Snoop Lion’s “Reincarnated”

When 41-year-old rapper Snoop Dogg publicly announced late last July his decision to change his beloved moniker to Snoop Lion, it seemed like an insincere gesture. He spent his entire music career making commercially successful records, performing in front of sold-out crowds, and producing radio chart-toppers “Drop It Like It’s Hot” and “Gin ‘n’ Juice.” So why bother changing the name of one of the most respected rappers in hip hop history? According to Snoop’s transformative documentary Reincarnated, he received the Snoop Lion title from a Rastafarian priest when venturing on a “spiritual journey” to Jamaica, as he was intrigued by the popular Rastarfari movement. After the trip, in a press conference, Snoop Dogg even proclaimed that he was the reincarnation of reggae icon Bob Marley. Though this bold statement seemed a bit too self-absorbed, it indicated that Snoop’s chameleonic transformation from rap to reggae might not be a publicity stint. It probably wasn’t even meant to intentionally insult or desecrate Marley’s image (similar to John Lennon’s infamous declaration of the Beatles being “better than Jesus”). As Snoop described in the trailer of Reincarnated, he’s “sick and tired of rapping” and feels that his experience in Jamaica motivated him to create a new path in life. This may be the most emotional point in Snoop’s life, considering his history of participating in gangs, drugs, violence, debauchery, arrests, and court trials. These feelings of pain and suffering have fortunately rendered into an optimistic attitude, resulting in his reggae debut, Reincarnated (the same name as the film). But for fans of Snoop Dogg’s clean cut raps, it may be hard to adjust to the Snoop Lion phase.

Reincarnated isn’t necessarily the Bob Marley of reggae albums, but it’s certainly ambitious. Strengthened by Snoop’s crispy vocals and soulful tunes, the record is also fantastically produced by record producers Ariel Rechtshaid and Dre Skull, as well as Diplo and his electronic reggae side project Major Lazer. However, in terms of the thematic material, Reincarnated doesn’t offer anything truly inspiring and lacks in depth. More songs are written as plain pieces of music than as spoken-word poetry or adrenalized social commentary. Even the list of popular featured artists, which include Miley Cyrus, Akon, Busta Rhymes, Chris Brown, and Drake, makes Reincarnated look predictable and humdrum.

Notwithstanding Reincarnated‘s underwhelming appearance, it nevertheless incorporates some great tracks, including the catchy album opener “Rebel Way,” the vibrant “Here Comes the King,” and the Beirut-sampled, Drake-featured “No Guns Allowed.” Not only are each of these songs the most effectively produced, but the most lyrically powerful. On “No Guns Allowed,” Snoop and his daughter Cori B sing eloquently against the use of violence and about the necessity of peace; Snoop speaks and croons on “Rebel Way” with poise and extrapolates the idea of tranquility once more; “Here Comes the King” is probably the most hip-hop influenced song off of Reincarnated, which may (or may not) excite Snoop Dogg fans.

Unfortunately, the majority of Reincarnated is filled with frivolity and lethargy, gradually decreasing the album’s appeal. Some songs are way too simple and uninventive (“Lighters Up,” “Tired of Running,”), while others are just plain annoying (“La La La,” “Fruit Juice,” “Smoke the Weed”). Snoop trips up with awkward romanticism on “Torn Apart” and with complete mediocrity on “The Good Good.” Additionally, the electronic and pop influences on “Boulevard” and the Miley-Cyrus-featured “Ashtrays and Heartbreaks” are basic repetitions of recycled reggae. Though “Remedy,” which features a dull Busta Rhymes and a barely audible Chris Brown, reverberates some hip hop-styled rhythms, it doesn’t come close the lively appeal of “Here Comes the King.”

