The artist formerly known as Snoop Dogg riffs on the revealing journey to Jamaica that prompted major changes in his life.
Rapper Snoop Lion
Tavis: There is an old adage that says that who you were isn’t who you have to be, and that certainly applies to Snoop Lion. One of the most celebrated rap musicians of all time he came on the scene at the height of gangsta rap back in the early ’90s.
Sixteen Grammy nominations quickly followed, but the death of some of his closest friends make Snoop Lion rethink his life, and a journey to Jamaica to record reggae with some of the finest musicians in that field, well, that did the rest.
It’s all chronicled in a spectacular new documentary due out March 15th. It’s called “Reincarnated,” about the making of that CD. And so, before we start our conversation with Snoop Lion, we’ll take a look at a clip from the documentary.
Tavis: There is so much I want to talk to you about, I ain’t got time to get into all the issues I want cover, and I’m glad you’re here. Thank you, man.
Snoop Lion: Thank you for having me.
Tavis: Let me start with Jamaica. Of all the places to go to connect or reconnect, why Jamaica for you?
Lion: I don’t even know why. It just felt like the place to be. It felt like it was so right. I’ve been around the whole world many times, but it was just something about the Jamaican people and spirit that made me feel like I was always a part of it, so it made me want to reconnect and also find out the real history of who I am and what I am.
Tavis: Yeah. What about the music, about reggae in particular?
Lion: Reggae music has always been a loving style of music that you could profess and always express love through it. Through my music, I’ve always been violent and in that mannerism of gangsta rap.
But I’ve always wanted to be in that world of saying that I love and I love to love and spread love, so reggae music was the perfect expression or the perfect vessel for me to express my expression.
Tavis: Yeah. I feel you on this, and we’ve had these conversations many times over the years. When who you really are is about love and that’s what’s inside of you, anybody who’s ever spent any time with you knows that you’re just fun to hang around with.
You’re a cool brother, loving brother, kind cat. Where do you put that when what comes out in your lyrical content for most of your career is not that, by your own admission?
Where has all that been? Where do you hide that away at until you get to this point in your career?
Lion: I think I’ve always been able to express it through my comedy, through my fun on my records, through me personally, just people knowing who I am personally and getting a chance to see me throughout my TV show years and my years of letting people just roll with me.
But until you really sit down and understand Snoop Dogg, you really won’t know that he’s a fun-loving, cool guy who loves to be around people and loves to make people have fun.
Tavis: Yeah. When you were growing up in the LBC, in Long Beach, as we all know, there’s a wonderful part in the documentary where you say very candidly – what I loved about this is you’re authentic. You’re real, you put it out there, and that makes it easy to digest.
So in the documentary there’s a part where you say very candidly that when you were in high school, you had two choices – you could make $80 a week or $1,500 a night selling drugs, and you say very simply, “What would you do?” (Laughter) Eighty bucks a week or $1,500 a night. What would you do?
That was an honest answer. Nobody’s condoning drug-dealing, but take me back to that moment and how you found yourself having that choice.
Lion: I was working at Lucky’s. Lucky’s was a grocery store, and it was right on the corner of 60th and Atlantic. I lived on 61st and Atlantic, which is where the dope spot was, on 61st and Atlantic.
So I was going to work every day, three or four hours a day after school, bagging groceries, doing the right thing. But when I’d go home, my friends would be hanging outside and they would have tons of money, and they wasn’t doing no work. They just were standing outside.
So a couple of my friends pulled me to the side one day and was like, “Man, you need to stop working over there and come over here and work right here. You live here. You could make more money than all of us.”
At first I was kind of scared, and then I got involved and I seen that it was easy money, so I continued to do it. Then I ended up losing my job and I ended up losing my way, because when you’re doing right, you’ve got to do all the way right. When you’re doing wrong, you’ve got to do all the way wrong. Ain’t no half-ways.
So when I jumped in, I jumped all the way in, and that’s when I went down the wrong path and had to find myself sooner or later.
Tavis: Were you ever, in those years, concerned about, frightened about, how long you would live? I ask that because there’s so many young people today, fans of your music, obviously, who live in a world, live in a culture, live in inner cities, where they don’t even expect to live to be your age or my age.
Lion: I didn’t think I would be 21, and that’s real, because of what was going on around me and the way I lived and the way the people lived around me. Twenty-one was a blessing. If you made it to see 21, you were looked at as an OG in my neighborhood, because you made it.
So once I finally made it, I made it an aspiration to live to be 41, you understand me, instead of 21. Reach for something higher than 21. Reach for 41. Now you’re really living. I instill that into the heads of the youth. In my community now there’s a new system where we’re designed to live, we want to live.
