Snoop Dogg, formerly known as Snoop Doggy Dogg and born Calvin Broadus, is synonymous with gangsta rap, one of the more infamous musical genres of the 1990s. And now the old Dogg is teaching everyone new tricks by changing his name to Snoop Lion and his tune to reggae. It’s not as drastic as Prince renaming himself The Artist Formerly Known As ____ in 1993. But this change of name does represent a significant change of game for the Left Coast’s Granddaddy of rap. What prompted the onomastic switcheroo?
The new Lion is roaring all about his reinvention as a Rastafarian reggae artist and his new album, called “Reincarnated,” released late last month. In his dotage – the 40-year-old veteran’s been rapping for two decades – he’s mellowed out, calling himself “Bob Marley reincarnated.”
At an MTV press conference, he said, “I want to bury Snoop Dogg and beome Snoop Lion. I didn’t know that until I went to the temple, where the High Priest asked me what my name was…he looked at me in my eyes and said, ‘No more. You are the light; you are the lion.’” I won’t ask what Snoop was doing in a temple in Jamaica or how high the priest was, but the upgrade is understandable. After all, who wouldn’t want to go from mere pooch to king of the jungle?
Like Ma$e, one of the biggest rap gangstars who retired in 1999 to become a man of the cloth, Snoop is cleaning up his act. Instead of dropping rhymes about crime, women, and song, he’s making music his “kids and grandchildren can listen to. “ It’s out with the old, “Murder Was the Case,” and in with the new, “No Guns Allowed.” And as listening to his new tune, “La La La” proves, he’s turned into quite the unlikely crooner.
Any good PR person, especially the Doggfather, knows that a new name is a loaded springboard for storytelling. It’s a rich opportunity to seize new eyeballs and earholes and get some tongues (and tails) wagging.
Names are how artists announce themselves to the world, as Snoop did with “Who Am I / What’s My Name?” and Eminem did with “My Name Is.” Since they’re such a potent statement of purpose, name changes often represent a vital shift in identity, as in the aforementioned Prince, or Cat Stevens renaming himself Yusuf Islam.
Sometimes a new name comes with an alter-persona, like Garth Brooks temporarily changing his name to Chris Gaines in 1999 to support his tepid pop. David Bowie donned the zany moniker of Ziggy Stardust for his glam rock phase.
Sometimes the reason is more prosaic: because like companies or products, someone else is already using the name. The late Notorious B.I.G. started out as Biggie Smalls but had to change his name because some other rapper had claimed it first (Biggie Midge is still available though). Santigold was taken to court for her original name “Santogold” by 1980s infomercial/cult artist Santo Gold, so she shifted the spelling slightly.
And then there are those artists who change their names like underwear: Sean Combs has gone by Puff Daddy, Puffy, P. Diddy, and just Diddy. Founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan, Ol’ Dirty Bastard has hopped from Big Baby Jesus to God Unique, Joe Bananas, Osiris, and Dirt McGirt, stopping only because he passed away in 2004.
Considering that Snoop has invested significant resources in the Snoop Dogg name, I highly doubt it’s a flippant decision. He currently owns five trademark registrations for the name Snoop Dogg across a wide range of goods and services. We’ll see whether he’ll maintain those trademarks as they’re expensive. Interestingly, he hasn’t registered “Snoop Lion” yet, although I recommend he do that if he wants to retain legal rights to the name.
All legal issues aside, I’m not sure that Snoop’s longtime fans are on-board with the shift. “Snoop Lion” doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily as “Snoop Dogg” and lacks that slyly-sleazy, cheeky sense of humor that defined the Doggfather and his albums. Only time will tell if the name change will alienate his fans and leave him in the Dogg house.
Overall Grade: C