From Dogg to Lion: Rastas divided over rapper's conversion

Bunny Wailer accuses Snoop Lion of embracing Rastafarianism simply to publicise his new reggae album. Tim Walker reports

Rastafarians are thought of as a peaceful bunch, yet one of the Rastafari movement's newest adherents has caused uncharacteristic discord in its ranks. Bunny Wailer, the sole surviving member of the original Wailers line-up, this week accused the rapper Snoop Lion – previously known as Snoop Dogg – of faking a Rastafari conversion in order to publicise his new reggae album.

Bunny Wailer, who formed the Wailers with Bob Marley and Peter Tosh in 1963, told the website TMZ that Snoop had engaged in "fraudulent use of [the] Rastafari community's symbolism" and that he had failed to honour, "contractual, moral and verbal commitments" he allegedly made to Wailer and his fellow Rastas.

The California rapper, whose real name is Calvin Broadus Jr, is set to release his first reggae LP in February. Reincarnated was recorded in Jamaica last year, and its creation is chronicled in a film of the same name, to be released simultaneously. The documentary shows the star's embrace of Rastafari culture, including a visit to Wailer. It also explains the name Snoop Lion, which he claims was bestowed on him by a Rastafarian priest; the Lion of Judah is an important Rasta symbol, rooted in Ethiopian history.

Wailer was supported in his criticism by the Ethio-Africa Diaspora Union Millennium Council, an umbrella organisation of Rastafarian groups based in Jamaica, which sent a seven-page letter to Snoop, telling him that "smoking weed and loving Bob Marley and reggae music is not what defines the Rastafari indigenous culture", and threatening to sue if he did not issue a public apology and drop the "Lion" suffix from his name.

Certainly, marijuana is the aspect of Rasta culture that features most prominently in the rapper's personal history. Among his many encounters with the US legal system are arrests for possession in 1998, 2001, 2006 and 2012. Last year he was banned from entering Norway for two years, after he arrived with 8g of cannabis.

The rapper unveiled his new stage name at a concert in Canada last summer. That performance included reggae versions of his hits "Gin & Juice" and "Drop it Like it's Hot", as well as Bob Marley covers.

Marley's son, however, has come to Snoop's defence, suggesting that his father, who died in 1981, would have endorsed his conversion. "Our father, like a true Rasta, would have embraced Snoop's reincarnation and welcomed the positivity," Rohan Marley told TMZ. Mr Marley, 40, is the co-founder of Marley Coffee, and of the House of Marley range of eco-friendly headphones. "Why condemn a man for his love of Rastafari and Bob Marley?" he said.

According to Eli Roth, the director who shot the video for "La La La", the performer's first single as Snoop Lion, the metamorphosis is heartfelt. "Snoop is for real," Roth said. "He really felt he was the continuing spirit, the reincarnation of Bob Marley … He's a platinum-selling rapper. Why would he do it for money?"

In 2012, Snoop told Billboard magazine he had made the Reincarnated film to explain his transformation from rapper to reggae artist. "I allow you to go on the journey with me."

He went on: "People appreciate my voice, no matter what it's doing. If it's singing, rapping, talking, they appreciate the time that I put into giving them something creative from me. That's why the transformation into reggae fits … because to me reggae is about love and peace and unity."

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