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TORONTO – Any music star looking to stay relevant and sustain a career over multiple decades needs a certain flair for self-reinvention, and when spiritual awakening is involved, it’s often a cue for eye-rolling. (Paging kabbalah Madonna. Sorry, Esther.) Reincarnated accompanies the artist formerly known as Snoop Dogg as he records an upcoming reggae album of the same name in Jamaica, embracing the Rastafari credo of peace, love, positivity and primo organic ganja. While it doesn’t go deep on the transformation, Andy Capper’s intimate documentary makes a solid case for this as a sincere personal and professional odyssey.
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As is to be expected in a film on which the subject and his wife are executive producers, and his manager is a producer, this is very much the authorized account. It’s notably lacking in a single voice of skepticism, or anything critical beyond Snoop’s own frank assessment of his history. But the rapper has always been a charismatic eccentric, and as an all-access pass to an artist embarking on a new path, this is entertaining stuff – funny, disarming, even poignant. It’s also jammed with terrific music.
The global editor of Vice magazine, Capper spends extensive time in the recording studio with Snoop and DJ producer Diplo, who shepherded the album through his Jamaican dancehall/electro house fusion project Major Lazer. The film whets the appetite for the disc, due later this year, the first to be released under the performer’s new moniker, Snoop Lion.
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It shows the singer and his collaborators – who memorably include Bunny Wailer, last surviving core member of The Wailers – exploring the bridge between melodic hip-hop and reggae. As lively a presence here as he was in Kevin Macdonald’s biodoc Marley, it’s Wailer, described by Snoop as his spiritual big brother, who upgrades the Dogg to a Lion over a massive spliff.
But as much as Snoop’s musical future, the film reflects on the past of an artist who has begun, at age 40, to consider his legacy. “I know Obama want me to come to the White House, but what the fuck can I perform? Be honest,” he says. It’s a long way from rapping about pimps and guns and thugs and bitches to the seemingly heartfelt sentiments of pain and joy that permeate the new material.
That’s not to say that Snoop repudiates his past in ways that will alienate diehard fans. On the contrary, he connects the dots linking his own life to the struggle embodied in much reggae music.
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He talks candidly about his upbringing in Long Beach, California, with a tough-love mother and no father figure, and his indoctrination into and eventual rejection of a gangbanger crime culture. This is by no means an exhaustive bio-portrait, but there’s considerable detail in Snoop’s recollections of the Death Row Records heyday, and it’s moving listening to him recall his reaction to the murder of stablemate Tupac Shakur. Also covered is Snoop’s acquittal on charges related to a shooting committed by his bodyguard in 1993, the most violent time in hip-hop.
The look back is characterized by equal parts confession and self-absolution, but there’s a persuasive sense here of a man taking stock of his life. The time spent in Jamaica seems part of a general hunger for a mellower, more meaningful existence, which ties in with Snoop’s affiliation with the Nation of Islam and with controversial minister Louis Farrahkan. The death in 2011 of his fellow rapper and close friend since high school, Nate Dogg, appears to have cemented this more introspective turn in Snoop’s life. Loss also informs at least one track on the new album.
The performer’s time in Jamaica is marked by lovely interludes such as a tour of Trench Town, the birthplace of reggae, where Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Wailer all lived in their youth. A drive high into the Blue Mountain Range to out-of-the-way cannabis fields brings some amusing moments, notably when one of the entourage, Daz Dillinger, enthuses, “I’m rollin’ a blunt in the jungle! Ain’t that a trip?” And Snoop’s visit to the Alpha Boys School in Kingston, renowned for its influential music program, yields a toe-tapping performance by the young orchestra.
A pivotal part of Snoop’s journey is his pilgrimage to the Nyabinghi Temple, where he smokes, gives thanks and gets re-baptized as Berhane, which means “shining light.” While Reincarnated only skims the surface of Rastafari compared to the more detailed Marley, it does convey that the love-and-purity kick is a real commitment for Snoop, and not just a makeover gimmick.
Smoothly assembled by editor Bernardo Loyola, with a wealth of footage from the old West Coast hip-hop days, the film cries out for an additional footnote following the album’s release to include critical and fan-base response.
Venue: Toronto Film Festival (TIFF Docs)
Production companies: Vice Films, Snoopadelic Films
Director: Andy Capper
Producers: Surooshi Alvi, Ted Chung, Codine Williams, Justin Li
Executive producers: Calvin Broadus, Shante Broadus
Directors of photography: William Fairman, Nick Neofitidis
Editor: Bernardo Loyola
No rating, 96 minutes
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