The rebirth of Snoop Dogg

It is said he has become a Rastafarian, and changed his name from Dogg to Lion. A new documentary will reveal the transformation of a rap superstar.

Snoop Dogg is a man in transition. Now in his forties and married with three children, he believes it's time to challenge himself musically and yearns for the respectability his 20-plus years in the business should by rights have afforded him. Or, as he puts it, "I know that Obama wants me to come to the White House, but what the f**k can I perform?"

And so, to Jamaica, where it is reported that Snoop Dogg became "Snoop Lion", converted to Rastafari and recorded Reincarnated, an album of reggae-tinged tracks, which eschews "guns 'n' bitches" in favour of "peace 'n' love". Is this a spiritual reawakening? An elaborate marketing stunt? Or just your everyday, risible midlife crisis – albeit "Doggy-style"?

Thank VICE Films, and specifically Andy Capper, VICE's Global Editor-turned-documentary-maker, for the opportunity to find out for yourself. Last year, Capper and his team followed Snoop around Jamaica for a month as he found creative inspiration with Bunny Wailer, smoked weed, collaborated with some schoolkids, smoked some more weed, recorded an album and then smoked weed again. The film was made, says Capper, at Snoop's own instigation. "It turned out that Snoop is a big fan of our stuff. He'd seen documentaries I'd made before like The VICE Guide to Liberia and Swansea Love Story. He'd seen Heavy Metal in Baghdad. So his team approached us, like, would we like to film this?" For his own part, Capper was keen, but cautious. "I said if you're gonna compare yourself to Bob Marley, which sounds a little bit rich, we're gonna have to go deep and show people what you actually mean by that."

Compare Snoop's proactive approach to branding with that of Sixto Rodriguez, the subject of last year's best music documentary, the Oscar-winning Searching for Sugar Man. In that study of humility, director Malik Bendjelloul spends the first half of the film believing the singer-songwriter is dead, such is Rodriguez's reluctance to participate in the fame game or, for that matter, perform with his face to the audience. It's hard to imagine similar reticence from the man Rolling Stone magazine crowned "America's Most Lovable Pimp".

For Snoop and his fans, the various reality TV ventures, the series of ridiculous hairdos and – most of all – the pronouncements on his own greatness are as much a part of his charm as his music. In that regard he is no different from most other rappers of his generation. If the canonic "elements" of hip-hop number four, then self-promotion must be the unofficial fifth.

It's no surprise then that hip-hop, born in the era of the Hollywood blockbuster, has so fully embraced the promotional potential of cinema. Tupac Shakur acted in seven feature films before his early death in 1996, and has been the subject of several documentaries since. There are the legions of rapper-turned actors, of which Ice Cube and Ice T are among the most successful; and while some are no doubt answering a thespian calling – Mos Def certainly didn't accept a role low-budget paedophilia drama The Woodsman in a bid to sell records – many of these films have unashamedly commercial goals.

This is particularly true of gangsta rap artists, for whom "hustle" is often both the message and the medium. Eminem's 8 Mile (2002) cemented his Detroit-based credibility and in doing so helped sell more than four million copies of "Lose Yourself", the most successful single of Eminem's career to date. Similarly, the motto "Get Rich or Die Tryin'" summed up 50 Cent's ethos so effectively, he used it twice: in 2003, as the title of his album and in 2005, as the title of his semi-autobiographical film debut.

Dan Charnas, former exec at Def American Recordings and author of The Big Payback: the History of the Business of Hip-Hop, says there's no reason why hip-hop cinema shouldn't be both marketing and art. "I think it's a false distinction, especially in hip-hop. The notion that art is some clean, pristine thing, but the means that allow people to enjoy it are somehow dirty, is very academic, very bourgeois.

"What artist who writes an oeuvre about his own struggles wouldn't want those struggles depicted on the silver screen? What's so contradictory about making money from your art and your story?"

The gangster flick – with its rise-and-fall narrative – has long been the go-to genre for these hip-hop hagiographies, and for obvious reasons, but Reincarnated takes a different tack. The scene where Snoop and his entourage stumble around a Jamaican hillside, in search of – you guessed it – some marijuana to smoke, has more in common with Cheech and Chong's stoner comedies than mid-period Scorsese.

The departure is a deliberate one, and it's all in keeping with Snoop's new career direction, says Capper, "Someone said, 'You're rebranding the superstar.' I'm like, 'OK, I guess we are.' My main message was to make people believe that what he's doing is not just a gimmick. If it's an image change, every great artist has an image change now and again, and it's one of those."

Proponents of journalistic objectivity might find this collusion between subject and film-maker troubling – aren't documentary-makers supposed to maintain a detached perspective? In fact, VICE's gonzo-take on the documentary has already been cut down to size by The New York Times media columnist and newspaper veteran, David Carr. In a much-shared clip from the 2011 documentary, Page One: Inside the New York Times, Carr gets riled after listening to VICE co-founder Shane Smith trumpet the virtues of VICE's unconventional reporting style in Liberia. "Before you ever went there, we've had reporters there reporting on genocide after genocide," Carr points out to a red-faced Smith. "Just because you put on a safari helmet and looked at some poop doesn't give you the right to insult what we do."

Yet however righteous the indignation of journalism's old guard, the VICE model is emerging triumphant. By wading into topics usually reserved for "serious" journalism, it has transformed from an independent Canadian style mag into a multimedia empire. Now even Carr's daughter, Erin Lee Carr, works at VICE as an associate producer. If Reincarnated is to be the inaugural film in a new hip-hop-bio-doc-meets-marketing-exercise subgenre (a doggumentary?) Snoop and VICE are the ideal collaborators.

Capper has no qualms about Snoop's participation as a collaborator rather than a subject. It was, he says, essential to the success of the film ("You couldn't get the access without the collaboration"), but also in keeping with a hip-hop founding principle that predates even the conspicuous commerce of gangsta rap. "I think Chuck D coined the phrase, 'Hip-hop is the black CNN', and Snoop really bought into that. He'd seen our documentaries and wanted to be like a VICE journalist, which is weird because usually you've just got Shane [Smith] there, but now you've got Snoop."

Reincarnated is released tomorrow

That's a rap: Hip-hop biopics

Notorious (2009)

Not to be confused with the 1946 Hitchcock film, Notorious chronicles the life and violent death of rapper Biggie Smalls (aka The Notorious B.I.G) in gangster-flick style. Acting unknown Jamal Woolard is great in the lead, but Nick Broomfield's 2002 doc, Biggie & Tupac, tells the story better.

8 Mile (2002)

Eninem's alter-ego, Rabbit triumphs against the odds in urban America. And with Curtis Hanson of LA Confidential in the director's chair, the real Eminem triumphed too; this one pleased film critics as much as fans.

Get Rich or Die Tryin' (2005)

Coming three years after Eminem's far superior 8 Mile, this similar film suffered by comparison. There's no getting around the fact that 50 Cent has little acting talent, and why Jim Sheridan of In the Name of the Father was signed up to direct is one of cinema's enduring mysteries.

Hustle & Flow (2005)

Djay, the hero of Hustle & Flow, is fictional, which might explain why this hip-hop story contains a lot of the character insights the other films miss. Terrence Howard plays Djay, but real-life rapper (and half-decent actor) Ludacris has a supporting role.

Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
News
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jude Law in Black Sea

film

In Black Seahe is as audiences have never seen him before

Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops

film

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game