Last July, the rapper Snoop Dogg surprised his fans with the announcement that he was changing both his music style (to reggae) as well as his stage name (to Snoop Lion). The move came during a trip to a Rastafarian temple in Jamaica, Snoop recounted: “I went to the temple, where the High Priest asked me what my name was, and I said, ‘Snoop Dogg.’ And he looked me in my eyes and said, ‘No more. You are the light; you are the lion.’”
But there was one man, at least, who was not surprised: Andy Capper, the filmmaker who was there at the temple filming the whole thing. The footage of Snoop’s transformative voyage to Jamaica became the documentary Reincarnated, screening at South By Southwest tomorrow (Mar. 14) and opening in theaters soon after. In fact, Capper—a journalist—says that the presence of the camera was, in some way, responsible for Snoop’s decision. He spoke to TIME about Snoop, the movie, and the few things the rapper refused to do on camera.
How did you end up catching Snoop Dogg becoming Snoop Lion on film?
Snoop is a big fan of documentaries. His management company got in touch and said, “Would you like to come to Jamaica and film him making this album with Diplo?” And I pounced on the opportunity to make a deeper thing about his life story. We took him to crazy places in Jamaica—the Rastafarian temple, Tivoli Gardens—to inspire songs for the album. But I think it inspired something a bit deeper.
So you didn’t know he would have this life change when you started filming.
I thought it would be a bit boring if he just recorded an album so we wanted to push him as far as he would go. Pretty much the only thing he didn’t want to do was get in a hot-air balloon or ride a motorcycle down a mountain.
But he had no plans to visit places like the Rastafarian temple before that?
A couple of weeks before we went, we had a call and said, look, if he’s going to Jamaica he should immerse himself in these situations. I think the only time Snoop had really seen Jamaica before was in a hotel room and on a stage. So to fully immerse himself in a modern Jamaica, we came up with all these places to take him, places that would relate back to his story.
Do you think the documentary is partially responsible for his decision to become Snoop Lion?
What was your reaction when he told you about that?
We were there when people in Tivoli Gardens were calling him that, the Rastas were, Bunny Wailer was. It was a very intense, amazing trip. Things just happened sort of naturally and gradually. The name change, we were like, “Are you sure about that?” And he was like, “Yeah.”
Were there any other really surprising moments?
I mean, just how open he was in all the interviews we did afterward. Talking about Nate Dogg was a very difficult thing for him to do. There were things about his family that I’d never heard before. He was an open book—and that was what surprised me the most. Mega-stars are usually kind of guarded.
Had you been a fan of his before?
Yeah. It meant so much for me to work with him. I was always into rap as a little kid. When all that Death Row stuff started I think the whole world was interested. Those kids like Snoop were kind of like journalists. They were telling you what happened in Compton and Long Beach, on their records, that the regular news wouldn’t report on. Snoop’s always kind of seen stuff as a journalist. This trip gave him a chance to actually be one on camera. He’s the black CNN.
I’ve heard recently that Bunny Wailer has said that Snoop’s appropriation of Rastafarian culture isn’t genuine. What’s your reaction to that?
I can’t really comment on the Bunny situation apart from saying that there are other things motivating Bunny’s comments. But the people who welcomed us in, we’re cool with those guys. They understand what he’s doing. They understand that he can’t change into a Rastafarian overnight. What he can do is take the principles and teachings that he learned from them, the positive messages about peace, love and unity, and use them in a very Snoop way to shine light on the sort of things they’re talking about. Snoop’s lyrics before, were just gangbanger lyrics. Now he’s doing “No Guns Allowed” and songs about how kids should eat healthy, with a Yo Gabba Gabba vibe. The message is peace and unity and harmoniousness and Babylon. It’s a world away from the gangster stuff, and it’s kind of a risk for him. If Snoop just wanted to appropriate Rasta culture and cash in on it, he’d just grow dreadlocks and write some gangster songs—but he hasn’t done that at all. I love Bunny, but there’s other things going on that might come out eventually.
So will Snoop Dogg be Snoop Lion long-term?
Snoop Dogg is always going to be there. Snoop Lion is the reggae incarnation. Every big performer who’s had a long career has incarnations. This is a heartfelt, sincere, soul-felt image change, no matter what people say. My job was to show people the reasons behind it. He’s had a lot of pain in his life and I think he got to a point where he wanted to do a thing that wasn’t concentrating on bad situations, that was looking forward to the future and doing something good.
Have you spent time with him since the movie was completed?
Yeah, he comes to the screenings to hang out. It’s funny having him as like a bro. Photos of us together look funny. I’m like five-foot-eight and he’s, like, six-foot-nine. He makes me smoke his weed. And it’s the strongest. I can’t talk and I have to leave the party. I don’t know how he does it.
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In the movie, he brings his own weed to Jamaica. That seems risky…
I wasn’t concerned. I don’t know how he does that. He definitely had some Jamaican [weed], too. That shot in Tivoli Gardens where they get that huge thing of weed out? They sold us that for $100, a pound of weed. He was pretty happy about that.
What are you working on next?
We’re just finishing the next feature. It’s called Lil Bub & Friendz. It’s the story of the world’s cutest internet cat and its owner. I think people are going to be shocked when they hear what was done with this cat. It stars Lil Bub and Nyan Cat— and Keyboard Cat is in it. It’s the story of internet Cats, told with a real emotional depth.