Reggae pioneer Bunny Wailer is the most notable skeptic. Wailer bestowed the Lion name on Snoop, but has since repeatedly questioned the 41-year-old rapper's intentions and commitment to Rasta ideology.
Asked by The Associated Press to respond, Snoop's face registered a flash of malice followed by a devilish smile: "If I was Snoop Dogg: '(Expletive) Bunny Wailer.' But I'm Snoop Lion right now, so I'm chilling," he said.
He is using the name to release a reggae- and dancehall-focused album, "Reincarnated." Produced by Major Lazer — which includes DJ-producer Diplo — it features guests ranging from Chris Brown and Drake to Jamaica's Mr. Vegas and Mavado.
While promoting an accompanying documentary that tracks his trip to Jamaica and exploration of Rasta culture, Snoop makes it clear that his Lion persona is less a drastic transformation than part of ongoing personal growth.
With his film in limited release this week and his album due out April 23, the performer talked to the AP about his identity issues, his effort to stay positive and religion.
AP: What does Snoop Lion mean to you? In the movie we see Bunny Wailer give you the name because he said he didn't want to call you a dog. That was his take on it.
Snoop: I don't know what that take was because I'm going to always be Snoop Dogg. I can't throw that person away and get rid of him. To me, the Lion is the growth of Snoop Dogg — me growing into the next phase of my musical career, the next phase of my life. But at the same time, I can never get rid of who I am. I'm an East Side Long Beach Rollin 20s Crip, first and foremost. ... I'm Snoop Doggy Dogg, then I'm Snoop Dogg, then I'm Snoop Lion. But it's all the same.
AP: In interviews since the film was made, Bunny has been skeptical of you. What's your take on his criticism?
Snoop: I've done nothing but what I said I was going to do: Go to Jamaica, make a great record, intertwine with some people, build on some relationships and come back and bring something back to the community. ... As far as what people feel about how I'm representing or misrepresenting, that's for no man to judge. I'm here to do what I'm doing. This is my journey. And for those who don't like it, I still got love for them.
AP: What has been religion's place in your life up until now — and how does Rastafari fit in?
Snoop Dogg: As a kid, I was pushed into the Baptist church, taught that way. As an adult, I was able to seek out information on my own to find out that the Muslim religion, Rastafari, Baptist, Christian — that they all the same. They all God-fearing people and love is love. ... It's more based on life and a way of life and liberty as opposed to religion. Because religion is so false, because it's so past tense and written by someone who is not here. I feel like religion should be based on the way you live and the way you treat yourself and treat others.
AP: How does Rastafarianism fit in there for you? Do you feel like you converted?
Snoop: I feel like I'm a part of it. I feel like I'm a part of anything that's positive, that's loving. And Rastafari is so connected to who I am that I feel like I'm a part of it. Because it is me. It is what I am. And through the spirit of it you want to learn more about it. ... I'm just learning. So it's all brand new to me.
AP: What were you trying to accomplish with this album? Your daughter appears on one song and there is very little cursing.
Snoop: It's a goal to have songs that represent who I am today. A lot of the songs I got represent who I was, not who I am. It is my music. I love it. It's my baby. So I'm not going to ever denounce it. It's just that it'd be nice to have a song about peace and love and happiness and about what's going on in the world and about addressing some real issues, when that's what's important right now. As opposed to just partying all the time and having a good time. That's not what I'm on.
AP: Will you only make reggae music now?
Snoop: To me it's not about record sales, so I believe I'm going to do it whenever I want to. So I'm not doing this to create financial gain or money. So it's fun. So anytime it's fun, it's to be done over and over again. Just like with rapping. Rapping had got not-fun to me because 20 years of doing it and being on top.