Two letters and one number are all you need to answer the critique that today's teen pop is purely about the white theft of black culture: B2K. Black music's distinctive rhythmic and harmonic teen-pop tradition has been raided by every white teen act to hit the charts since New Kids on the Block. But on its recent breakthrough single, "Uh Huh," B2K repays the favor, recalling smooth white groups such as the Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync more than such soulful precursors as Boyz II Men.
At least, until they start to rap, dropping such lines as "Got you running to your mother making plans for life/Yo, I'm only 15/ What I need with a wife?" That's when the Los Angeles quartet recalls the strut of Ohio's own Bow Wow, who's invited B2K on his tour for the second straight year. Between his cornrows and cool leer, the 15-year-old rapper offers the perfect combination of juvenile pooch and delinquent cur -- and, two years after his double-platinum debut, he's held onto that balance far longer than most teen phenoms. His recent Like Mike soundtrack is a strong compilation, keyed around the effervescent "Playin' the Game," in which the pint-sized playa sets out to find girls who are "A little ghetto/Pretty and fun/15 to 21." It shouldn't be hard, because that's exactly what his music sounds like.