Oh, GIBLET GRAVY, have I been staring at this post for a while trying to figure out what to say. So I'm going to go straight brain-dump here, for which I apologize profusely. Sorry.
All right. First and foremost: although I've seen the name "Snoop Lion" in the media, and at some point even figured out that it was more than just a joke (originally, we all thought this was a joke, didn't we?), it wasn't until today that I actually discovered what the "Snoop Lion" transformation means. Turns out Snoop didn't pick the Lion moniker just because it would eat the Dogg for lunch - in fact, much as the red, yellow, green, & smoky album cover would suggest, he picked it because he's now a Rastafarian. Or to specify, he became a Rastafarian in 2012, after a trip to Jamaica during which he claims to have been "reborn" (from his Wikipedia page). And what, you ask, might be some other things that changed during this fabled trip to Jamaica? Well, his new negative position on guns, for one, or as he tells The Guardian (it should be noted that Snoop had already gotten the interviewer high by the time he provided this response): "We keep hearing about schools getting shot up, venues being shot up, public places being shot up, and we have to address that. Who better to do it than me because I come from the gangsta lifestyle, carrying a gun every day of the week lifestyle?" Then there's also his position on women: "I was taught that a bitch is a ho and a ho was a bitch, so my music represented that, until I got to the point where I wanted to show love and appreciation for the woman." Finally, there's the whole identity thing - turns out Snoop doesn't just believe he's been reborn, but that he's been reincarnated as Bob Marley. Which I'm totally cool with, as long as I get to be Estelle Getty (the Rastafarian crowd, however, seems less forgiving).
And now, of course, it's time to talk about the album. First of all, in the interest of full disclosure, I feel that I should tell you that I've been to a Snoop Dogg concert. With my mother. The REASON I tell you this, however, is not to brag, but so that you understand that I have enough familiarity with Snoop's music that the first thing that struck me about this record was how INCREDIBLY mind-fuck-tastic it is to hear d-oh-double-g adopt a Jamaican accent and sing about peace and love (the shout-outs to weed sound much more natural). Because truly, it takes a few of the bobbing, slow-but-happy reggae tracks before the shock wears off, and even then it resurfaces again at least once or twice before the end of the record. Luckily, however, not even the weirdness can taint Major Lazer-helmed "Get Away" featuring Angela Hunte, which has Snoop reggae-scatting over a beat fat enough to dance to, and "Fruit Juice" featuring Mr. Vegas is so strange that it doesn't matter who's singing, what with its blurting, bottomed-out bass line and fruit-filled lyrics and all ("Natural berries are so very good for the system/Some tart some sweet me just can't resist 'em"). And by the time you get to "Torn Apart" featuring Rita Ora, you've almost forgotten what a departure the sound is for Snoop, especially since the dry, rattling percussion really sets off the island beat (of course, final track "Ashtrays and Heartbreaks" featuring Miley Cyrus will make your head go all wonky again, and not just because the title sounds like something straight out of Nashville).
At the end of the day (and two listens later), I feel as qualified to state an opinion about this album as I'll ever be. And that, is basically, as follows: if you're a die-hard Snoop fan, there's a good chance you'll hate this record (check out all of the dislikes for the new videos on YouTube if you need confirmation). Furthermore, if you're a die-hard Rastafarian, there's also a good chance you'll hate this record (Bob Marley, it is not). However, if you're a weekend reggae enthusiast with an appreciation for but not too much understanding of the genre and you're happy enough just to hear Snoop Lion roar, this album is a perfectly enjoyable listen, and one that improves with time and familiarity (the fact that Major Lazer does most of the beats definitely helps, since Snoop's singing is... lackluster, shall we say, at times). Or in other words, this is Snoop Dogg's version of Eric Clapton's Old Sock, and he doesn't give a fuck if you like it or not (like he told The Guardian, "I used to answer hate with hate. Like if you hate me, I hate you more. But now I answer hate with love.") And finally, since you asked - yes, a pre-listen joint would probably help.