With Peter Tosh‘s anthemic “Legalize It” blasting from the P.A., a cloud of smoke hovering above a smoldering crowd at makeshift club Viceland and one enterprising stoner taking hits of pot from a tube connected to a contraption stowed deep in his backpack, the people of Austin were ready for Snoop Dogg.
Or, more appropriately, Snoop Lion, who brought his documentary film to South By Southwest for its U.S. premiere and closed out Thursday night with a high-energy performance inspired in large part by his love of reggae music.
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“Lionfest,” as the event was dubbed, also featured the team of Diplo and Major Lazer, who produced the music of in Jamaica, as openers, along with dancehall artist Mavado and singer Angela Hunte, who also appears on the album and is a well-known songwriter stateside, having co-written “Empire State of Mind.” Each of the artists are, for the moment, members of Snoop’s extended family and it was precisely that vibe of camaraderie and togetherness that he was going for. Ever the consummate pro, the Dogg, as usual, delivered.
Some 2,000 fans packed into the Viceland hangar for the 11:30 show. Snoop took the stage around 30 minutes later than scheduled, but just in time for midnight revelers to be properly lubricated. Snoop ran through many of his greatest hits, including “Lighters Up,” “Nuthin’ But A G Thang," "Let’s Get High" and "Bitch Please" all while awash in the red, yellow and green colors of the Rastafarian culture. For "We Can Freak It," Snoop bought out Daz and Kurupt, while for the rest of the hour-plus set, the rapper was flanked by dancers and his own mini army of faithful hype men.
With the album due out on April 23, Snoop also performed several songs from its track list, including lead single “La La La,” the groovy “So Long” and “No Guns Allowed,” which features the sweet vocals of Snoop’s little Lioness, daughter Cori B., on such hard-hitting lines as, “Money makes a man and that’s a crime.” (It followed a montage of news reports detailing horrific shootings like those of Columbine and Aurora, Colo.)
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Reggae flavor was infused elsewhere, too, on interstitials like Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved,” Snoop classic “Gin & Juice” and especially on closing number “Young, Wild and Free,” which had the college students in the crowd, and their South By elders as well, singing along enthusiastically (when they weren’t chanting “F— That Shit,” as beckoned by the night’s headliner).
Snoop himself took a moment on stage to explain the mishmash of styles, calling it “mix and match” and blending elements of funk music and reggae. Indeed, as the evening died down around 1 a.m., and the beat slowed to a Caribbean crawl, it was just the right amount of comedown to send the kids on their way to the next show – and the others off to bed. “Thank you for letting me do me,” Snoop said in closing. No doubt many would agree: we wouldn’t want it any other way.