Tavis: Yeah. I want to bounce around, because you keep saying things that make me think, to your point now about spreading this to the youth in your community – not just in your community.
You get major kudos from a lot of people for this football league that you basically own and run and financed out of your pocket.
Tavis: Why football, and tell me about how you got into just hanging out with these kids all the time?
Lion: Man, the Snoop Youth Football League. (Laughter) I started this league nine years ago, Tavis, and my son, my oldest son, Corde, was playing football, and we just didn’t like the way that the league was catered towards Orange County.
We wasn’t living in Orange County. We come from the ‘hood, so we wanted a league that was catered to people that come from the ‘hood, with single parents. They didn’t have money; they didn’t have fathers in their lives.
So we created the Snoop Youth Football League, and through this league, we created so many opportunities for people to become better fathers, better volunteers.
The kids that we’ve put out through our system started to graduate from high school, they started to go to college, and we have a kid right now that plays for the Denver Broncos, Ronnie Hillman, a running back, who came out of my football league.
So we’re proud to say that this league was started from an idea of me just watching and seeing and saying, “I want to help.” Not talking about it, but being about it. Going in my own pocket, putting up a million dollars, taking care of all of the teams in my league, making the fees $100 for every kid around the board, to where it was about kids.
No matter how big you was, you could play. It wasn’t no overweight system. It’s just all about the kids and taking them off of the streets and giving them something positive, and being a part of their lives as far as being a coach, a commissioner, and a mentor that they can see, that they can touch hands with and take pictures with and feel like I’m a part of their life, as opposed to just putting money in and never being seen or touched. I’m right there with them.
Tavis: I’m going to come back to the music in a moment. There’s a wonderful comment, when you saw this clip a moment ago, which I want to get back to, that unlike most artists, you have been on top from the very beginning.
Before your first record came out, your first record, you were already on top and all of us were waiting for the album, having heard your stuff before. So we’ll come back to the music in a second, and to the record sales, but how important has it been beyond the record sales up to this point? How important has it been to you what other people, particularly young people, think about you, or has that not been a priority?
Lion: That has been a major priority for me, because I’m young at heart, and you always want to stay young at heart. You don’t ever want to be looked at as old or he don’t know what he talking about.
I’ve always respected the old men in my community who had the respect to where no matter how old you got, you respected them. That’s what I’ve always searched for. The reason why they had that respect is because they connected. They never tried to be too old, too big, or too wise. They stayed eye-to-eye.
One thing about me and the kids, we stay eye-to-eye. I treat them like family, no matter how big or how small or how much they have or what they don’t have. I look at them as equals, and I try to give them the right advice. I don’t tell them to be like me. I tell them to be better than me, because I made bad decisions that may not work for them.
But my life is my life, my journey is my journey, and through my journey, I’ve tried to help and correct those from making the mistakes I did.
Tavis: In your journey there are seminal moments – again, I go back to the point I made earlier. You were so real in the documentary, which makes it easy to have this conversation, because you’ve put this stuff out there, some of this for the first time you’ve talked about on this journey. You took your crew with you and brought everybody along, as you said.
I’ll come back to those seminal moments in just a second, but how difficult has it been to start on top and to stay on top? You’ve been on top from the very beginning, and certainly – you know this better than I do – in the rap game, that’s, like, unheard of.
Lion: Yeah, that’s (unintelligible).
Tavis: (Laughter) It’s like (unintelligible) there’s, like, two of y’all who’ve been around for that long. But you’ve been on top from the very beginning.
Lion: You know what I attribute that to? Just having the ear, the ear to know what’s right and what’s wrong. I’ve always been up close and personal with my people. I don’t treat them like fans, I treat them like family.
Even before the social networking came out, I was always twitting or tweeting or whatever you want to call it with my fans, you know what I’m saying? (Laughter) Keeping them up close and personal.
Lion: So once the social media thing came out, where they could actually follow me and be a part of my everyday life, I was one of the first ones to open up and cut them in. That cut out a lot of madness.
That’s why we have a great relationship, and I feel like over the years it’s not about the music, it’s about the person. They respect the person. No matter what he say, they’re going to roll with him. We built a personal relationship to where music is just the backdrop, but the personalities and the relationship involved is the foreground.
Tavis: Yeah. So when I say this, it’s going to start a fight, because whenever anybody says something stupid like this, it starts a controversy on social media. So I got my list of folk in the game who I think have had the coldest flow ever.
I got my list; I know you got yours, so there’ll be a fight about this on the Internet.
Lion: As it should be.
