By Christine Kearney
TORONTO (Reuters) - Rapper Snoop Dogg insists, for now, he is dropping the 'Dogg' to take on a new moniker, Snoop Lion.
Snoop became one of the world's most recognizable names in rap music after his 1993 debut album "Doggystyle" helped forge the rise of gangsta rap. But the California singer and actor with the tough image of guns, drugs and "pimping" out women now claims he is now embracing reggae music, peace and love.
His transformation, he told reporters on Friday at the Toronto International Film Festival about a new documentary chronicling the change, should not be too surprising: "I was always saying to myself I was Bob Marley reincarnated."
His new nonfiction film, made by his own company, is called just that, "Reincarnated." Like many music documentaries in recent years, it serves partly as a promotional piece for his upcoming reggae album of the same name, showing how each song was recorded, including with reggae master Bunny Wailer.
But much of the first part of Snoop's journey to seek Rasta culture in Jamaica is spent talking about his love of smoking marijuana and sharing the local variety. In one scene he is taken into the jungle by locals to smoke marijuana plants picked straight from the ground.
His larger point however, is that at the age of 40, he is older, wiser and has embarked on a spiritual and musical odyssey. His new name, the film shows, was not chosen by him but rather handed down by Rastafarian priests in Jamaica.
"They just crowned me 'The Lion' because it is associated with Rastafarians and associated with reggae music and they felt like the Dogg was no longer needed," he said. "It was just a natural transformation. It's like from 'The Dogg' to 'The Lion', you understand me?"
The name change, announced in July, is at least the third for Snoop, who began his hip-hop career as "Snoop Doggy Dog" and he is also known as "The Doggfather" and "Uncle Snoop." So skepticism about his embrace of reggae has been rife on social media sites.
DOGG NOT DEAD?
But on Friday, dressed in pure white and wearing a white rasta cap, he talked of "a true transformation," his internal "love and peace," and his devotion to his wife and children.
He shrugged off disbelievers who question whether the man who helped popularize the notorious Death Row Records label, along with fellow musicians such as murdered Tupac Shakur, has really changed.
"For those who feel like it is not real or it is not authentic, that is what it is. You are going to have your own opinions and views," he said. "What I can do, is put down a clean glass of water and a dirty glass of water and you can have the choice to drink whatever one you like."
Still not shy and never short of a quip, the second half of the film delves more into Snoop's checkered past, including his many run-ins with the law on drug and gun possession charges.
But, like rapper and record producer Sean Combs ever the successful brand maker, he hinted that he would still play his old rap hits and did not rule out future rap albums.
"I am still Snoop Dogg. This is me right now," he said before making reporters laugh by using a set of expletives that once filled his rap hits.
"At the end of the day when I making my reggae music I am in the light of Snoop Lion, so you have to respect both worlds."
(Reporting by Christine Kearney; Editing by Jill Serjeant and Lisa Shumaker)