

    a junkie is a junkie, is a jukie. put what whatever lipstick on this pig you will, a junkie is still a junkie.

    August 2, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • wisdomVS

      Plain and simple.

      August 2, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
  3. ededits

    Eric, there are no "tenants of the faith." That's right, none. There are tenets of the faith.

    August 2, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      Being a Belief Blog Editor is a really hard job! Sometimes people don't agree with you. Stick to your beliefs, Eric. There are tenants in church.

      August 2, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  4. Mass Debater

    "if someone can convince you that you are inferior, then they have really oppressed you"

    Nobody has done that better than white male christians over the last thousand years or so. And they still look around sheepishly, eyes all wide saying "What do you mean oppresion? We are only trying to help the rest of the world be better people, just like us, right? So what if we have to break a few brown eggs now and then to make our christian omelette..."

    August 2, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • wisdomVS

      Enjouy your place in Hell... you are obviously a hater.

      August 2, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
  5. Bible Clown©

    I hope Eric isn't as shy and sensitive as his co-editor Dan. Poor Dan was really hurt by all our comments about why God killed all those people in Aurora. Maybe Eric will write tomorrow about how Anti-Rastas all go to church on the internet, too? Or claim we are all in denial about our Rastafarianism? It must really suck to be a Belief Blog Editor.

    August 2, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  6. cc

    The Lion represents the Lion of Judah(Yah) were all people from the transatlantic slave trade descended from. They are the true children of Israel. Not the Askenazi Jews in the land. They are false portrayers just like the majority of the white race.

    August 2, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • wisdomVS

      Take another puff bro. Yo mind ain't got no logic mon.

      August 2, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
  7. DUH

    publicity gimmick...to try and make him relevant again.... big deal.

    August 2, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  8. rosie

    I burn'in ma hat now mon. snoop you no be a Rasta mon. Go home.

    August 2, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
  9. JustinS

    I just wasted 5 min. of my life reading this crap.

    August 2, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • rosie

      See now that is your problem, reading the article. It is way more fun to read the comments and comment on them instead. Learn to troll before you roll.

      August 2, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  10. wisdomVS

    Great... another religious nut but this time smoking pot. If Snoop 'whatever' really wants to be a devoted convert then he should go to Ethiopia and stay. Personally, I think it's just a publicity stunt to promote his latest album. The word is out that RAP is becoming a dying genre of music, no real money left in it. Therefore, many black artist are looking for a new genre to exploit. Some of them are even flirting with the white rednecks of country music in hopes of hitching a ride with folks like James Aldeen. Who has tried country + rap, which = C.R.A.P.!

    Regge is cool, rhythmic and fun. I like it but I don't need some brother mentally trapped in some religious rhetoric to get me to listen to it. By the way... he should also drop the 'Snoop' name too... it simply sucks when paired with Lion.

    August 2, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      You sure spend a lot of time whining about this. Go do a crossword puzzle or something.

      August 2, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  11. esblimie

    Rastafari like Lucky Dube from South Africa (check him out on youtube) believes in using his potential to unite humanity as one. Hence, his wordings, 'hey, you rasta man, hey, you india man, european, we have to come together as one.' Rastafari's life goal is peace, unity, love and equality. Rastafari puts huge value on family life. Rastafari enjoys time together and as pointed out in the article they grow dreadlocks, and wear vibrant colors like yellow, red, yellow, green etc. Rastafari believes weed is from the Creator, the Creator gave us plant earth. With this reasoning they believe it must serve a purpose and so there's nothing wrong smoking weed. Rastafari smokes weed and laugh, sing, and enjoy their presence. A Rastafa, I met randomly while heading to the store reached out to me after smoking weed and asked me to close my eyes so he can pray. He started speaking in tongue, and I had no idea what he was saying. I thought God had send him to give me a message. He placed his hand on my head and then asked me to close my eyes. I almost fell for that until I smell the weed and then I said, oh, on not today and I walked away. He continued speaking in tongue. I grew up in Liberia listening to Rastafari musics.
    Emmanuel Blimie
    What's In Me Comes Live
    available online

    August 2, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  12. cc

    There is no race more disrespectful and hateful of other people, their culture,way of life,etc then the white race. So glad Yah is removing you out of power right now. You will never rule again!Prophecy says it so get mad at the scriptures.

