Last month at Caribana, the rapper formerly known as Snoop Dogg made his live debut as the Rastafarian reggae artist Snoop Lion. This week, Reincarnated, the film that documents his recent visit to Jamaica and the Dogg-to-Lion transformation it inspired, will have its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Officially, it's merely a coincidence that both events are taking place in the same city, but Reincarnated director Andy Capper isn't ruling out a more grandiose explanation.
"There's been so many mystical coincidences in this. I'll wait and see what happens," Capper tells Huffington Post Canada Music. "Wherever this journey takes us, I'm willing to go on it because it's been a great adventure so far."
For Capper, who has also directed music videos for the likes of Vybz Kartel and A$AP Rocky and produced the fascinating and harrowing VICE Guide to Liberia, the journey started when Snoop's management team contacted his colleague Suroosh Alvi. Impressed with Alvi's groundbreaking and gritty film Heavy Metal in Baghdad (for which Capper edited the accompanying book), they wanted to work with his team to document the hip-hop star's forthcoming Jamaican trip.
Alvi came on as a producer and, knowing that Capper was a huge fan, called him and said "Would you like to go to Jamaica with Snoop Dogg for a month and make a movie about him?"
"I was like, 'that sounds great, but what can we actually get?'" the director recalls. "But the more we looked into the reasons why Snoop wanted to go to Jamaica and he wanted to reposition his career and the things he sings about, the more fascinated I got by it, knowing all of the things that Snoop's been through in his life, and the recent events he's had in his life such as the passing of close friends. People had forgotten what Snoop has gone through as an artist to get where he is. And so I wanted to make a story where we could remind people of what he's been through and make a film that was just deeper than 'a guy makes a new album in Jamaica.'"
In an effort to flesh out the trip's itinerary and make for a better film, Capper started to reach out to members of the reggae and Rastafarian communities. Reggae icon Bunny Wailer, an original member of The Wailers along with Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, agreed to meet with Snoop and personally gave him the name Snoop Lion.
Snoop also participated in a five-hour ceremony in which he was baptized and taught about Rastafarian culture. These experiences had a far greater impact on Snoop than anyone could have expected, and helped to contribute to his artistic and personal rebirth.
"It has transformed Snoop in the way he thinks and the way he's presenting his lyrics," says Capper.
Personal issues, including the death of longtime friend Nate Dogg, also influenced Snoop's journey through what became Reincarnated.
"What was really magical about the thing, that actually felt like we were living in an actual film the whole time -- which we were -- was that events happened during the making of the film that were informing the songs as we went along. There were three funerals on this trip to Jamaica and although it was a very positive experience with lots of life and happiness behind it, there was still an overwhelming kind of heaviness behind it.
"One of the funerals actually informs one of the main songs on the record. There's also the Nate Dogg thing, which was hanging over it all. And so as well as all of the happy positivity, there's also the other side of it, which I think makes for a really heavy documentary in the end."
Reincarnated is being billed as an unprecedented look at Jamaican and Rastafarian culture, and while it certainly does offer a glimpses of ceremonies and temples that have never been filmed before, it also offers a side of Snoop that audiences have never seen before. And that's what really spoke to Capper as a filmmaker and a fan.
"The best access that I got was Snoop letting his guard down and just giving me the details that he gave us," he says. "The way he thinks. An insight into what's happened to him and his family and his friends over 20 years and revealing what motivated him as an artist. That's what we wanted to do. I think some people forgot about Snoop and how important he is and the background he came from and the things he's overcome to get where he is. Hopefully this movie will wipe that away."
Having witnessed and experienced Snoop's transformation firsthand, Capper insists that this is no joke or passing fancy. Snoop Lion is for real.
'It's the real deal, 100 percent," he says. "When they find out that it was Bunny Wailer who gave Snoop that name, and not Snoop who thought of it himself, then people will realize what it's all about. Snoop didn't go to Jamaica to become 100 percent Rastafarian and grow dreadlocks overnight and then pretend to be Bob Marley. It's a lot deeper than that. It's a shift in his message. We all know what Snoop's old message used to be. He's kind of turned on that. There's still the old gangsta Snoop. Those songs will always survive, I think. They'll always be there.
"But the new stuff and what he's working on now are what he left Jamaica translated into Snoop's language as best as he possibly can. I think when people hear this record, see this movie, they'll be convinced of his motivation and what and how uncynical it is."
Friday, September 7 - 6:45pm- TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Saturday, September 8- 9:00am- Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Sunday, September 16- 6:45 pm- Scotiabank 1