Grammy Award? Snoop Lion Gets it, We don’t!

I know some of you are still confused. ‘Should I call him Snoop Dogg, Snoop Lion or just Snoop?’ – is just one of the questions circulating about the new lion. Rest assured, all the sites that matter identify him as Snoop Lion recognising his self-appointed transformation, and he is clear about the inspiration which led him to change animal companions from the lowly dog to the powerful king of the jungle. In an interview with Entertainment Report (aired every Friday on Television Jamaica) Snoop said he felt he had grown beyond the reference ‘Dogg’ and having been inspired by Marley it was time he embraced the mighty ‘lion’ and simultaneously Rastafari. The latest statements were published in the January 26 edition of the Sunday Observer leading up to the much anticipated Grammy Awards. It revealed that ‘many dispute his claims and see it as exploitation’. 

Beyond the controversy over a transformational visit to Jamaica, one of the lasting things marking Snoop Lion’s change of heart with man’s best friend, is his album Reincarnation which ostensibly marks the journey. Not only is there Reincarnation, but the ‘documentary film Reincarnated  is now available along with Snoop Lion’s Reincarnated Photo Book’. 

Reincarnation

The twelfth studio album for American recording artist Snoop Lion, Reincarnation was released on April 23, 2013 under Berhane Sound System, Mad DecentVice Records and RCA Records. The album marks a departure from the well known hip hop template that has been shaped by Snoop. No less than Miley Cirus, Drake, Chris Brown, Akon, Busta Rhymes, our very own Mavado, Mr Vegas and Popcaan are guests on the musical product. ‘The album was produced by Major LazerAriel Rechtshaid, 6Blocc, Dre Skull, Supa Dups and Diplo, who also served as executive producer’. 

So let’s back up a bit! Snoop’s journey to Jamaica has been made indelible through branding on at least three different products, two of which are visual. The journey with its products could be argued is a classic popular cultural tactical move, one fraught with appropriation as a motive, circulating around an American-flavoured globalisation of the ‘ultimate cool’ Jamaica at the in/visible centre. Snoop Lion’s website says a little more about the escapade, and the release of the Reincarnated Photo Book featuring the all-important transformational Jamaican journey:  

 ‘The story of Snoop’s musical and spiritual journey to Jamaica, reaching its culmination during the recording of his most recent album…[is] captured in VICE and Snoopadelic Films documentary Reincarnated. This book is an extension of this powerful moment in the life of a pop culture icon captured by LA photographer Willie T. [It] includes extended interviews with Bunny Wailer, Louis Farrakhan, Chris Blackwell, Daz Dillinger, Angela Hunte, and conversations between Snoop and VICE—never-before-seen photographs and untold stories from his personal archives…his early days singing in church to his discovery at sixteen by Dr. Dre and his phenomenal life onstage and on tour to his gang involvement, and Snoop’s handwritten notes and nicknames for the characters along the way. It also includes the limited edition vinyl only given to a select few musical insiders before the album’s release.’

snoopcrowd

REINCARNATED (ft. Snoop Dogg): Official Documentary Trailer

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Snoopermarket is the place to head if you’re in a hurry to get the book! But let me get back to the transformational Jamaican journey and the fact that it earned the album produced around that journey, a Grammy nomination. Where did all this begin? How do Jamaicans feel about the way in which the album has been received and is being consumed? How do Jamaican’s feel about the way the album represents Snoop’s Jamaican experience? Here’s one thought which appeared on Facebook:

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Bear in mind that Rastafari, even as it has been the memory of the Jamaican people, the historical compass for analysing the atrocities and breaches associated with enslavement and colonialism, and the philosophical pillar associated with how as disenfranchised Blacks in the Diaspora we might address our relationship with the oppressive forces of Babylon while purporting self-reliance but with a heart of ‘one love’ toward all, is the same Movement that has been persecuted and at best snubbed by especially the middle and upper classes. As I like to say, Rastafari is the outcast until the troubled soul needs to find its soothing yet revolutionary reggae music as medium for spiritual comfort. So, the opinion of Jamaicans in relation to Snoop Lion is to be seen in context with the troubled relationship historically between Rastafari, the Jamaican populace, and the nation state. 