Tavis: It should be, okay. So just my top three – I can go deeper than this. I got Snoop on my list of the coldest flow ever.
Tavis: I got Biggie for the coldest flow ever.
Tavis: Eric B. & Rakim, cold flow. We can go deeper than that. That’s just the top part of my list. I raise that because – and I say this with all due respect – you remember the scene in “Malcolm X” where Malcolm’s standing out in front of the jail and all these brothers are lined up, and they move at – you know this. (Snoop makes hand motions) Do that again. That’s it. That’s it.
The line basically is, “That’s too much power for one Negro.” He got too much power, too much control. It’s a powerful scene, one of the great scenes for me in the whole movie.
Lion: Yeah, really, me too.
Tavis: So I was in a conversation about that one day, and somehow, your name came up in this conversation. Somebody in the crowd said, as we were talking about you, that if Snoop was saying something, that Negro would be dangerous. If his music were really saying something –
Lion: That’s – and you know what? I hear them.
Tavis: – that Negro would be dangerous. Now I’m not saying – I love you. I’m not saying this to disrespect you.
Lion: No, but it’s real.
Tavis: But talk – I love the fun and the frolic in your music, but now that we got this Snoop Lion thing coming out, does that comment resonate with you at all?
Lion: I feel it.
Lion: Thoroughly, because I’ve always felt like that too, because I’ve always been in positions where – for example, I was at the Live Aid concert, and it was over millions of people there seeing it, because it was broadcast around the whole world.
But we was in London, in some big park. So I looked to the side of the stage. It’s Bill Gates, Paul McCartney, David Beckham, just to name a few. George Michael. The best of the best when I was a kid. They watching me now, and I’m cussing up a storm, and (laughter) (makes noises). They rocking with me.
Lion: But I look at them, like, man, I sure wish I had a (singing) “Come together, right now, in unity.” (Laughter)
Lion: If I had one of them right now, I would have just put them all in a headlock and walked out with them.
Lion: But I didn’t have that, so that made me feel like this album, and that comment you just made, is so necessary. This movement is so necessary, because I haven’t been saying nothing, if you really want to be real.
Tavis: I wouldn’t say “nothing,” Snoop.
Lion: But I mean pertaining to what really matters.
Lion: Like for example, I have a song on this new album called “No Guns Allowed.” Now imagine what that’s about.
Tavis: Oh, yeah.
Lion: All this shooting and killing that’s going on, guns being in the wrong hands, they don’t know whether the president should ban guns, should he do this, should he do that. Every time you talk about it, somebody getting shot at school the next day. We need to figure this out.
So what I did was I went to the studio and made a song called “No Guns Allow” with my daughter and Drake, and it’s saying what needs to be said: “No guns allowed tonight.”
Tavis: Yeah. What’s the risk in doing that? I had – I’m trying to think of who it was – 50 Cent on this show one time, and he, very candid, very honest, admitted to me that when he at one point in his career tried to make the turn away from this to that, sales went flat.
Lion: It ain’t for everybody.
Tavis: Okay, tell me about it.
Lion: I’m going to tell you this – I never did it for money or sales, you know what I’m saying? Like you said in the beginning of this show, was nominated for 16 Grammys, right?
I ain’t won one, but it don’t stop me or knock me. I keep it pushing. It ain’t the accolades, you understand what I’m saying? (Laughter) It’s about the people that I can reach.
Lion: The connections, the relationships, because a Grammy could never give me what the success has given me –
Tavis: That’s right.
Lion: – a relationship, a conversation. All these cameras, all these people listening, wanting to hear, wanting to know. That means more than an award.
Tavis: So at this point in your life, are we going to get a different thing, this new thing, consistently, or are you still going to give us the fun and the frolic, or is it always going to be about message music now? Because I love the fun stuff.
Lion: I think what’s necessary is what’s necessary for right now.
Lion: It need to be a message right now.
Lion: We can always have fun. That’s what I do. That’s who I am. I’m going to have fun whether I’m giving you a message or not.
Lion: It’s what I am. But at the end of the day, sometimes you have to be serious and deal with it real serious and know it’s a problem and we need to fix it. If I start off by being one of the ones that can lead and say, “Hey, it’s a problem, I’m trying to fix it, what’s happening?” Those will rock and roll with the light on, because it’s a jungle out there.
Tavis: Yeah. I’m trying to find the right word here, you tell me, you fill in the blank. How difficult is it, how much of a challenge is it, how much fun is it, to try to find a way to deliver a message with a groove and with a hook and with a beat that we have come to expect from Snoop, but a flow that we’re still going to get off on, but you’ve got a message. How difficult was that on this project?
