First he was Snoop Doggy Dogg, then simply Snoop Dogg. Now, 20 years after the release of his debut single as a solo artist — the still-vibrant "Who Am I (What's My Name?)" — the laid-back rapper from Long Beach has altered his identity once again. And this time he's changed his sound too: Next month, Snoop Lion is to release a full-on reggae album called "Reincarnated," the product of an extended trip he and his crew took last year to Jamaica.
"One king, one faith, one religion," he raps (in ersatz island patois) over a bouncy groove in the single "Here Comes the King." "And if you love me, come and join the revolution."
As befits a multi-platform media star such as Snoop, cameras accompanied the MC to Jamaica, documenting the experience for a new film also titled "Reincarnated." The movie, directed by Andy Capper, was produced by Vice, the Brooklyn-based company that recently organized Dennis Rodman's controversial excursion to North Korea. Call this latest project dancehall diplomacy.
Capper captures plenty of diverting adventures in and around Kingston, as Snoop jams with a band of sweet-faced school kids and visits a marijuana field deep in the foggy recesses of Jamaica's lush Blue Mountains. (There may be more weed smoked in "Reincarnated" — in blunts, bongs, even the occasional hollowed-out carrot — than in the collected works of Cheech & Chong.)
And he glides like a politician through the slums of Trench Town, seeking out the spot where Bob Marley and the Wailers helped invent the music that nearly a half-century later has come to signify carefree fun in the sun.
Yet most of these episodes, along with footage of Snoop working in the studio with the producer Diplo, merely reinforce what we already know about the man Rolling Stone once called "America's most lovable pimp." Here Capper's film feels like a making-of featurette spun out to documentary dimensions, just another component in the new album's marketing plan.
"Reincarnated" digs deeper when the director cuts to excerpts from a series of disarmingly intimate interviews with Snoop in which the rapper ponders the violence in his past, including the unsolved killing of his friend Tupac Shakur and Snoop's arrest in 2006 on weapons-related charges. Speaking with the kind of forthrightness he rarely summons, Snoop describes his transition to reggae as an effort to outrun those demons, to access the music's ability to transform pain into power.
Time will tell, of course, if the conversion sticks: None of the songs featured in the film matches the intensity of Snoop's big hits. In its simplest moments, though, "Reincarnated" presents an honesty that is its own reward. It shows us an old Dogg with no tricks.
MPAA rating: Rated R for pervasive drug use and language, and some sexual content.
Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes
Playing: At the Laemmle Monica 4-Plex in Santa Monica