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. tony

    He just switched lanes on a 10,000 lane freeway to nowhere.

    August 2, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
  2. BobZemko

    And the world is supposed to care because . . . . ?

    August 2, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
  3. elliottblatt

    This retards 15 minutes were up years ago.

    August 2, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
  4. Dr. Shakalu

    This s**t is f***ing crazy. I don't know how lion got into the neighborhood. I heard some growlin' and s**t. So my roommate and I, we go to check this s**t out. I look up in the tree, and there's the f***ing king of the jungle! It was staring right at me. I almost s**t my f***ing pants. So I ran inside and called the 5-0.

    August 2, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
  5. WowCNNbadjob

    Wow. CNN Anti-Christian connection long overdue confirmed. Rasta's do believe in Jesus. For some reason they decided to leave that out

    August 2, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
    • @Me Too

      Oh I'm glad so I can be a Rasta with clear conscience about employing the name of Jesus...

      Now that way I don't have to lie at all to get my weeed..

      the thought of gettign my weed and smoking it to is too tempting 🙂 🙂 🙂

      August 2, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • @Me Too

      I bet a lot fo athies would become Christinas by this new religion ... because it is in the bible....to use it.. a bitter herb....

      Moses gave bitter "herbs" to the Hebrews on their way out of Egypt...

      their only problem is that they ran out of it in the wilderness and doubted God.. 🙂 🙂 🙂

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

    Now if we can rid the world of those college age white kids with dreadlocks and a lion flag. Those dudes are the epitome of a worthless dirtbag.

    August 2, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
    • niknak

      What do you think Bill Gates was? Or any number of highly intelligent creative types who have developed most of the technology you are using right now to make your life easier?
      I say we should all sit in a circle and smoke weed and get to know each other and ourselves better. Maybe we would start to understand each other instead of kill each other, like you are suggesting.

      August 2, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • @Me Too

      I'm all with you nik nak 🙂

      August 2, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
  7. Wowschnizl

    Wow!!! Now that's special. I know I'm impressed.

    August 2, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
  8. h

    His new religion should be called Weedism.

    August 2, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • @Me Too

      that's a good name for it... th efeds would have to back off...

      they shoudl jut name it ................ The Feds Back Off My Religion..... 🙂 🙂 🙂

      August 2, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
  9. Bart Flaster


    It could have been Snoop Snickerdoodle. : (

    August 2, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
  10. Socal Reggae


    August 2, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
  11. Bart Flaster

    I suppose it must accomodate his beliefs about 'junk in da trunk' and phat booty shaking.

    August 2, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  12. ohnoooo

    key belief – "death to all white and black oppressors?? " – in a loop now.. !!!?

    August 2, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • haha

      lol.. its in a loop, till there is none..

      August 2, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • niknak

      Kill all the white people, fast, while there is still time.

      August 2, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
  13. Randy Sturgill

    Snoop Lion needs to realize that before his death, Bob Marley converted and was baptized as an Orthodox Christian. He was received into the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and he disavowed Rastafarianism. His funeral was even an Orthodox funeral which is not given (even to this day) to anybody who is not a member of the church in good standing. The fact that this is NOT mentioned in a story that refers heavily on Bob Marley's religion is very poor reporting by Mr. Marrapodi.

    August 2, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
  14. Socal Reggae


    August 2, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
  15. Socal Reggae

    For the Latest News in Southern California Reggae, goto:

    Click on NEWS

    August 2, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
  16. WH

    I was going to comment but then I did a bong and forgot what I was going to write.

    August 2, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • Bart Flaster


      Go now and munch forth.

      August 2, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
  17. goodfellow

    Ive been listenning to snoop since i bought his first tape and played it non stop in my walkman. Snoop is a legend and he can do whatever he wants he will always be a great artist. Long live Snoop Lion, even though I do miss that 90's G funk era!

    August 2, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
  18. BruthaDOWN

    I ain't mad @ u brutha.

    August 2, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
  19. Andrew

    that was one of the worst explanations of Rastafari (anism?) I've ever heard. Rastafarianism is an offshoot of Ethiopian Christianity that centers around the Ethiopian royal family being direct decendants of King Solomon and The Queen of Sheba. In addition to the Bible, the Kebra Nagast, similarly to Ethiopian Christians, is their major text. The other things listed in this article are for the most part true, but encompass very minor parts of the religion, and this article is really just a big stereotype.

    August 2, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
    • niknak

      I liked the part about do they smoke weed. YES, A LOT!
      Unfortunately, Rastas as not one of the many religions that knocks on my door each month trying to convert me.

      August 2, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • Andrew

      and I'm all for some humor, but not by belittling a whole group of people

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

      why that's funny I can just smoke it man and believe in Jesus at teh same time mon.. 🙂 🙂

      August 2, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  20. Pan3

    Good for Snoop, if it makes him happy and doesn't harm. As long as he (or other Rastas) don't judge and condem people for what they say God tells them, unlike the other major religions of the world...

    August 2, 2012 at 1:32 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.