Lion: It was difficult, it was challenging, and it was fun. It was all three.
Lion: That’s what makes a project like this so worth doing, when you can go and say Major Lazer, Diplo, y’all produce the whole album. I’m just going to lay down and let y’all do whatever y’all want to do to me.
Because I’m at that point in my career where I feel like a Whitney Houston or a well-established artist who could have somebody come in and write them a hit record, and they can perform that. It doesn’t have to be my pen all the time. It’s my expression, but it doesn’t have to be my pen.
So I went in with that attitude, so that way it wouldn’t be such a difficult situation. It was about me picking and choosing at the end of the day, “Oh, man, that feels right. That’s what I’m looking for. Nah, y’all sound like Snoop Dogg. I told y’all I want Snoop Lion. I ain’t doing no Snoop Dogg. Get back on this page.”
Because when you’re working with writers, they tend to hear what you used to sound like, but (unintelligible) sound, “Man, you sounded awesome on that song. You should rap it.” “I’m not rapping on this. If I was rapping, I wouldn’t need y’all. I need reggae.”
Tavis: How difficult – back to that word “difficult” again – was it for you, since we are so used to you doing your stuff, that you write, how difficult was it when you decided to do that, to in fact surrender yourself to somebody else’s words, somebody else’s writing?
Lion: I trust me.
Lion: I never doubt me. (Laughter) You know what I’m saying?
Tavis: That’s why I love you, man. (Laughter) That’s why I love you. Yeah.
Lion: Yeah, for real. When you trust yourself, it don’t matter who. I came out with Dr. Dre, right, and how could I be more critical than being with the greatest producer in hip-hop, right? He comes out and he takes me and he baptizes me in the game on my first record.
Not even talking about his record, “The Chronic,” where to me I baptized him, because I took him to the ‘hood. But on the second move, which was my record, he baptized me. So we give and we take, we give and we take, and you live and you learn.
So now I learned that sometimes, I’m at my best when I allow you to work on me. Because I can’t see me, because I’m too busy doing me.
Tavis: You (unintelligible). (Laughter) You got philosophical now with me, yeah. You mentioned Dre, and there are a lot of folk you’ve been on this journey with, speaking of collaborating. Thankfully, Dre is still here, and in a major way. Still doing his thing with the –
Lion: And healthy and making cake. (Laughter)
Tavis: – making cake, exactly, with the beats and everything else he’s got going on. Some of the people, though, who’ve been on this journey with you are no longer here, and you open up in this documentary and you talk about them and how these chapters of your life have helped to write the story that we are now reading.
I want to just pick a couple of them out and get your thoughts on them. First, Tupac.
Lion: Man. That was one of my best friends in the hip-hop game, because we didn’t come up together, but when we met, we both were so vigilante in the news and he was going to jail, I was going to jail.
I was fighting the case, and we became friends. Through our friendship, it binded into a brotherhood, to where when he was incarcerated I made sure, go reach out for him, man, put him with us. Brought him on Death Row, and then we really became blood brothers.
But at the end of the day, through the documentary you see, we wasn’t eye-to-eye, and that hurt my heart, that my homie got killed and we wasn’t eye-to-eye, we wasn’t where we needed to be as far as we had a misunderstanding.
You know you love to get that misunderstanding corrected. We never had a chance to, and that’s always been in my mind and my heart, that I didn’t get a chance to do that with him. His mother knew that as well, and that’s just a dark spot in my heart.
That’s why I say when you’re here with somebody, you’ve got to love them right now. Don’t wait until they’re gone; don’t wait until they’re in their death bed. Tell them you love them right now. If you’re wrong, admit you’re wrong. If you’re right, say you’re wrong. Because you never know what tomorrow will do.
Tavis: The other person that it’s impossible to talk to you about without raising his name, in terms of his role in your life – Nate Dogg.
Lion: Yes, sir.
Lion: That’s my OG right there. Nate Dogg was one of the people who I became a man with. Music was our life. I met him in school, singing and clowning around, getting suspended, hanging in the back, playing church league basketball games together. When we decided to make music, it was crazy, because he wasn’t even an original member in our group.
Where I had made a song and the song wasn’t right, and I called Nate. I’m like, “Oh, this, it ain’t right.” (Laughter) He came and sung it over, and we’re like, “He out the group, you in,” because (unintelligible). (Laughter)
Then you know what I’m saying, we just – man, that’s like – I’m talking like a kid right now because I’m just thinking about all the fun I had with him while he was here. I can’t think about nothing bad, just only the good things when we –
Tavis: I’ve always said, as a fan, obviously, it’s almost impossible to go wrong when you got your flow and his hook.