A Pilgrimage to Jamaica

Before recording the album, Snoop Lion went on what could be called a pilgrimage to Jamaica investigating and communing with Nyabinghi Rastafari brethren. (Sidebar: How many Jamaicans have taken time out to learn about the Movement, much less take a pilgrimage to any of its mansions? Hmmmm.) Among the inspirational figures who made the journey an imperative were reggae musicians such as Jimmy CliffBob MarleyPeter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Gregory Isaacs. Snoop has declared – “I feel like I’ve always been Rastafari, I just didn’t have my third eye open.” (snooplion.com). Statements such as these are not entirely unusual. They are made by ordinary persons, visitors to the island, reggae and Rastafari initiates far and wide. However, we don’t have any degree of frequency in hearing such pronouncements from celebs, and certainly not Hip Hop celebs. And, no other initiate has reaped three products in such quick succession, at least in my memory, from a change of heart with the Lion of Judah.

Snoop Lion in Jamaica meditating with Nyabinghi Rastas

The proof of the cultural appropriation pudding is no doubt in the eating, and while reviews have acknowledged the album is worth a listen, we know that the Jamaican trip reaped benefits at least of sales, if not the coveted Grammy Award in the Best Reggae Album category. According to Snoop’s site, Reincarnation debuted at number 16 on the Billboard 200 chart, with first-week sales of 21,000 copies in the United States. In its second week the album sold 8,600 more copies. In its third week the album sold 4,700 more copies. In its fourth week the album sold 2,900 more copies. As of June 26, 2013 the album has sold 50,000 copies in the United States. The album has been in the top 20 of many music charts from Australia and Austria to France and Spain. It also topped the US Top Reggae Albums, featured at number 16 on the US Billboard 200 chart and number 4 on the UK R&B Albums chart. Reincarnated, has sold some 90,000 units and is the best selling reggae album for 2013.

Q&A: Snoop Lion & Diplo Discuss Their ‘Reincarnated’ Reggae Project

http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/the-juice/480692/qa-snoop-lion-diplo-discuss-their-reincarnated-reggae-project

With Jamaican artists, many of whom are returning to reggae musical aesthetics in their recordings, struggling to sell albums and songs, comments in the wake of Snoop’s Grammy nomination have circulated around the quality of the music being produced in Jamaica, the fact that dancehall is dead, and most of all that artistes outside Jamaica have a greater appreciation for Jamaican music than those at home.

Before I had listened to the album or knew anything of how it was faring on the music sales scene, I heard of various comments made by industry insiders, most notable of whom is Roger Steffens, reggae archivist, Bob Marley collector, author, and photographer. Steffens, who headed the Grammy Awards Reggae Committee for 27 years, went on record saying it would be a travesty if Snoop won. Here’s the full article published in the Jamaica Observer:

‘Travesty if Snoop wins’