It’s hard to say what the future will hold for Snoop Lion and whether or not he will return as the beloved Snoop Dogg. Hip hop and rap have always been within his blood, but it has also led him to unhappiness and indecent behavior. Reggae is indeed a bold and beguiling new path for Snoop, but Reincarnated isn’t as impressive as you might think, despite his genuineness and artistic integrity. It’ll be even harder if he were to keep a hip hop career and a reggae persona simultaneously. But hopefully, whatever is bringing him down, Snoop will find a way.

Grade: B-
Recommended: No
Suggested Tracks: “Rebel Way,” “Here Comes the King,” “No Guns Allowed”                          

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Major Lazer’s “Free the Universe”

Like fellow producer Flying Lotus, Los Angeles-based DJ Diplo has developed two split music identities. As a solo producer, he is known for his acclaimed collaborative album with Brit-Indian rapper M.I.A. and as the mastermind behind Usher’s oozy hit “Climax.” As the co-producer behind the side project Major Lazer, he and former partner Switch have obtained much more unique and diverse music stylings, which helped create their jubilant 2009 debut Guns Don’t Kill People…Lazers Do. Major Lazer’s sound incorporates Diplo’s repertoire of electronic house music with Jamaican dancehall and roots-reggage. Now a popular recording artist, Diplo has gained recognition from both his solo career and with Major Lazer. However, since his separation with Switch, Diplo has enlisted producers Jillionaire and Walshy Fire to co-produce Major Lazer songs and live performances. This year, the release of Major Lazer’s follow-up, Free The Universe, was highly anticipated, but incredibly delayed, which is unfortunate since it shows the discordance and disorganization of the electronic now-trio. What was essential for Free the Universe was not just the anticipation, but for it to be worthwhile.

Every song off of Free the Universe has at least more than three featured guests. They range from cohesive reggage artists and electro hip-hop singer Santigold to eye-rolling rappers and musicians, such as Bruno Mars, Tyga, and Ezra Koneig of Vampire Weekend. Though collaboration never hurt anyone, Major Lazer’s Free the Universe looks more desperate than promising to fill each song with diverse albeit random artists. Another disappointment is that there aren’t any real standout tracks, unlike the radio friendly “Pon De Floor,” the chaotic Spaghetti Western-themed “Hold the Line,” and the club friendly jam “Keep It Goin’ Louder” from Guns Don’t Kill People. The closest thing that comes to a standout track on Free the Universe is “Get Free,” a passionate, calypso-styled tune with a likable beat and Amber Coffman’s shrieking and bellowing vocals. It’s probably one of the only most “listenable” songs off of Free the Universe, considering that other tracks are predominantly underwhelming, such as the obnoxious “Bubble Butt,” the equally unpleasant “Jet Blue Jet,” and the mediocre “Reach for the Stars.” Another track with indifferent qualities is the Flux Pavilion collab “Jah No Partial,” which precariously blends heavy bass and dubstep with reggage and electro house to a mixed result.

The songs that come closest to the “standout track,” “Get Free,” are satisfactory but aren’t Guns Don’t Kill People material: The funky, Santigold-featured opener “You’re No Good,” has the potential to be as bewitching its Guns Don’t Kill People counterpart “Hold the Line,” but is missing the compelling musical and lyrical aspect; “Sweat,” Free the Universe‘s grooviest track, consists of funky key chinks, echoes of incomprehensible reggage singers, and a rapidly changing rhythm; and “Watch Out for This” is incredibly catchy, but again feeling like it’s missing the spark and silliness that made hits like “Pon De Floor.”

It’s hard to imagine the dismay Major Lazer fans must have felt, including me, when purchasing Free the Universe only to wish they had just listened to it on Spotify. Despite Major Lazer’s underwhelming second record, their recent ecstatic performance at Coachella might still bring hope for music listeners. But otherwise, Diplo has a lot of work to do before Major Lazer crashes and burns, leaving him wishing he hadn’t parted with Switch.

Grade: C
Recommended: No
Suggested Tracks: “You’re No Good,” “Get Free,” “Watch Out for This,” “Sweat”