Lion: Oh, my God.
Tavis: Your flow and his hook is a dangerous thing, man.
Lion: Imagine in 1986, us hooking up in high school in the back of a class, hitting on the table, me rapping and him singing, and the teacher like, “What are you guys back there doing?” and we rocking so hard the teacher’s like, “Don’t stop. Keep going.” (Laughter) (Unintelligible) like, hello.
Tavis: The other part that comes through in this documentary loud and clear is the degree to which your family has helped you grow. Your wife, your kids, your own journey, your own maturity, relative to your family. I’ll let you speak on that.
Lion: Man, I was so wrong to my family in the beginning of my success. I would always put them in the backdrop. I would have my son show up to some things, my wife to a few things, but I was very disrespectful, and I can admit that now.
I’ve always had them as the back burner, and I’ve always treated my career as if it was my family. I had to realize that my career means nothing without my family, so I had to reverse that and put them in first place, and put my career in second place by putting them on my TV show, “Fatherhood,” and showing the world that I love my family enough to raise them in front of you.
To expose everything that I do and how I get down and why I get down. Then also just seeing them help me be a better father, be a better husband, and be a better man, because they go through things in life that I have to deal with that helps me become a better person.
So I need my family, I love my family, and I’ll never put them second to this music or movies or TV or anything, no matter what. I always apologize to them for that, and I’m going to do it again.
I apologize to my family for putting y’all second when y’all should have been the first and only thing in my life.
Tavis: This is an inside baseball, an inside the business kind of question. So you’re not the first person to make the name switch.
I’m still getting used to saying Snoop Lion, because I’m so used to saying Snoop Dogg. This is the second time you’ve done this.
Tavis: You’ve been Snoop Doggy Dogg.
Lion: Doggy Dogg, Snoop Dogg, yeah.
Tavis: Snoop Dogg. Now Lion.
Lion: Hello. (Laughter)
Tavis: I ain’t mad at you. But again, I’m just curious inside the game. What’s that process, that transition like? How difficult is it to make the switch when your fans know you one way, or are you finding it relatively easy to do?
Lion: You know what’s crazy, is that some people still call my Doggy Dogg, some people still call me Snoop Dogg, and then some people call me Snoop Lion.
Lion: Then you got some people who be like, “Snoop Dogg. I mean, Snoop Lion.” (Laughter) Then somebody like, “Man, Snoop Lion, man, that ain’t his name. What name is he going by?”
Lion: I’m like, man, you can call me whatever you want, because it’s still me. It’s all within who I am. It’s just to me, Snoop Lion is the growth of Snoop Dogg into the full manhood and third eye open and more wise and more educated and more articulate, was speaking something that needs to be said as opposed to just having fun all the time.
We have too much fun and we don’t deal with what’s real. We have to get real sometimes and let the fun be the backdrop and let the real be the foreground.
Tavis: You flowing again, man. (Laughter) You flowing. It just comes naturally for you. You can’t even help it. It just comes out that way. So I mentioned March 15th, the documentary comes out. I think a whole lot of folk – you’ve got a blockbuster on your hand here. I think a lot of folk going to check this out. For you, though, what do you hope the takeaway will be for the viewer?
Lion: The takeaway? That they was able to enjoy the journey with me. Because it’s a beautiful journey – the good, the bad, and the ugly. That’s why I opened up and put you in the passenger seat, so you can roll with me. I just want you to enjoy the ride.
Tavis: Yeah. Every time we get together over the course of my career – this is my 10th year on PBS, and before that BET and all the other stuff – I’ve always so much enjoyed you coming to see me, and tonight was no different.
Lion: Come on, man. I love how you get down. I watch you all the time. I’m a fan of this show, love how you swaggered out. Been with you from day one. Keep doing your thing. Any time you need me, I’m here for you.
Tavis: My boy, Snoop Lion.
Tavis: The documentary is called “Reincarnated,” March 15th is when you can check it out. I think you’ll want to. Love you, and there ain’t nothing you can do about it.
Lion: That’s right.
Tavis: That’s our show for tonight. Until next time, thanks for tuning in, and as always, keep the faith.
[Video clip of Snoop Lion’s “Here Comes the King”]
“Announcer:” For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at PBS.org.
“Wade Hunt:” There’s a saying that Dr. King had, and he said, “There’s always a right time to do the right thing.” I just try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. We know that we’re only about halfway to completely eliminate hunger, and we have a lot of work to do. And Walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the U.S. As we work together, we can stamp hunger out.
“Announcer:” And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.