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Snoop Lion - Reincarnated

 9/10

LL Cool J's latest album is called Authentic, and despite the suitability of Reincarnated, Snoop could quite comfortably have used Cool James' title without a hint of pretension. That is high praise indeed, especially for a 41 year old street rapper who's only outward connection to the Rastafari Movement before this project was a prodigious marijuana habit. I don't need to outline the skepticism that surrounded this release. If you haven't heard the record yet, or you'd followed the story of his 'transformation', you're well aware of what that feels like. What I can do is say that Reincarnated feels authentic. Snoop Lion is born, and it appears not to be a gimmick.

I'd advise you, however, to steer clear of the accompanying documentary of the same name. Snoop may very well be entirely sincere in his conversion, but the 98 minute weed-saturated exploration of Jamaica and the Rasta Movement can at times feel like an elaborate excuse to smoke. It does deal with the official aspects, and Bunny Wailer, a legend in the community, accepts Snoop in to the movement (although he has since sparked an outburst from Snoop by claiming certain contractual obligations weren't met, souring the experience somewhat). If you avoid this quagmire, sit back and enjoy the record for what it is, your experience will be more the richer, and I daresay you'll fall for the whole project as I have.

Reincarnated begins with Rebel Way, which in turn begins with a short monologue that sounds more selfish than anything else, as Snoop explains 'I wanna be loved while I'm here, and the only way to get love is to give love'. Right. Still, once the music slinks in and Snoop begins his journey, all traces of the sourness are replaced by a jovial, laid-back mood and a surprisingly focused Snoop. He's not going to win The Voice, but his gentle croon is perfect for these types of tracks. Quite expertly Rebel Way introduces us to 3 overriding experiences with this record. Firstly, the lyrics in isolation sound sugar sweet and artificially positive, lines like 'Love is the cure and courage is the weapon
You can use to overcome' even come across as insincere. But Lion's less than emotive voice manages to do wonders for them, his years of outstanding flow over all manner of beats serve him well as he compliments the production superbly. Secondly, Major Lazer and the rest of the production team have worked absolute wonders. Rather than dressing up Reggae in a modern outfit, they've dressed contemporary production techniques down, slowing the BPM and relying on bass heavy grooves with electric guitar flourishes and aggressive, expanded horns to enhance the experience. The result, especially on Rebel Way, is spectacular. Thirdly, it feels authentic.

The pleasing thing is that fans of old haven't been cast out in the cold. Here Comes The King is a slow grinding hip hop rhythm that builds in to an electronic haze at the back end. It allows Snoop to slip seamlessly between reggae crooner and hardened hip hop head, essentially touching two illustrious bases at once. A similar effect is achieved on the brilliant Remedy, featuring a stunning Busta Rhymes who channels his inner Beenie Man and Sean Paul to slip beautifully on to the beat and deliver a staggering dancehall rhythm over a distinctly more electronic sound. Snoop, as he often does, plays around in the background, pleading with his new spiritual path to 'Set me free' and remedy his past errors. No easy task if you're familiar with his back story. Still, Remedy provides a stark reminder of just how well Snoop has juggled his reincarnation and supplemented it with stars of merit within the Reggae and associated arena's. Drake, on No Guns Allowed, completely ruins his verse and trashes the best track on the record with a horrible attempt at a dancehall double time. Things could have been so much worse..

It is prudent to remember that Snoop grew up on G-Funk, a style not dissimilar to what he is trying to achieve here. Even in 2012, on a track with E-40 called 'What You Smokin' On', DJ Silk reproduced the trademark sound that fits him like a custom made Gucci glove. Those slow, expansive grooves that Dr. Dre, Cold187um and DJ Quick provided the young emcee to cut his teeth on may not have specific roots in Reggae, but they harnessed elements that originally formed the base of the Reggae sound. The difficulty lay within his ability to transition his voice to incorporate the sweetly sung, uplifting numbers that the project demanded. So Long, The Good Good, La La La and Tired Of Running all provide ample evidence that his transition was not a self-indulgent exercise. He holds his own opposite Akon, Angela Hunte, even the oddly matched Rita Ora.

Surrounding yourself with street cred is a tried and tested technique in the hip hop world, much less so in the Dancehall and Reggae platform. This is the shrewdness Snoop brings to the project. Enlisting Diplo to oversee the shape and sound is a master-stroke. The whole thing is crafted superbly and doesn't pigeon-hole itself in any way, which is exactly what we come to expect from him. Big anthemic choruses such as in Lighter's Up are propelled by huge, bombastic horns. Party jams like the heart starter Fruit Juice are dressed up in almost overpowering electronic noise that swells around behind a jovial and upbeat Snoop, allowing for a collective moment of uninhibited fun within the spiritual framework, 'She sip the beet juice, said really love the medicine / Drink it down slow feel it good vibe settling'. Torn Apart brings in John Hill, who is left to temper the more EDM focused sound with dancehall integrity. The obligatory acoustic guitar makes appearances too, Harder Times is the stereotypical 'keep your head up' moment and The Good Good feels like it was written by Jack Johnson on a beach in the Pacific somewhere.

Every side-track like this needs a hook though. I don't mean a chorus, although Snoop and co are adept at spinning those. All 5 of the singles are chartable tracks in their own right, Here Comes The King, Lighters Up, No Guns Allowed, La La La and Ashtrays and Heartbreaks. You can throw Fruit Juice in there as well as a possible hit. Put Miley Cyrus on a Reggae record? Her hook on Astrays and Heartbreaks may sound chintzy and about as authentic as an Indian running an Italian restaurant, but it works beautifully, her paranoid performance capturing the cycle of a dystopian drug-filled existence. No Guns Allowed would be the standout if not for Drake, and Smoke The Weed has such a strong hook and groove to it I can honestly see West Indian clubs playing it at midnight before the party kicks in to top gear.

Ultimately, you can surround yourself with as many geniuses as you want, but if you are the focal point of a project the final say in its success is on your head. Snoop Lion doesn't always steal the show, but he always enhances it, and his presence makes Reincarnated wonderfully enjoyable. From his heartfelt concern for future peace on Smoke The Weed, 'If you wanna see a strong tree grow / You gotta put them for the future' to his regrets around his contentious and much publicised past on Tired Of Running, 'Servin' fiends like these people ain't no enemy / I can't believe I'm out here killin my community' 'This gangster life ain't no longer in me', sincerity overcomes any shortfall in talent. Peace and Love, Reincarnated has it in spades. Authenticity? Surprisingly abundant.

9/10. It's a dead set 9 this and will feature in my top records of 2013. I can't stop spinning it. You can view it two ways. If you don't want to enjoy it, and prefer to believe in conspiracy theories and things like man never landing on the moon, you will doubtlessly see it as a cheap crossover attempt to re-vitalise an ageing and stagnant career, one that centres more around the pursuit of marijuana than true peace and enlightenment. Or, you can view the project for what it is, and immerse yourself in it. I think Snoop has done enough to reduce any skepticism about his motives and mindset to a small voice in the back of your head rather than a loud siren screeching everytime you listen to it.
Best Tracks: Fruit Juice, Smoke The Weed, Remedy

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