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Snoop Lion: 'La La La' and a rapper's transition into reggae

August 08, 2012|By Randall Roberts | Los Angeles Times Pop Music Critic

What's a reggae song without the lingo? What's a lion without a roar? These and other mystical questions spring to mind during a first listen of "La La La," the debut single by new reggae artist Snoop Lion, formerly known to the world as Long Beach rapper Snoop Dogg, Snoop Doggy Dogg, the Bigg Boss Dogg, Bigg Snoop Dogg and Snoop D-O Double G.

A few weeks ago, the artist born Calvin Broadus announced that he was setting aside the Snoop Dogg name and quitting the rap game for reggae; just as Garth Brooks once magically became Chris Gaines, Snoop will begin the transition to becoming an honorary Kingstonian. Snoop Lion has started appearing in new colors -- the green, gold and red hues of rasta -- and, conveniently, still gets to smoke the same high-quality ganja. 

On Monday, he released "La La La," and listeners/skeptics had their first chance to assess what the hell is going on here.

With a beat concocted by hit producer, crate-digger and tastemaker Diplo, whose hot mixtapes display his obvious love and knowledge of roots reggae, dub, dancehall and reggaeton coming out of Kingston, the song is a sturdy, valid stab at delivering a non-cheesy groove upon which a budding rapper can legitimately begin his transition. 

A smooth, deep rhythm that suggests a collision of the digital rhythms of Mad Professor with the roots dub sound of King Tubby and Lee "Scratch" Perry, the Lion on "La La La" walks on ancient ground, dipping back 30-odd years to resurrect a vibe that was threatened with extinction with the early '80s rise of the heavier, harder reggaeton sound.

Then there's Snoop Lion himself, whose name, he said, wasn't chosen but bestowed upon him. That's an impressive Jamaican honor, but it's not enough to prove that the would-be singer's more than a cub at this point. His voice certainly doesn't float the way the best of spiritual fathers Peter Tosh, Burning Spear or the Congos do (of course), nor should the surname Marley ever appear in the same sentence as Lion's.

That said, more power to Snoop Lion for changing up. Few are the successful artists who leap into the unknown. And it's certainly a respectable first track, even if it's not eye-popping. Another way of putting it: UB40 is fine and all, but when one is craving reggae, why go there when there are so many richer and more fertile lands to visit. Start with the Congos' "Ark of the Covenant," from their Lee Perry classic "The Heart of the Congos."

A full record by Snoop Lion called "Reincarnated" will arrive via Vice Records in the fall, as will a documentary of the same name by Vice Films.

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