Who is the most influential American of the past 20 years? Possibly Snoop Dogg.
Twenty years ago, kids were listening to very different music: Metallica, Def Leppard, Van Halen. Seriously, I owned a Van Halen CD. Looking back, I have no idea why.
Rap existed, but it was a niche genre. That is until Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic,” introducing Snoop Dogg, became a massive mainstream hit.
Suddenly it wasn’t just thuggish young men and Urban Studies professors who were listening to rap. Every fifteen year old girl who watched MTV was singing “Bow wow wow yippee yo yippee yay.”
Young Americans were hooked on rap. But the genre wasn’t going to last if all of the rappers killed each other. And that’s exactly what was happening.
After his friend and label mate Tupac Shakur was shot to death in 1996, Snoop Dogg had a revelation: rapping about murder was selling records, but it was destructive and dangerous.
With Snoop at the lead, the genre evolved from gangsta rap to hip hop. The topics of his songs were no longer about blowing people away; they were more about blowing smoke.
That brings me to the second big influence Snoop Dogg has had on our society: the normalization of marijuana.
Twenty years ago, most Americans agreed that people who smoke pot are druggies who should rightly be arrested. Today, marijuana is legal in two states and semi-legal in others – including Snoop’s home state of California.
A majority of Americans under 40 are comfortable with decriminalization and Snoop Dogg is partially responsible.
In Snoop, we see a healthy, successful, productive member of society. And we know that he has been high for a majority of his waking life. And then we think: Snoop’s a good guy, so why he is still technically a federal criminal?
He certainly smokes his share of ganja in “Reincarnation,” a documentary that takes place – naturally – in Jamaica. It’s called “Reincarnation” because Snoop is there on a spiritual journey of discovery and change.
First, he announces that he now wants to be called Snoop Lion (news that must have come as a shock to the proud canines of the world). Second, he wants to become a practicing Rastafarian. Third, Snoop decided to record a profanity-free reggae record.
The reggae songs aren’t especially good. That isn’t that surprising. The man is a superstar because he is super cool, not because he is super talented. Anyone who lists Snoop as one of their top five hip hop artists either just stepped out of a time machine from 1993 or only knows five rappers.
“Reincarnation” isn’t a great documentary. Like most of Snoop’s music, the movie is low on substance. But I enjoyed it, anyway, because it is about one of the coolest, most likable, and most influential men of our time. Go Snoop!