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. Pastafari

    Thats right my brothers, join the true religion of Pastafari!! Where we s.m.o.k.e w.e.e.d all day and eat nothing but our God the Flying Spagh.et.ti Monster's noodly appendages... or at least our representation of them, covered in garlic and bu.t.t.er or a sp.icy marinara sauce...

    August 2, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
  2. nick

    I'm sick and tired of all these fake religions. The one true religion is Pastafarianism and the one true god is the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

    August 2, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
  3. Mass Debater

    " I said, 'Snoop Dogg.' And he looked me in my eyes and said, 'No more. You are the light; you are the lion.'"

    I'm pretty sure that "high" priest meant for him to change his first name to Lion, not his last...

    Lion Dogg what what!!

    August 2, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • duckforcover

      I think he meant Snoop Lyin'.

      August 2, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
  4. adrifter

    I saw Bob Marley in concert in 1979. It was a religious experience. Snoop Dogg... not so much.

    August 2, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
  5. Bob B

    I kind of like Snoop,but does he really know what he will have to do to be a real Rasta? I don't think it will last.

    August 2, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
  6. Jahfree

    marijuana is the healing of the nation

    August 2, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
  7. abe

    Well I have never seen a Rastafarian scarf down half a dozen chicken sandwiches in order to oppress gay people.

    I have however seen them scarf down a ton of cookies after they got high.

    August 2, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
  8. Islam4fools

    At least he didn't convert to Islam. Otherwise his name would have been changed Snoop BOOM.

    August 2, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
  9. Cosmo

    More like Snoop stoned...

    August 2, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • Karlokarl

      Maybe it's short for Snoop Lionthebedyoustoneddude.

      August 2, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  10. you

    If they want to go back to Africa... GO BACK TO AFRICA!. Who cares... leave, go back, dont care. This goes for anyone from any country. Leave, we dont need you.

    August 2, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • Randy

      Same to you. Unless youre pure bred Native American of course...just saying!

      August 2, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • Augustus Ceaser

      you first – we are waiting.

      August 2, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • Squid

      What on Earth are you even talking about??

      August 2, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • me

      We don't need you either. Get packed, the rocket's leaving.

      August 2, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
  11. wylieKOT

    I love it! "...he went to see the High Priest..." and they get togrether to "hash" things out...

    August 2, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  12. Chuck Steak

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

    August 2, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • Chuck Wagon

      Haw haw! Yer sech a wit, yungun!

      August 2, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  13. Harry McNutsac

    What an idiot. This guy obviously has street smarts, but real intelligence is nowhere to be found in the vicinity of his head.

    August 2, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • abe

      Yeah sucks to be him, being an idiot with all those millions of dollars.

      August 2, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • Harry McNutsac

      You have no idea how much money I have, imbecile.

      August 2, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • abe

      Yeah cause I am sure harry mcnutsac from the yahoo forums is worth more than the $110 mil the guy he is calling an idiot has.

      August 2, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • Augustus Ceaser

      Yes Harry... all your three figure salary...

      August 2, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
  14. Jimbo

    It does bring clarity, that is the truth. When I need to figure out what to do and see the real issues at hand, it always helps.

    August 2, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  15. albert lafontain

    Snoop has no talent at all. I have no idea how he made it in the bizz. Wait there are at least 100 others like him that have NO TALENT AT ALL and they all hang on to rap crap for a living. What a joke the music bizz is! Where is the great music we used to have that had a melody to it? I say bring back the seventies.

    August 2, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • Harry McNutsac

      People don't really listen to music anymore. That is one explanation. Another explanation would be that the hoi polloi have been over-breeding for so long, that the ratio of dumb to smart has gone way up.

      August 2, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
  16. The Oppossum King

    A Dogg by any other name would still be a Dogg...er, Lion.

    August 2, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
  17. Loathstheright

    I don't smoke and don't drink, but I support this....a lot. The government needs to keep out of our private lives, equality for all or equality for none, take your pick.

    August 2, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • Doodlebug2222

      Yet sometimes the government must protect others from what some do in their private lives. How would you feel if your child's bus driver was high, and rolled up to take them to school? Or the surgeon standing over you? Or the accountant or bank clerk? There are rules? You mean like asking the guy driving that big rig to not get his buzz till after work? Oh but what if he still has a buzz when it's time for him to hit the road again? Your going under the guise that people are responsible and do the right thing – because it's the right thing to do. Look, we can't even get them off the cell phones texting while they are driving... something very deadly – and easy to – not – do.... You are presuming everyone will be honorable and only smoke pot – in their private time and at home – endangering no one. Not cooking while high, not lighting a gas stove, not bathing their newborn... etc...

      August 2, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
  18. pizzagew

    I alright its just a phase. All kids go through phases when they grow up. Then some kids never grow up.

    August 2, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • Doodlebug2222

      Sure it is a phase – and we all have them.. continually, even if we do not see it for what it is. You know, we catch ourselves saying "you don't know me" – fairly often, but we also should ask, how well do I know myself, my true self, my potential? Sometimes out of the blue we have an experience that alters how we think of ourselves and the world around us.

      It is good to explore the possibilities, to learn, to do, to become. Even if Snoop does not do well at it – that's not the point, the point is – being happy with yourself and what it is you do.

      August 2, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
  19. Socal Reggae

    Check it out – scoalreggae.com

    August 2, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  20. Louisa

    He's just tired of getting busted. By going this way he can try and claim that smoking is a part of his religion. I thought he changed his name to try and get in countries that previously wouldn't let him in. It's all pretty funny when you think about it.

    August 2, 2012 at 5:38 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.