Snoop Lion’s ‘Reincarnated’ does some justice to classic Marley influence

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Jake Alden

 

Image used under fair use doctrine
Image used under fair use doctrine
Reincarnated is one smooth reggae album, all things considered, but it’s not nearly as smooth as Bob Marley‘s Exodus. The hooks of most of Snoop Lion’s latest songs have funk and rhythm to spare, but their chill beats pale in comparison to the funky cadence of Marley classics such as “Concrete Jungle” and “Could You Be Loved”.  At first, it may seem unfair to compare Snoop, an artist who’s just getting in on the reggae game, with one of the genre’s core founders and its most famous member. However, with Snoop Lion’s recent claims that he is, in fact, Bob Marley reincarnated, it seems only logical to stack the two artists up against each other.
It’s important to note that Reincarnated is, for the most part, a really nice album to sit back and relax to, especially with the weather finally starting to get warm. Like virtually all reggae, Snoop’s songs share a lot of their sound with their roots in the tropical cultures of the world, and this musical heritage gives the entire album a vibe that resonates with imagery of white sand beaches and clear blue seas. Combine those vibes with an average tempo that never exceeds moderately upbeat and a nice mix of soft vocals and gentle bass, and at first glance, you have the recipe for a balanced, even-headed hour and a half of cool tunes.
But the more you listen, the more you start to realize that some of Snoop’s newest songs just sound a bit fake. “Here Comes the King” and “Smoke the Weed” both sit pretty uncomfortably next to the rest of the tracks. They’re both hokey and neither of them are really reggae except in the most technical sense of the term; they seem like they’d fit in better with Caribbean cruise line jingles instead of serious reggae songs. Some of the other tracks feel a little off too, mostly because they seem to be failed attempts to reconcile Snoop’s slightly synthesized hip hop background with his reggae endeavors. “Tired of Running” is far too synthesizer-heavy to avoid clashing with the other songs that surround it, and its West Coast gangsta-inspired lyricism is almost devoid of the Jamaican and Caribbean cultural heritage that permeates through the rest of the album. Similarly, the electronic riffs of “No Guns Allowed” are more than a little off-putting, and its ill-advisedly experimental harmonies disconnect the vocals with its instrumentals and pseudo-techno beats. Meanwhile, “Torn Apart” is a confused mess of modern brass section intro, vintage steel drum beat, electronica effects and poppy Rita Ora vocals, all of which sound like they should be kept in separate songs, far, far away from each other.
Among these missteps, however, sit songs where Snoop strikes musical gold by subtly blending slight G-Funk elements with strong reggae foundation. ‘The Good Good” mixes these genres in such a way that the finished product resembles Nappy Roots or Michael Franti in the absolute best way possible, and the track “Fruit Juice” slips in some hip hop beats and hooks without having them distracting from its vocals, vibes or the rest of the album. Later on in the tracklist, Snoop Lion manages to pull off a more eclectic mix with the aid of Chris Brown and Busta Rhymes in “Remedy”, which inherits the heaviest West Coast gangsta-rap feel while still retaining reggae roots. Other songs’ lyrics, rhythms and instrumentals draw far more from classic reggae and successfully pull off a traditionalist feel that still jams comfortably with songs such as “Fruit Juice” and “The Good Good”. The opening track “Rebel Way” and Snoop Lion’s collaboration with Angela Hunte, “So Long” are the two songs with the strongest classic feel to them and owe the most overall to vintage Marley influences. They jive well with “La La La”, which is a direct product of mainstay, New Age reggae inspiration that still fits in alongside other tracks’ old-school sound.
The big surprise of the setlist is “Ashtrays and Heartbreak”, a late album track that features none other than Disney Channel pop music star Miley Cyrus. The reggae song is so completely unlike anything Snoop or Cyrus have ever done in the music world before, but their harmonies mix well together and with the heavy instrumentals of the steel drum. It’s slightly repetitive but truly relaxing, good old-fashioned easy-listening, and Cyrus’ lead-in vocal for each chorus is actually one of the most memorable standalone verses in the entire album. “Ashtrays” is a far cry from being the best track on Reincarnated, but it’s a great song that can work well alongside its neighbors or standalone if it has to.
The actual best track title on the album is a close tie between the unquestionably quality cross-genre masterpieces “Harder Times” and “Get Away”. “Get Away” mixes vocals and a percussion section directly inherited from Marley-era reggae with the most modern aspects of G-Funk and even slight traditional African elements and serves as the bridge that enables tracks of equal quality but wholly different backgrounds to interact harmoniously among the best parts of the album. “Harder Times”, meanwhile, is a much less fast-paced and upbeat song that is bittersweet and finishes the tracklist off as a final number that blends equatorial musical elements into a Franti-Marley-esque cocktail of sweet-listening vibes.
Bob Marley’s 35th Anniversary album is on its way to the streets, and now is the time for reggae fans to polish off their old tracks and start setting up new playlists. A lot of Snoop’s newest songs would make an excellent addition to any custom-made reggae setlist, but buying his latest album lock, stock and barrel would be a misstep. There’s too many jarring, misguided experiments contained in Reincarnated for me to recommend a full purchase in good conscience, but I’d be remiss to advise you to ignore Snoop Lion’s reggae endeavors. He’s starting to show some true talent in producing both vintage style and renovated reggae tracks, and any Marley devotee would be well-served to take a look at buying some of the songs off the album to mix into their daily diet of jams.
If you’re looking for more classically-styled songs for your reggae collection, grab a hold of “So Long” and “Rebel Way”. Want something a little fresher and more modern for your Jamaican mixtape? Throw some “La La La” into that bad boy or give “Ashtrays and Heartbreaks” a try. “The Good Good” is a great addition for any upbeat spring/summer playlist, and “Fruit Juice” and “Remedy” really carry their own weight when you’re working on a cross-genre playlist and want some tracks to unite a diverse musical mash-up. No matter what, if you want some sweet, summery, reggae-style jams, do yourself a favor and make a speedy purchase of “Get Away” and “Harder Times”.
By Jake Alden