Rapper Snoop Dogg announced Monday that he's burying his name and old career, all because of a religious experience with Rastafari, an Afrocentric religion with origins in Jamaica. Snoop Dogg wants to be called Snoop Lion and instead of rapping on his latest album now he'll be singing reggae.
"I want to bury Snoop Dogg and become Snoop Lion," he said at a Monday press conference. "I didn't know that until I went to the temple, where the high priest asked me what my name was, and I said, 'Snoop Dogg.' And he looked me in my eyes and said, 'No more. You are the light; you are the lion.'
"From that moment on," Snoop said, "it's like I had started to understand why I was there."
Snoop Lion has a new single, "La la la," and a documentary "Reincarnated," which follows his recent trip to Jamaica and chronicles his conversion experience. It debuts at the Toronto Film Festival next month.
So what exactly is Rastafari? Here are some basic questions and answers:
1. How old is Rastafarianism?
The Rastafari movement began in Jamaica in 1930 and quickly spread.
"It's an Afrocentric faith that... focuses on the return to Africa of its members," says Richard Salter, a religious studies scholar from Hobart and William Smith Colleges in New York who studies the movement. "Sometimes that return is a return in body, actually going back to Ethiopia, and sometimes it's more of a spiritual return."
Nathaniel Murrell, a religion professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, said the movement Rastafari grows out of the Judeo-Christian tradition and out of the colonial experience. He says Jamaicans oppressed by colonial overlords saw the new faith as a means of liberation.
A key belief for Rastas is the notion of death to all white and black oppressors; the religion embodies a theological push for equality on all levels.
Salter points to Bob Marley's "Redemption Song," as a key to understanding that point.
"The line, 'emancipate yourself from mental slavery,' - if someone can convince you that you are inferior, then they have really oppressed you," Salter said. "So you can emancipate yourself from that and recognize the divine within you, your real value."
2. So what do Rastafaris believe?
Rastas believe in God and use the term Jah, shorthand for Jehovah, a name for God that is common in the Jewish scriptures. Many Rastas see Halie Selassie I - the longest serving emperor of Ethiopia, who died in the 1970s - as a Christ-like figure.
Experts point to a wide diversity in the faith but say there are six key groups of Rastas, called mansions, that would be similar to denominations in other faiths.
Rastas hate "isms" and "ians" because of the value they place on all individuals. As a result, Rastas prefer the term Rastafari as opposed to Rastafarian or Rastafarianism to describe the movement.
Noel Leo Erskine, a professor of theology and ethics at Emory University in Atlanta, says it's nearly impossible to gauge how many people call themselves Rastas because there are no formal churches or membership structures and no hierarchy.
Erskine said that based on Jamaican migration and the prevalence of Rastas globally - he notes the presence of groups in Israel and Tokyo - his best guess is that there are around 1 million self-professing Rastas around the world.
3. How do Rastas practice their faith?
The most common outward expressions of Rastafari are Rastas' dreadlocks, penchant for smoking marijuana and vegetarian diets.
Rastas read the Bible and several other religious texts, though because the movement is so diverse there is no single canon.
Lifestyle choices are important for Rastas. Allowing one's hair to grow into long, matted dreadlocks serves as a reminder to practitioners that they have made a covenant to live naturally, Salter said.
Marijuana smoking is seen as sacramental to Rastas, who believe it brings clarity and strength (more on that below).
Another central practice is something called "reasoning." Rastas get together and smoke and have a "reasoning" session in which they hash out important spiritual ideas.
The practice of vegetarianism comes from Rastas "ital lifestyle" short, for vital, and according to Salter is intended to promote life in all its forms.