- Bow Wow's lil' mustache looks fantastic.
Then, late last year, just a week before the album was set to drop, Bow Wow's newfound dedication was put to the test. A phony news story began circulating online, and the alleged interview found Bow Wow dismissing Jay-Z, dissing his longtime mentor, Jermaine Dupri, and, most infamously, accusing his ex-girlfriend, the crunk-and-B queen Ciara, of incontinence.
The uproar that followed, Bow Wow admits, "was exactly what I was talkin' about on The Price of Fame. It really did tie into everything I was sayin'. You'll have rumors. You'll have media-bashing." But the incident also helped convince the Reynoldsburg, Ohio, native, born Shad Moss, that he made the right decision to continue the rap career he'd begun at age five."When I first read it, I just laughed because it was so ridiculous," says Bow Wow, calling from his Atlanta home. "My fans know I would never say anything like that. If anything, it actually helped me. It made me a hot commodity for a while, so to speak. Interviewers wanted to talk to me about it, and I had a new album out, so it was all good."
The year that preceded The Price of Fame, however, was anything but. "I just felt I was ready to move on from hip-hop," admits Bow Wow. "I'd been dominatin' for a while, and there were lots of things goin' on in my personal life." One of them was undoubtedly his public breakup with Ciara; it's a subject he covers in surprising depth in "Out of My System" -- "And my brain ain't stoppin'/Thinkin', 'Who she wit?'/Or 'Where she goin'?/Is she club hoppin'?"
Ending with a spoken appeal, the song wears its broken heart on its sleeve in a way that's still unusual in hip-hop. "I definitely would never have done a song like that before," says Bow Wow with a sigh. But that, he adds, was a major goal of The Price of Fame, an album which Dupri not only produced, but convinced him to make. "After talking to Jermaine, I realized it would be kinda selfish for me to give up now. I got a lotta fans, and I still had things to say as Bow Wow."
But this time around, he wanted to write some of them himself. Back in 1993, when he first caught the eye of Snoop Dogg as a six-year-old MC, Bow Wow wasn't expected to pen his own rhymes, and early albums like 2000's Beware of Dog and the follow-up, Doggy Bag, were crafted almost exclusively by Dupri and his top-gun producer, Brian Michael Cox. But as Bow Wow matured and dropped the "Lil" from his stage name, the lack of creative input eventually became an issue.
"I used to catch a lot of flak for not being into the creative process. People would be askin', 'Is he writing his raps?," says Bow Wow. "So The Price of Fame was really a stepping-stone for me as far as getting respect for the creative process. Now I'm working as a producer [he oversaw "On Fiya" and assisted with three other tracks], makin' beats, and actually writing."
Bow Wow gets excited when he mentions his next musical project: a double-album collaboration with former B2K singer Omarion, another artist who knows something about negotiating the perilous path from teen dream to serious artist. Bow Wow insists the project will be ready for holiday release this year. "The talking stage is done. It's moving very, very fast." The two plan to appear on every track, combining his rhymes with O's R&B vocals. "It's almost like a supergroup," he says.
Bow Wow also dreams of teaming up with hometown heroes Bone Thugs-N-Harmony for an all-Ohio hip-hop project (he guests on "Little L.O.V.E." on the group's current comeback album), and is busy running his own label, LBW Entertainment. His goal is to be a mentor to up-and-comers like Jinsu and Clee-O, both of whom appear on The Price of Fame. "I got a great teacher, Jermaine, who's damn near my father," he says, looking back to the days when Dupri took an 11-year-old Bow Wow under his wing. "I wanna do the same for my artists. I wanna see 'em become bigger than me. That's the kind of person I am."
Bow Wow has so much happening musically, in fact, that his movie career is now on the back burner -- although Hollywood keeps calling. Last seen in 2006's action flick The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, he now has "three movies on the table, and I'm getting scripts every day. I just haven't found anything I wanna attach myself to. I would love to do a horror movie. I love gangster flicks. I'm pretty much up for anything, but I'm not gonna do anything that's gonna hurt my career."
That statement says a lot about the way Bow Wow perceives his career, now that he's had a chance to weigh its value. "Being a star," he says, "is something that you're born with."
It sounds a bit strong to call hip-hop his birthright, but it's certainly clear Bow Wow won't be walking away from the game he grew up in anytime soon.