The artist-formerly-known-as Snoop Dogg’s first performance under his new persona, reggae singer Snoop Lion, took place at The Hoxton on Friday night. Your response to the show, had you been there, would have depended largely on what you came to see.
For those who haven’t been paying attention, Snoop recently returned from a month-long trip to Jamaica and announced that he was “tired of rap,” and that he was going to start making reggae under the name Snoop Lion. His first reggae record, Reincarnated, will come out later this year, and his musical transformation is the subject of a Vice-backed documentary of the same name, which will debut at this year’s TIFF. Snoop opted to flex his new reggae muscles for the first time in Toronto over the weekend, to coincide with the Caribbean Carnival (formerly known as Caribana).
It’s hard for anyone in their right mind to complain about seeing a legend like Snoop Dogg, who usually plays massive outdoor festivals, in a small-capacity club like the Hoxton. It was fairly exciting to see performances of Doggystyle-era classics like “What’s My Name” with roughly 400 fellow Snoop enthusiasts. The crowd was treated to a reasonable number of Snoop’s hits in a very intimate setting, and Snoop himself was as affable and entertaining as ever. In that sense, Snoop Dogg’s performance on Friday was pretty satisfying.
That said, as the debut performance of Snoop Lion, the show was pretty disappointing. The hour-and-change long set had roughly four reggae tracks, only two of which were actual Snoop Lion songs. (“La La La,” his first single under the Lion moniker, and “No Guns Allowed.”) The other two reggae tunes were just old Snoop songs over a reggae beat, including a version of “Gin and Juice” that felt like it was about eight minutes long. The bulk of the show’s reggae content came in the form of Snoop getting high while listening to Peter Tosh and Bob Marley, which is kind of entertaining, but certainly not worth the price of a ticket.
The other problem with Snoop as a reggae artist is fairly basic. He can’t really sing. His patented sing-song-y rap style isn’t quite strong enough to carry a melody. If he was making a dancehall record, his style of rapping could probably be converted into a singjay-type reggae delivery, but Snoop Lion seems to see himself as more Gregory Isaacs, less Eek-A-Mouse. That’s a problem.
Even so, Friday night’s performance proved two things: that Snoop Dogg is still an entertaining perfomer, and that Snoop Lion is less a work in progress than a barely-fleshed-out idea.