Music films have always secured top billing at South by Southwest, because the festival is first and foremost a music extravaganza. This year’s Oscar winner for Best Documentary – Searching for Sugar Man, about long-forgotten, elusive Detroit musician Sixto Rodriguez – first got people talking at last year’s festival. Over the past week, SXSW has screened projects about riot grrl frontwoman Kathleen Hanna (The Punk Singer), Green Day’s big foray into Broadway (Broadway Idiot), and Reincarnated, about a transformative trip to Jamaica for the veteran pimp daddy affectionately known as the D-O-double-G.
After premiering in Toronto last fall (where we gave it a **** review), the film made its U.S. debut in Austin this week. Originally envisioned as a short film about the rapper’s first reggae recording in Jamaica with hotshot producer Diplo, the project rapidly grew into a full-blown spiritual pilgrimage, with Snoop visiting Rastafari temples, remote marijuana plantations, Kingston’s Alpha Boys School band, reggae legend Bunny Wailer and his Trenchtown hood. A very candid Snoop opens up to director Andy Capper about his dark upbringing and Death Row days as he tries to put it all behind him and “step into the light”. So what’s this very public makeover of a charismatic Dogg (and not your run-of-the-mill dog – a 30 million album-selling star canine) into a Lion all about? NIGHTLIFE.CA spoke with Capper, also VICE Magazine’s Global Editor, about Snoop’s maturing image, his ever potent ganja and that beef with Bunny Wailer.
Credit: Willie T
How did you and VICE first get involved? We got a call in 2011 from Snoop’s management company – they said Snoop was a big fan of our documentary series (Heavy Metal in Baghdad, The VICE Guide to Liberia). We were asked to accompany him as he went to Jamaica to record his new album with Diplo. But the more we looked into it, the more time we spent with him, the more we realized we wanted to make a feature film out of this – a film about his whole life story, set to all this new music he recorded in Jamaica.
You got intimate access into the rap icon’s life – exploring the many faces of Snoop and having him open up about his rough childhood and his profound grief following Nate Dogg’s death. Was the trust immediate? At first, we trod very casually, because Snoop’s a megastar, he doesn’t know us, we don’t know him… It was about building the trust. But the more we broke down those initial layers, we just started to go for it and Snoop’s guard came down.
When the project was first explained to you, were you somewhat reluctant to buy into the idea of a reformed, positivity-preaching Snoop? Did this sudden decision to lay his gangbanger roots to rest seem like a stretch? With the passage of time, as I got to know him, it became very obvious that his ambitions were heartfelt. You could tell by the way he was moved in certain scenes that we shot at Tivoli Gardens, the Rastafarian temple, the Alpha Boys School band – they had an effect on him. Snoop didn’t seem interested in limiting himself to the routine of backstage/hotel/performance – his main motivation was to discover as much of the real Jamaica as he could. I think his eyes were opened. The things that he saw informed the making of the record.
Reggae don Bunny Wailer, with whom Snoop shares a memorable blunt in the film, has come out against him, arguing that “smoking weed, loving Bob Marley and reggae music is not what defines the Rastafari indigenous culture.” What do you make of his claims that Snoop is fraudulently appropriating Rastafari culture to make a quick buck? I think that what Bunny says about those things not amounting to Rastafari culture is true, but I believe that the film is not as simple as that. It’s about Snoop learning from the people he met out there and using those lessons to inform his new music and his new musical message of peace, love, positivity and Babylon, with songs like “No Guns Allowed”…whereas his older stuff was very much based on a gangster lifestyle. I’m always very suspicious of people who have religious conversions overnight, because it does seem phony. But when people watch the film, they’ll see where Snoop is coming from, and they’ll understand what that’s all about.
But what would have prompted Bunny to suddenly make those accusations, given that he gives Snoop his complete blessing in the film? Has he screened the film yet? I'm not sure. I think there are other things motivating Bunny’s comments… But that’s something between Bunny and Snoop, which I can’t comment on.
There’s a cloud of giddy smoke hovering over this entire project. How many hours of blazing did you capture on film? Oh… a lot. (laughs) We were Jamaica with Snoop, so I mean, it was a lot. I couldn’t really put it into hours, but there will be tons on the DVD extras and online… But we didn’t want to make a film about smoking weed, we didn’t want to make a Cheech & Chong movie, it’s just something that was ever-present all along. Certainly there were bits we shot, like at the Nyabinghi Temple or Tivoli Gardens, where there were beautiful ways of shooting it, but we definitely didn’t want to make it all about that.
What surprised you most about Snoop over the course of this shoot? How strong his weed is.
So…how strong IS it? It’s kind of cosmic. The most potent I’ve ever smoked – I don’t smoke weed all that often, I’m certainly an amateur, but I take in on authority that it’s definitely up there.
Andy Capper (far left) with Diplo, Snoop and Reincarnated crew (Credit: Willie T)
Reincarnated (the documentary)
Quebec premiere at PHI Centre March 29, 30 and 31 | phi-centre.com
Reincarnated (the album) | In stores April 23 | snooplion.com