If nothing else, you can’t really fault Snoop Dogg’s reasoning behind abandoning his gangster-rap persona — you know, the one that apparently wasn’t considered dead when he started giving Ice Cube a run for his money in the hotly-contested hardass-turned-cuddly-actor brackets — to sojourn to Jamaica and reinvent himself as a reggae star. Without seeing the documentary that tracked Snoop’s transformation (and royally pissed off a whole bunch of Rastafarians), the thought process seems to be as such: Snoop, quite smitten with the Rastafarian religion, would like to make music that forsakes the violence and decadence of his gangsta past, music that his kids can look up to. Also, people usually like reggae music. Also — and this is important — weed.
There are two distinct problems with this development. One is Snoop’s inexperience in the area — he’s not a reggae singer (also, more importantly, not a singer at all), so his insistence on distributing a record of him performing reggae music is a bit of a head-scratcher. A bit more egregious: Snoop deliberately stepping away from rap to focus on positive things subtly implies that rap is inherently negative. Which is nonsense to any fan of the genre — there’s a lot of unrest in hip-hop, yes, and plenty of grit, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be all sunshine and roses. There’s a wealth of grey area between Will Smith and Jedi Mind Tricks; given his hip-hop pedigree, Snoop could easily have made an artistically viable, spiritual, positive hip-hop record, and it probably would have been… well, given Snoop’s last ten years, it could have gone either way, but that theoretical record has a way better shot at success. He could have even slathered on all the reggae influences he felt like — hell, throw Damien Marley on a track, provided he’s not salty about Snoop claiming to be the reincarnation of his pops. Or cultivate a genial island vibe with some carefree, non-controversial raps, like a Michael Franti record. Lots of options.
But Snoop didn’t do any of these things; what he did was Reincarnated, and while it’s not the train wreck it could have been, it’s certainly no great shakes. For one, it’s astoundingly mediocre; Snoop’s vocal range spans roughly eight notes, and while he sings those notes with little-to-no strain, it doesn’t quite make for exciting listening. And yet, it’s not particularly relaxing, either; rather, Reincarnated exists in some weird otherworld, where Snoop Lion is an actual thing, and spouts upbeat greeting-card platitudes over some warmed-over minor-key approximation of what the producer (Major Lazer, in this case) thinks reggae sounds like. It… it gets old after a while.
And, the fact remains, Snoop can’t keep his head above water on his own. Songwriter Angela Hunte is on hand to lend Snoop some much-needed reggae credibility, and her hooks are largely the best parts of the record; in ways, it’s grating how earworm-y the triumphant, loping “Here Comes the King” is, but it nestles into the brain so snugly you gotta admire it. He’s got Mr. Vegas on hand to wax rhapsodic about — seriously — the best kinds of fruit to use in juices, in the startlingly-titled “Fruit Juice”. (Jokes aside, this song is not without its charms, which is the truly startling part.) He’s got Iza Lach on deck for “The Good Good”, which pretty much encapsulates Snoop Lion’s predisposition to trite cliches (“this is the good good/ this is what people look all their lives to find”), and kind of actually acquits itself anyway. It’s breezy, and reminds a bit of K’naan’s “Hurt Me Tomorrow”.
The results are mixed when Snoop reaches out to the pop world for assistance. Somehow, Miley Cyrus has the best feature, on heartfelt closer “Ashtrays and Heartbreaks”; Drake falls on his face over a Beirut sample, and Akon is wholly unnecessary singing on an Akon remake (“Tired Of Running”). Either way, we’re never left up to Snoop’s own devices; and while it’s wise to not let the audience adapt too much to Mr. Lion’s brand of rangeless, monotonous singing, it feels disjointed, like Snoop is a guest on his own album.
In the end, Snoop took the safe route; Reincarnated shines in sporadic moments, but it’s a remarkably sleepy, uneventful record on the whole. It sounds like the “reggae” setting on an old Casio — just a processed, dull facsimile of what is seen as a genre’s hallmarks.