Last month, Snoop Dogg announced a rebranding of sorts--from gangsta-rapping, pimp cup-toting Dogg to reggae-influenced Lion. The announcement coincided with the upcoming release of Snoop’s latest record Reincarnated, produced by Diplo and Major Lazer.
Snoop’s not the first non-reggae artist to get irie with a music project, but Reincarnated is more than just an album. Twenty-first-century culture being what it is, this is a multi-platform project in collaboration with Vice that includes the record, a photo book, and a feature documentary on Snoop’s monthlong journey to Jamaica, from which he emerged a Lion.
Only one song from the new album has been released so far, but the film made its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival, which wrapped last Sunday. Snoop has talked extensively about his new image, but the film offers a look at his rebrand as it happened, taking viewers inside the legendary Tuff Gong studios, to Bunny Wailer’s house, to the impoverished sides of Kingston and the lush mountains of the countryside. Oh, and there’s weed. Tons and tons of weed.
We spoke to director Andy Capper, also global editor of Vice magazine, about the film, its influences and why we shouldn’t roll our eyes at a Snoop reggae album.
CO.CREATE: Executive producer (and Vice cofounder) Suroosh Alvi has said you guys originally just went to down to shoot some footage of Snoop making his new album for Vice.com. When did you know this was going to turn into a feature documentary?
ANDY CAPPER: Before I went I knew it could be big. I started immediately planning all these stunts to do. I figured if I’m going to get a chance to work with this guy then I’m going to go nuts and make it as big as I can, with fucking helicopters and all kinds of stuff. I wanted mountain climbing, rooftop shots, all the old footage, as intimate as possible, get into Tupac, I wanted everything. If I was going to get this kind of access to this guy for that long, I was going to get as much as I could. He couldn’t get away from me.
As entertaining as it is, for much of the film, it’s exactly what you might expect from a Snoop Goes to Jamaica flick produced by Vice. But the tone really changed when he started talking about Tupac’s death. How did you get him to open up like that?
That was the second interview we did in L.A. I just kept saying, "We need more, we need more." And he’d ask, "Why? You’ve got so much already." And I just told him to trust me. That’s when he started opening up about Tupac. We went for that to cover some gaps and so I just asked him, "What happened the day Tupac died?" And he said, "I was smoking a blunt." And I just said, "Tell me more."
This was a co-production with Snoop. How do you prevent it from being a glorified promo film?
From the start, I knew what I was going there to get and I was going to get it, come hell or high water. We didn’t leave anything out. You just have to look at what’s in there.
What was the craziest thing that didn’t make it into the final cut?
The Muhammad Ali stuff is pretty crazy. Hanging out with Quincy Jones, Ali, Puffy, LL Cool J, all Bob Marley’s buddies from Tuff Gong, we’re going to release some of this stuff later. There’s just so much.
Some of those neighborhood scenes in the rougher parts of Kingston are pretty intense.
Yeah but, we’ve been there, done that. Belfast is worse than that. Belfast on troubles day is insane. Last year I did Siberia about the Krokodil tears and bootleg heroin, then I went to Belfast for troubles day, then broke up with my girlfriend. I was so miserable. I ended up at my mom’s house for Christmas, for the first time in a long while, and got a call from Suroosh, "Want to come to Jamaica to shoot a film about Snoop Dogg becoming a rasta?" I said, "I’m in."
The whole thing changed my life, really. It changed everybody who made that trip and it’s reflected in the film and on the record. It was real energy, none of it was scripted. You set these things up and just let it roll.
We just would go with what felt right. I saw his Nate Dogg tattoo and knew that talking about him would definitely be a part of it. That took a bit of convincing but he did it.
What documentaries, music or otherwise, influenced how you approached shooting this film?
I really like this one about the Liverpool music scene in the '80s called You’ll Never Walk Alone that follows around this band called Shack, and Echo and the Bunnymen are in it. I love that one. I love the John Lennon film Gimme Some Truth. The films we based this on, in terms of how we shot in the studio and the cinematography were When We Were Kings and Gimme Some Truth. I also used to watch all kinds of bootleg Death Row Records documentaries. I always thought they were killer and couldn’t understand why they weren’t bigger movies, considering how famous those dudes were and the impact they had on culture. It was a big deal.
When someone hears Snoop made a reggae album, there’s bound to be some eye-rolling. Did you ever think it was a bit of a gimmick?
It’s not really a reggae album, it’s more of a Jamaica-influenced album that’s a really heavy soul record. With the team we had, there’s no way anyone would think it’s a gimmick. There was a risk it might not be that good, but that’s the opposite of what happened. It turned out to be great. The song "Ashtrays & Heartbreaks" is amazing, it’s like TLC-meets-Oasis. Two of my favorite bands. The writer of a lot of the songs, Angela Hunt, wrote "Empire State of Mind" for Alicia Keys, and the producers and other writers like Diplo, have worked with everyone from Vybz Kartel to Usher to Bieber. There’s just this pedigree of great taste and great skills for working with both mainstream artists as well as more underground artists. It’s just awesome.
What does it mean to have it premiering at TIFF?
More money. I want a bonus! Just kidding… Not really. But it’s an honor though to have it here at TIFF, we’re all really excited.
Is this the biggest multi-level project Vice has done?
Definitely the most high-profile artist we’ve worked with to this degree. It’s definitely one of the biggest projects we’ve done.
What was the biggest challenge? Was it tough to get him to do some of the stunts or setups you wanted?
He only turned down three things. One was going in a hot air balloon, one was swimming underwater in slow motion, and the last one was driving down the mountain on a motorbike. Everything else he said yes to. "Can we get Louis Farrakhan?" "Sure you can, we can go next week." Stuff like that. That was awesome interviewing him. One of the best interviews I’ve ever done. It was so surreal and amazing.
Going to Jamaica to shoot a film with Snoop is enough to blow anyone’s mind. Did anything surprise you?
How strong Snoop’s weed is. That was a surprise.
[Image: Flickr user Brian Morton]