One year ago, the music world saw a decorated rap legend begin his transition from a ‘Dogg’ into a ‘Lion.’ This year, VICE Mediahas produced a resulting movie and Dancehall documentary they believe possess the eyes of a tiger amongst their entertainment contemporaries.
VICE host and Jamaican expat, Codine Williams and acclaimed British director, AndyCapper travelled to Jamaica with Snoop Dogg as they witnessed him transform from an intimidating gangster rapper into a peace-toting Reggae crooner. It was during that trip when they not only were introduced in-depth to the Rastafarian movement, but were intrigued by a Dancehall scene which has become equally misunderstood as it has been popular.
They are the producers of Noisey Jamaica, a 10-part series shot focusing on the artistes and fans that make Dancehall culture the controversial attraction it is today. They are also producers of Snoop Lion’s upcoming movie, Reincarnated, set to be unveiled in the U.S. and U.K. this March. Examiner.com sat down with the duo for an in-depth interview, where they talked about these highly-anticipated productions as well as Vybz Kartel’s aura, Tommy Lee Sparta’s demons and Snoop Lion’s new path.
Codine: When we were there in February with Snoop, we wanted to go to the sessions. The other members of my team got even more introduced to Dancehall music. We came back in the summer during Sumfest week to explore upcoming artistes, get to understand what inspires their music and find out where they came from. Dancehall music is all about struggle and all about what happens in these communities and unless you live in those communities, live in Jamaica, you don’t know what’s going on.
Q. The first episode was shot in the much talked about ‘Gaza’ in Portmore. What most surprised you about that visit?
Codine: “What surprised me was how much they loved Vybz and how enthusiastic they all were to talk about his impact on the community. They are optimistic that he will be set free every day. The fact that they idolize him so much to the point, that they go to the court house. That surprised me the most.”
Q. You met Kartel previously and found him to be a down-to-earth person. What do you think of his ongoing legal situation?
“It’s all about his image that’s being judged, not him the person. His voice is raising red flags in Jamaica, so they want him to shut up. One way to get him to shut up is to put him behind bars, which is not really working in my opinion because that’s only making it more intriguing and making people want to know more as to why is this man being denied bail. There’s other ways of keeping him in the country. Take away his passport, take away his travelling rights, but why take away his civil rights and have him behind bars and pushing it for two years?”
Q. Andy, You were exposed to a lot of the culture while shooting this show. What did you learn most about the Jamaican Dancehall scene?
Andy: How unmanufactured it all is. In The States, amongst the big artistes, it’s kind of hugely manufactured by record companies. It’s very hard not to feel phony. Here, you had people like Kartel and Popcaan who are superstars worldwide because they weren’t manufactured, but had that superstar quality about them.”
Q. What about Popcaan proves that ‘superstar quality’?
Andy: “He has kind of a new attitude…Seeing Popcaan doing vocals in the studio and seeing that group of kids he hangs out with, there’s kind of a star presence about him.”
Q. You guys also talked to Tommy Lee Sparta, who’s garnered a lot of heat for his ‘demon’ concepts. What did you gather when you met him?
Codine: From what I gather, He’s very shy so in order to step out of his normal persona, he has to step out of his arena and be somebody else; to get people to notice that I’m here and trying to make a mark on the world. It’s like Beyonce and her alter-ego Sasha Fierce. I think his music is an alter-ego of him as an everyday person and his alter-ego is to make everybody notice him.”
Andy: “I think the dark image he has owes a little something to people, the tattoos and everything; the old American idea of shock value, the rock and roll kind of thing”
Q. His image does make you think twice he’s doing some devilish things, doesn’t it, doesn’t it? Especially since he hardly sings uplifting songs.
Andy: I don’t know how you actually worship the devil in this day and age. I don’t know if it happens these days and I especially don’t think it happens in his life after meeting him. He’s a very soulful performer; he was singing a lot of stuff to us before the interview about struggle. He was definitely desperate to make it known to Jamaica that he wasn’t a devil worshipper, that it was just a couple of songs that were kind of an image to get people’s attention to it, to ruffle a few feathers.
Q. Speaking of personas, Snoop Lion made headlines his trip to Jamaica and documentary, Reincarnated. Talk a bit about the trip.
Andy: The first ten days, we took Snoop to a bunch of places that really inspired him for the songs he wrote in the studio. We took him to Alpha Boys School, credited for the development of ska and Reggae. That really affected him, seeing all those kids and where they came from, he could relate. We wanted to compare Snoop’s life to things that were instrumental in Jamaica in creating Reggae.
We also took him to Tivoli Gardens, The community came out to see him and he was deeply touched by that. He’d never seen poverty like that before. When he came away from that, he was saying ‘I’ve got to make songs that were positive, sing about things that should be and the values that people should follow.’”
Q. And what about the much talked visit to the Nyabinghi temple?
Andy: It was a five hour ceremony where they were taught him about Rasta, they taught him the principles behind it and at the end, because the Nyabinghis were surprised that Snoop came to see them, they gave him a new name, they blessed him and he was so taken aback by that, that these people let him into their sacred place. He learned the core values of love, unity, and anti-Babylon. Those messages, he would try hard as hard as he could to put them in his new songs, new album (Reincarnated).
Q. There’s been much talk about the legitimacy of Snoop’s transformation from ‘Dogg’ to ‘Lion.’ What do you make of this scepticism?
Andy: You can’t just turn from an internationally-known gangster rapper overnight into a high priest at a Rasta temple. You can do it gradually. Maybe people in Jamaica will see a picture of Snoop next to another gangster rapper and will go, ‘look look, he’s still a gangster.’ I can tell you that he’s not.
Codine: He has grown up and realized, ‘I need to send another message out there,’ and he chose Rastafari as well as Reggae music. They inspired him.
Q. But there are some who say there is a financial incentive to what Snoop is doing, in part because he’s trying to sell a new album.
Andy: If Snoop wanted to make money on his new album, he would just do a straight gangster record, because that’s what people know him for. He’d sing songs about girls, drugs, guns and be making lots of money. This is a risk for him; he didn’t do this as a safe bet to exploit people. He’s doing this because he wants to be positive. When you see the movie and when people see how sincere he is when he talks about it, you’ll see it.
Side Notes: There are in talks to bring the Reincarnated film to Jamaica for a screening in the near future, though details have yet to be finalized.