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From Dogg to Lion: How Snoop was Reincarnated

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Halfway into Friday's Reincarnated press conference, a journalist asked Snoop Lion (formerly Snoop Dogg) about allegations that the documentary about his visit to Jamaica might be exploiting the island and its people.

Clad all in white and flanked by the the film's producers and directors, like some sort of pop culture Last Supper, the Lion told the press "I don't have no response to that because I come in love. So I can't answer hate with love. All I can do is say my mission and my journey was genuine from the heart... But one thing about Rastafari is it's not about the people. It's about the spirit, so not one man or one person can say whether you're right or you're wrong."

The press conference was filled with these moments, irresistibly quotable and undeniable impassioned pronouncements from the Lion that never truly or clearly addressed the questions at hand. Did his experience in Jamaica really transform his life so completely? Is he really done with hip-hop and "Snoop Dogg"? Is his Rastafari conversion the real deal, or is it a passing fancy, maybe even a midlife crisis? After 40 minutes, none of us really knew any more than we did before Snoop started talking.

The Reincarnated doc, which debuted to a standing ovation at the Toronto International Film Festival, is a far less ambiguous experience. The film explores both Snoop's life and his journey through Jamaica -- from writing and recording a reggae album (also called Reincarnated) to meeting Bunny Wailer to his baptism at a ceremony in the Nyabinghi Temple -- all done with a deft and sometimes brutally honest hand. It's a powerful and persuasive work in which Snoop genuinely appears both touched and transformed by the events of his life as a whole and the time he spends with the Jamaican and Rastafari people. In a vacuum, it would be an amazing and utterly convincing portrait of an open and honest man who has been absolutely transformed and is 100 per cent committed to his new way of life.

But Reincarnated isn't a film that has the luxury of standing on its own. It's part of a package deal that includes an album, a charity initiative and a brand new Twitter account. And while everything in the doc may have been true for one magical month on the island (it's clear, from both the film and the way that the filmmakers talk about it that they, at least, genuinely believe his conversion was the real deal), the greater Snoop Lion situation becomes more confusing and maybe even suspicious in the real world. The man we saw in person at the press conference certainly wasn't the same man we saw on screen earlier that day.

On film, Snoop is done with rap, done with being Snoop Dogg, and fully dedicated to the peace, love and respect that he's discovered in Rastafari. In person, he was almost as ambivalent as he was impassioned.

At one point, the former Dogg insisted that reggae and Rastafari were always a part of his life, but "I was just double-dutching, jumping in and out, halfway in and halfway out, still living the young childish gangsta life because that's what I was brought up to love and to know. But once I sought out information on my own and found out what a true man was and what true love was all about, that's when I became who I am today."

And yet he spent most of the press conference still clearly halfway in and halfway out of his ostensible transformation.

He talked about being christened Snoop Lion, and being Snoop Lion now, but also insisted "I'm still Snoop Dogg. This is me right now. I'm Snoop motherfucking Dogg 'til I die."

He preached anti-commercialism in the face of the exploitation of Rastafari culture, and yet gave shout-outs to the company that gave away Bob Marley-branded swag in the VIP section of the Reincarnated after-party.

He spoke of peace and love and the Rastafari way, but then he defended his continuing use of the word "bitch" with none of the Twitter soul-searching that Kanye West displayed last week.

"I didn't use it on this new album, but I still use it in my everyday life," he said. "There's a lot of bitches and bitch-ass motherfuckers in the world. I don't think I'm ever going to stop using the word."

Perhaps most tellingly of all, Snoop makes no bones about the fact that he won't stop playing hip-hop music. Nor does he flat out say that he's not going to make any more hip-hop records in the future.

He opened the press conference by telling the crowd that "this was something I was called upon, as far as the spirit called upon me to do this record," but later he explained his career in a more pragmatic way.

"The thing about me as a performer, I understand the business," he said. "A lot of my fans are gonna want Snoop Dogg and I'm going to give it to them. It is what it is. Some will adjust to Snoop Lion. And it's being able to be versatile. I can give you a little bit of both or I can give you one or the other. it depends on what the people want and whatever people want, I can give it them."

It might not be fair to call the whole Reincarnated affair a flat-out stunt. Snoop Lion does, at least, seem genuinely moved and inspired by his time in Jamaica, and seems at least somewhat invested in the Rastafari lifestyle, culture and music. But he's definitely not as completely invested as the film seems to suggest he is.

On the big screen, he is a man who has been forever reborn as the Lion and the light. In real life, it's becoming increasingly clear that the Lion will only win over the Dogg as long as the call of the spirit can overpower the call of the fans and their money.