ROGER Steffens, who headed the Grammy Awards Reggae Committee for 27 years, says it would be a travesty if American rapper Snoop Lion won the Best Reggae Album category at next month’s show.
In an interview with the Jamaica Observer, Steffens described Snoop as a “pretentious wanna-be”. He is also not impressed with nominees for Best Reggae Album who were announced last Friday in Los Angeles.
“I think it would be a travesty if Snoop wins. He, like Matisyahu and many others before him, have used a Rasta-influenced format and warped it toward their own ends,” said Steffens.
Snoop (formerly Snoop Dogg) is nominated for Reincarnated. He says his conversion to Rastafari was inspired by a visit to Jamaica in 2012 when he experienced a spiritual awakening while meeting with a group of Rastafarian elders.
Sly and Robbie and the Jam Masters’ Reggae Connection, Sizzla’s The Messiah, One Love, One Life by Beres Hammond and Ziggy Marley in Concert are the other nominees for Best Reggae Album.
Steffens formed the Reggae Committee and served as its chairman until 2011. He has openly criticised the selection process, claiming that judges favour albums produced by the Marley family.
The Marleys have dominated the category since it was established in 1985. Brothers Ziggy, Damian and Stephen have won Grammys as solo acts, while Ziggy and Steve won multiple times as members of Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers.
Steffens, considered an authority on Bob Marley and the Wailers, believes this year’s nominees maintain the trend of mediocre selections.
“The nominations this year fit into the pocket of name recognition more than anything else, regardless of sales or actual quality,” he said.
Reincarnated, with sales of over 80,000 units, is the best selling reggae album for 2013. The year has been poor in terms of sales by Jamaican artistes, with American reggae bands performing better on the Billboard charts.
The Snoop set attracted mass coverage from mainstream media in the United States, due to his conversion from ‘gangsta rap’ icon to cultural artiste.
The lanky rapper (real name Calvin Broadus) is one of the godfathers of gangsta rap which emerged out of southern California’s impoverished communities in the early 1990s with hardcore rap acts such as NWA and Ice T.
The 56th annual Grammy Awards is scheduled for the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles on January 26.

Fast forward to the January 26, 2014 announcement of the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album with nominees Beres Hammond (One Love, One Life – VP Records), Ziggy Marley (Ziggy Marley In Concert -Tuff Gong Worldwide), Sizzla (The Messiah – VP Records), Sly & Robbie And The Jam Masters (Reggae Connection – K’z Records), and yes, Snoop Lion’s Reincarnated (RCA Records/Berhane Sound System/Boss Lady Ent.). We now know that Ziggy Marley copped the award amidst comments that there is a special place in the Grammy corridors for the Marleys. Whatever the result, and whether it would have been a travesty if Snoop won, there are important lessons to be learned from the rapper turned reggae artist. It is on this matter that I wish to dig a bit deeper.

While reggae music sales have shifted marginally for Jamaican artists such as Chronixx, Protege, Iba Mahr and Kabaka Pyramid who form part of the core of what is being called the ‘Reggae Revival’ placing the revolutionary commentary of Rastafari back in the music, there is something above and beyond sales that is critical. With the entire sales platform having shifted with digital sales overtaking other forms, and the disparity in access to iTunes for example, being a crucial factor in terms of location, buyers and distribution, Jamaican artistes would be well advised to tackle two important issues around music quality and that of management / distribution deals. It is full time that local Jamaican acts get that what it takes to break into the international market is solid music, rooted in the spirit of Jamaica, staying open to international collaborations, musical cross-fertilisation and even cultural appropriation. Afterall, let’s not get it twisted. Industry insiders will tell you Jamaica only has the making of an industry, but it will take understanding the parts of the market monopolised by Hip Hop stars turned reggae artists such as Snoop Lion to move beyond the challenges of quality and parochialism. These are key ingredients for protecting and advancing Jamaica’s musical pedigree and ultimately, Brand Jamaica.

Acknowledgment: Pictures of Snoop Lion courtesy of his website snooplion.com.

Read more about Reincarnated here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reincarnated_(album)

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3 thoughts on “Grammy Award? Snoop Lion Gets it, We don’t!

  1. Jamaica continues to expire those outside of our shores and they have carefully converted it to a worthwhile profile of their own Brands. Whether he gets it or not, it is something worthwhile for a continuous on the impact of the Jamaican culture. I am pleased Ziggy won and would have been a travesty. But Snoop’s use/exploitation is not to go unnoticed. Isn’t it about time. By the way, Chronnix combined well with Monty and Ernie in NYC on Saturday, January 25….

    • Yes indeed Carole! Thanks for the feedback. Many of us can see exactly that. We must begin to objectively see who we are in the creative landscape. It would definitely have been a wake up call if Snoop had won. Now we know for sure that the win is not driven by sales figures or even popularity.

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