Film Review: Reincarnated

You don’t even need to be high to enjoy this gratifyingly candid, funny and moving portrait of the Grand Master Toker.

Scrawny and sporting some highly unlikely coiffures while endlessly toking the weed, the writer of sensationally popular rap songs dealing with thugs, pimps, ho’s, guns, killing men and mistreating women, Snoop Dogg has always somehow managed to be intensely likeable—and he is never more so than in Reincarnated. Andy Capper’s documentary camera follows the rap star (now calling himself Snoop Lion) to Jamaica, where he records an album of reinvention, inspired by reggae. Along the way, he reminiscences about his tumultuous life, which started in the ghetto of Long Beach, California, and now has him in a place where, he says, Obama would like him to perform at the White House. “But what the fuck can I perform? Be honest.”

That dilemma lies at the root of his decision to change things up musically and adopt the Rastafarian way of life, involving peace, love and, of course, fabulous grass. Pretty full access seems to have been granted to Capper, and his star comes across, for all that street noise, as a sensitive, caring, mordantly humorous and innately intelligent being, now more than ever humbled by the fragility of life and happiness.

It’s been quite a road, riddled with the early deaths of loved ones—his partner Nate Dogg and fellow rap icon Tupac Shakur—which he describes with brutal honesty. A father and married to the same woman for years, he nonetheless confesses to some waywardness, including a puckish account of his short-lived stint as the pimp he’d always fantasized of being, from his young days when these hustlers were the closest thing to celebrity on view to him.

The shock which initially greeted his music was a surprise to him, for, as he puts it, the violence he wrote about was “not our fault—we were just put here in it, and I just wrote about it.” Eventually, all the rivalry ending in murder took its toll upon him and he sought the counsel of the Reverend Louis Farrakhan, which brought about the (relatively) peaceful détente in his own constituency. Farrakhan is interviewed and, in the context here, actually makes sense, and Snoop is shown addressing his congregation with simple eloquence, as he does again at the funeral of Nate Dogg.

These accounts of a lurid past stand in contrast to the Jamaica footage, which is marked by all the relaxed warmth, geniality and moments of real inspiration so lacking in his time in the Babylon of the music business. Inhaling freely throughout, he pays a visit to the Alpha School, a refuge for wayward boys which has produced many serious musicians and forerunners of the reggae movement like Desmond Dekker, and as the kids in the band play, he improvises a joyously spirited and apropos rap. The gods of the genre, Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, are honorably evoked and the surviving member of that early triumvirate, Bunny Wailer, himself appears, a wonderfully sage and seasoned presence all too aware of the perils of commercialism vis-à-vis the real spirituality he sees in both the music and the ganga. Throughout, Snoop exhibits a respect that feels as genuine as it is graceful, especially when he goes to the Nyabinghi Temple, where he is baptized as “Berhane” (“shining light”).

It all really comes together in the studio, with his gifted collaborators, headed by producer Diplo and composer Angela Hunte. The new music sounds terrific and rich, inspired as it is by the lovely surroundings as well as some deeper tragedy, like the recent passing of a relative. Reincarnated is a full, rewarding portrait of a highly unlikely yet very real artist, which should be of interest even to those many who profess to despise rap.