After a long stay in Jamaica, legendary music icon Snoop Dogg has announced that he is moving from rap to reggae and will now be known as Snoop Lion.
In the tens of millions of years since their genealogical split, this is the first known spontaneous evolution of anyone or thing from canine to feline.
Along with the name and musical style, he is shedding the violent associations of gangster culture and embracing his inner Rastafarian. “There’s a lot of killing going on in this world, and nobody ever speaks on it until it happens. And I’m tired of it,” Snoop Lion is quoted as saying by the Huffington Post. “This reggae music is music of love — happiness and sadness.”
The Lion’s Share
What he may or may not be aware of is just how much lions themselves, once symbols of indomitable power, are victims of wanton killing as well. In the 1940s, there were an estimated 400,000 lions in the world. Since then, the numbers have dropped by as much as 95%.
It’s not just lions’ numbers that have shrunk, but their range as well. For us in the 21st century we think of the lion as a decidedly African animal, and so the association with Rasta culture through its roots in Ethiopia seems natural enough.
The real origin of the Rastafarian use of the lion as a symbol of strength and virtue goes much deeper though. It starts with Ethiopia’s tracing its royal line back to King Solomon and ultimately to Judah, who is called a “young lion” in a famous blessing from his father Jacob in the book of Genesis (49:9). Jacob, who also took a major name change to become Israel, lived not in Africa but in the Near East.
Far from being only an African symbol, the “Lion of Judah” is actually a reminder of how widespread these great cats once were, before human hunting, extermination, and retaliatory killings dethroned the king of the beasts and put him on the fast track to extinction.
Need for a Lion Revival
Today lions roam freely only in Africa and a few small pockets of Asia, but they are a powerful and beloved symbol for cultures all around the world. For those who live near them, the fear and competition is sometimes all they can see. Lions, like Snoop, could use a rebranding effort to help people including those who live most closely with them to get past their violent image and see their role in the world more fully.
National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative is working to educate people, learn more about lions and other big cats, and help ensure that these animals will always have a home in the wild. If gangsta icon Snoop Dogg can carve out some new space as the love-loving Snoop Lion, maybe his new totem animal has a chance as well.
Or should I say maybe his new animizzle totemizzle has a chance as wellizizzle?
Help us Cause an Uproar for big cats.
Listen to Snoop Lion’s first single, “La La La.”