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Puppy Love

Teen Heartthrob And Pubescent Mogul Bow Wow Grows Up Graciously In Public

By Bret McCabe | Posted 12/28/2005

Bow Wow plays the 1st Mariner Arena Dec. 28 with Omarion, Ciara, and more.

He thanks you. Sure, it feels part of the whole package, but he sells it so effortlessly you feel it. No matter that it’s tomorrow morning in Japan where he’s calling from. No matter that he’s on his way to his final day on the set of a three-month movie shoot for The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. No matter that the very next day he flies back to the States for a string of dates with Omarion and Ciara, the Holladay Jam that cruises through Baltimore this week. When you get off the phone with young MC/actor/teen-scream heartthrob triple-threat Bow Wow, he thanks you for talking to him—and suddenly you’ve just won the lottery, the science fair, a beauty pageant, something, anything.

“’06 is definitely going to be a big year for myself,” he says. His voice betrays barely any fatigue, with the slangy ease of any teenager running down what he’d like to do after Christmas. Of course, not every teen is keeping tabs on his music, movies, and clothing line. “I’m going to be releasing some new artists, so I think that’s going to be cool. I’m definitely going to release another album. And I think this is going to be the one. And I’m just going to quote it like that—the one. And after that, man, I don’t know. I’ve just got to see where God takes me—but definitely more movies, more music. I don’t see myself stopping no time soon. So thanks for asking—I appreciate it, man.”

At 18, Bow Wow has the poise of a celebrity twice his age and the unflinchingly smooth responses of a Hollywood veteran. Five years back, the former Lil’ Bow Wow was but one of a handful of pint-sized rappers designed to milk money from hip-pop. But before you could forget the unfortunate refrain “Kris Kross will make you jump, jump,” Bow Wow dropped the “Lil’.” Suddenly, he was knocking out seriously wiggly dance-pop like the ass-moving “Take Ya Home,” ably holding his own opposite man-candy Morris Chestnut in the tweener-fare flick Like Mike, and headlining one of the few summer hip-hop and teen tours that consistently filled seats.

And he acts like balancing all this is just another daily task—wake up, put pants on one leg at a time, juggle three careers. “That is really just a matter of scheduling itineraries,” he says. “If I have three months off from music, I don’t want to sit at home. And, you know, three months gives me time to go ahead knock me out a movie, so that way we can play it off like that. So I’m always working, and that’s the good thing about it. I got good people who do that for me.”

It’s a measure of Bow Wow’s charisma that he can say something like I got people who do that for me and not sound like a prima donna. And that magnetism—whether sincerely expressed or projected onto him—is the direct result of how well he has handled the progress from kid to young adult. Yes, his music and movies have changed over time, but something about the young man’s streak feels oddly consistent and organic. He sounded both cute and lean on 2003’s Unleashed, his first outing without producing wizard Jermaine Dupri, nuzzling his PG-13 rhymes up against almost R-rated bump and grinds from Swizz Beatz and Lil Jon.

Dupri returned for 2005’s Wanted—slightly more adult-feeling but still small change when compared to the blunts, 40s, and bitches of 50 Cent. It’s a risqué modesty best represented by the easy listening Bow Wow works with his squeeze Ciara on “Like You,” an ode-to-her that has more in common with LL Cool J’s “I Need Love” than David Banner’s “Play.” Bow Wow runs through how to be the sweet playa—he hasn’t been with any other girls like her, he’s not the kind of guy who’s gonna dog her out, he shows them other brothers how to treat a lady.

That’s a far cry from telling a girl he wants to see her drip sweat, but “Like You” found enough radio play without having to one-up the bedroom athletics of “Wait (The Whisper Song).” Bow Wow’s simple genius is that his subject matter never tries to act older than he is—just as the fabulously entertaining Roll Bounce is a slightly more adult movie than, say, Johnson Family Vacation. What Bow Wow does ages with him and, more importantly, his audience. It’s about time somebody realized 12-year-old girls grow up into college-aged women, with what they like changing along the way.

And Bow Wow is slyly aware how what he does relates to his audience. The Fast and the Furious is “my first action film, and I’m just trying to do my best,” he says. “Most of the movies that I’ve done have been those family-oriented movies. And this will be my first stepping out in a big blockbuster film. What really catches my eye when I do movies is the character I’m playing and just how I feel in the story line: Is this something I can see myself doing? And if it’s something I already haven’t done, you know. I always want to keep my audience guessing.

“Luckily, I have a strong following that listens to my music, buy my records—they buy anything that Bow Wow does,” he continues. “And I think it’s only going to keep getting greater as I grow older, as I learn more as a musician. I’m going to be 19 years old in a couple of months, and this year’s almost over, so there’s no telling where my music is going to take me or where my career’s gonna go. So as long as I just stay true to what I do, I don’t see me drifting off or going away no time soon.”

Not even Ice Cube and Will Smith, who have successfully made the leap from hip-hop to movies, really figure into Bow Wow’s world. He’s on his own tip—a multimedia one closer to the growing kingdom of the Olsen Twins. “I respect [Cube and Smith] a lot, but really, me on the acting side, I don’t have a mentor, nobody I look up to,” Bow Wow says. “I just try to do it my way, do it my own style. I get it how I get it—you know what I’m saying?”

Yes, we know what you’re saying—and we know you know we know what you’re saying, Bow Wow. Celebrity graciousness is in such short supply these days that the slightest whiff of it makes you feel a little drunk. And when the celebrity actually sounds like he is enjoying himself and isn’t phoning it in? Forget it—that guy can put you in the palm of his hand simply by being his own friendly self. “Yo, what’s going on, man?” Bow Wow says right after his manager hands him the phone. “You alright? OK, let’s do this.”

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