    August 2, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • wisdomVS

      The Holy Bible says that the world is coming to an end... so I guess nobody is going to rule following the gentile race (the gentile race also includes black people). Education is a wonderful thing but usually doesn't mix well with religious rhetoric.

      August 2, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • Nate

      Yes and Chinese Communits will be better to lead, or militant oppressive Muslims that don't want women to vote and do anything without asking...actually I could get on board for Snoops new religion and people. Maybe we should try the Jamaican way for a while.

      August 2, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • themeaningoflife33

      you are a joke, and a hypocrite

      August 2, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
  13. Socal Reggae

    SOCAL REGGAE (socalreggae.com)

    August 2, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
  14. reese

    so cynical and dismissive. If it doesn't fit within your views or understanding, it's either wrong or stupid. Classic myopic America.

    August 2, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
  15. David Kuklinski

    It takes quite a bit of weed to believe Hallie Selassie I was god.

    August 2, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
  16. Socal Reggae

    Great new song by Tommy Dubs and Piracy Conspiracy

    August 2, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
  17. onecell

    Snoop, what a scamming d-bag.

    August 2, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
  18. brad1001

    With the pot movement going as it is, Snoop is right at the waves' crest. Smooth marketing methinks. Don't let a little thing like faith get in the way of banking bling, Snoop.

    August 2, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
  19. Nate

    The whole time I am reading this I am thinking, great...another movement for the id!iots of this nation. Dude you just don't get it.. man... it is a lifestlye man...I feel like I am totally back in Africa with the lions man... I can feel myself starving and not being able to find food man... I feel like the flies all around me man... Awesome!!! You know we all came from Africa man... What a journey!! Dude you should try this. FAIL!!!

    August 2, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • @Me Too

      from you rnarrow point of view yes.. you fail...

      not all afriac is the way your descibe.. there's atleast a billin peole in Africa... adn they did kill off more ptopel with mechettes in six months than we did with powder and shot of the US cival war... 🙂 🙂

      August 2, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • Nate

      Please note that my comments are not meant to offend any legitimate followers of this, I am simply pointing to the posers that do it only because of the weed factor.

      August 2, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • RocMon

      Dude, don't belittle... you have no clue!

      August 2, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • RocMon

      Nate – when you put yourself above others... you are failing!

      Honestly – nobody cares about your 'quick to judgement' opinion... not because you don't have the right but rather because you are belittling others with ignorance and bias...

      Do you eat solely to nourish your body?

      August 2, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
  20. med

    Ras Tafari was the given name of the Ethiopian Emporer before coronated at which time he became known as Haille Sellasie (Holy Trinity). Sellasie was said to have visited Jamaica during a time of drought and rain came and so he was viewed as divine and hence the birth of a spiritual movement Rastafari. So Rastafari has its roots in the Ethiopian Emporer who was said to be the last of the Solomon dynasty and he is held in high regard in Ethiopia appearing in all over the churches, but Rastafari is very different from Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity which is very religious and legalistic. This is what I learned in a visit to Ethiopia. All who are familiar agree?

    August 2, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      That's about right; Marcus Garvey led his people to the promised land, and then the next promised land, and finally to Jamaica. His seeds took root in Jamaican soil and turned into little rastamen, who grew like weed and became dominant. There's a movie called COUNTRYMAN that you should see if you are interested.

      August 2, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • Greg Lewis

      I find it HILRIOUS when people attribute certain natural events (raind during a time of drought) to a particular person. In this case, when Salassie supposedly visited Jamaica and the rains came. Without any factual data to support my claim, I'm almost100% certain that other people visited Jamaica on the same day(s) that Salassie visited and should be equally credited with the rain coming. If, in fact, we can prove that Salassie was the only new visitor to the island the day the rains came, then I might begrudgingly give him some credit. On second thought, maybe not.

      August 2, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • RocMon

      I haven't been as yet, but what you say sounds the bell of truth to me 🙂

      August 2, 2012 at 2:23 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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.