As if the everyday stress of adolescence isn’t enough, imagine going through it in the public eye. That’s the challenge that faces Bow Wow.
Formerly known as Lil’ Bow Wow, the 16-year-old Cleveland native tackles issues that affect many of today’s teens on his third Columbia/Sony Urban Music (SUM) effort, “Unleashed.”
“I’m still talking about girls, but I’m also talking about other things,” Bow Wow says. “I got to cover a lot of true-life situations. We call the Neptunes-produced track [“The Don, The Dutch”] the ‘2Pac record’ because it’s so deep. There are things [in the song] that you don’t [usually] hear Bow Wow talk about. It’s really going to surprise some listeners.”
Bow Wow feels his fans will go with him on his journey and not be alienated by the shift. “It’s cool because [my fans] don’t want me to be stuck on the same little stuff that I was talking about two or three years ago,” he continues.
“I think they’re sick of that. My fans have grown up with me, therefore I have to step it up when it comes to the topics I talk about. I can’t still be talking about my Mickey Mouse — that’s old. I have to really touch on situations that are going on right now that they can relate to.”
Due Aug. 19, “Unleashed” is Bow Wow’s first set since his former producer/mentor Jermaine Dupri took his So So Def label to Arista. In addition to the Neptunes, producers on the album include Swizz Beatz and Lil Jon.
“I was going for a more mature sound this time,” Bow Wow says. “I wanted to go back in [the studio] and do something that I hadn’t done before. I had the opportunity to really buckle down and write on this album. I wrote 90% of it.”
Bow Wow’s 2000 debut, “Beware of Dog” (So So Def/Columbia), sold more than 2.6 million copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan. His 2001 follow-up, “Doggy Bag” (So So Def/Columbia), has sold more than 1.1 million units.
The success of lead single “Let’s Get Down,” which features Cash Money Records’ Baby and Jazze Pha, proves that his fan base is ready for more. The single is No. 15 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart and No. 30 on The Billboard Hot 100.
“I wanted something that was going to hit hard,” Bow Wow says of the single. “I also wanted to do a song with Baby. Actually, Baby wasn’t going to be on that song. He was supposed to be on another song, but he hopped on ‘Let’s Get Down’ because he was feeling it. After that, everything just came together.”
In addition to his successful recording career, Bow Wow has ventured into film. He made his debut last year in the basketball-themed family comedy “Like Mike.” Among his upcoming film projects is “Johnsons’ Family Vacation,” starring labelmate Solange Knowles, Cedric the Entertainer, Steve Harvey and Vanessa Williams.
Prior to that film’s release, Bow Wow will star with Will Smith in the Fat Cats-directed “Mr. President,” and he begins shooting a sitcom for the WB in mid-September that may serve as a mid-season replacement.
He has also launched a clothing line, geared toward 12- to 18-year-old males.
While Bow Wow’s stock is rising in several media outlets, his focus is on promoting “Unleashed.” He recently hit the road with Universal recording artist Lumidee and Disturbing Tha Peace/Capitol artist Chingy in support of the album with his Unleashed tour.
Excerpted from the Aug. 16, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com Premium Services section.
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