"Snoop Dogg was never a character. Snoop Dogg was always for real. That's who I am today, as we speak." As we speak, the rap icon, charismatic actor and newly minted reggae artist Snoop Dogg is talking about himself in the third person from his home in Southern California. When we spoke this week, he was readying himself for a trip to Toronto, where the documentary Reincarnated is set for a world-premiere screening at TIFF. The film chronicles the herbalicious superstar's recent transformation from a laconic, smoke-haloed rapper to an island-happy, tam-wearing Rastafarian dubbed Snoop Lion.
Mirror, mirror on the wall, then, who is the Snoopiest of them all?
I ask the man about rappers, and their propensity for myth-making and character-creating. He explains, emphatically but with no harshness, that Snoop Dogg was highly genuine, and that Snoop Lion (which is a name placed upon him by Rastafari elders during his significant journey to Jamaica) was no different. "When people see this movie, they will know fully that this is not a fake," he insists. "This is for real."
Cynics have suggested that Snoop's spiritual and musical rebirth – "I feel like I'm Bob Marley reincarnated" – was motivated by marketing concerns rather than a legitimate one-love lifestyle change. "When you get to a certain point in your career, you either close the door or you find ways to do it differently and come back again," he says, adding that this laid-back style of hip hop has long enjoyed an affiliation with the reggae crowd.
Reinvention and identity issues have always been a part of his Doggy style. Born Calvin Cordozar Broadus, Jr., he had a hit in 1993 with the single Who Am I (What's My Name)? After beating a murder rap in 1994, his album The Doggfather in 1996 marked a move away from gangsta rap toward a less agitated approach – a style appreciated by alt-rock audiences.
When Snoop speaks about his prior association with the reggae set, in part he's getting to his stoner image. And while his original intention was simply to travel to Jamaica to make a reggae album, the trip turned more life-changing than simply mind-altering. "It changed me as a person," says Snoop. "I wasn't looking for it. I believe the spirit of Rastafari sought me out."
The Jamaican adventure was caught on film by Vice, a Canadian-founded magazine (with film, video and music branches) now based in New York. Snoop's management team had noticed the Vice-made documentary Heavy Metal in Baghdad , which premiered at TIFF in 2008. The Reincarnation project grew from an online video idea to a feature-length film as Snoop integrated himself into the island culture.
A rough cut of the film was shown to TIFF programmers, who quickly booked it for this year's festival. The film wasn't completed until last week; no advance screenings have been held.
At a press conference earlier this summer, Snoop spoke about the project rekindling a childlike enthusiasm.
"I had lost the spirit of the kid." he tells me. "Now that spirit is back." What was Snoop like as a kid, I have to know. Turns out that on Halloween, he and his friends would wait until other kids had filled their bags. Then they'd snatch the Milk Duds and suckers from them. "That's the kind of [blankey-blank] kid I was," the former drug dealer admits. Did you not dress up yourself? "I think I was a ghost, my first couple of times," he recalls. "I took a sheet and cut out holes for eyes." Years later, the recording artist continues with his transformations.
Who and what is Snoop today? "He's a little bit older, a little stronger, a little wise and he's a got a couple grey hairs in his head."
Is it good to be Snoop?, I ask him. "Naw," he replies. "It's great to be Snoop."