(Lil’) Bow Wow 1987–
(Lil’) Bow Wow 1987–
Rap musician, actor
Popular music at the turn of the millennium featured a plethora of teenage stars, and Lil’ Bow Wow was hip-hop’s unusally successful entrant in the teen pop competition. Lil’ Bow Wow packed shopping malls with young female fans after the 2000 release of his first album, Beware of Dog —even though he was only four-foot seven inches tall and weighed a mere 85 pounds. His success has been attributed to both his personal charisma—he reminded some observers of the young Michael Jackson—and to his purely musical talents. Lil Wow, observed Jason Birchmeier of the All Guide, “miraculously raps better than most MCs industry despite his youth.”
Lil’ Bow Wow was born Shad Gregory Moss on March 9, 1987, in Columbus, Ohio, and was raised in nearby Reynoldsburg. He was a middle child, a brother between two sisters. It didn’t take long for his musical talents to surface. “He’d pick up my kitchen utensils and combs and brushes and start rapping,” his mother, Teresa Caldwell, told Jet. By the time he was three it was clear that Shad (the name still used by his friends) was something special, and his mother began to enter him in talent shows around the Columbus area. He began performing under the name of Kid Gangsta.
In 1993, at the tender age of six, Kid Gangsta became Lil’ Bow Wow after he met rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg (later Snoop Dogg) at a Columbus concert during the latter’s The Chronic tour, and was invited on stage to perform. “He reminded me of myself as a kid—his energy, his look, “the older rapper told Jet. “He was a little me. Instead of naming him Lil’ Dogg, I named him Lil’ Bow Wow.” Lil’ Bow Wow went on tour with Snoop Doggy Dogg as an opening act, and at that point the youngster went from being a novelty act to having a chance for major success as a child star.
That success didn’t come right away, however, even though Lil’ Bow Wow made a guest appearance on Snoop’s wildly successful Doggystyle album. Lil’ Bow Wow, with backing from Snoop Doggy Dogg, signed a deal with Death Row Records, but the heavily gangster-oriented label was unsure of how to promote its pint-sized musical acquisition, and several recording sessions at Death Row came to nothing. But with his mother as his manager, Lil’ Bow Wow managed to maintain the semblance of a normal, well-grounded
At a Glance…
Born Shad Gregory Moss on March 9, 1987, in Columbus, OH; son of Teresa Caldwell.
Career: Appeared on stage with Snoop Doggy Dogg, who gave him name Lil’ Bow Wow, 1993; toured with Snoop Doggy Dogg; signed by producer Jermaine Dupri to So So Der imprint of Sony label, 1997; released debut album, Beware of Dog, 2000; Doggy Bag, 2001; changed stage name to Bow Wow; starred in film Like Mike, 2002.
Addresses: Record Label —Sony Music, 550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022. Website —http://www.lilbowwow.com
childhood. He remained a strong student in school, having won a junior-high-level award from the Ohio Interscholastic Writing League.
Lil’ Bow Wow’s contribution to the Doggystyle album was expletive-laced, but Atlanta producer Jermaine Dupri envisioned a different path for the youngster and signed him to his So So Def label (an imprint of Sony) in 1997. Dupri explained to the Daily Telegraph (London), “These days in rap, kids don’t have any role models. I knew it was time for him to come out, because little girls from 11 to 16 don’t have anyone they can claim as their own.” Dupri began writing material for Lil’ Bow Wow that included no profanity at all.
With the hip-hop sections of CD stores featuring a sea of parental warning stickers, the move was a brilliant one. Lil’ Bow Wow immediately stood out from the crowd when Beware of Dog was released in September of 2000. Pictured on the cover with a boxer dog that looked genial rather than threatening, Lil’ Bow Wow was, in the words of an Entertainment Weekly critic, “sunny and scrubbed—a cherub in street braids. “According to Birchmeier, the album delivers “sure-fire pop rap: ‘Bounce with Me’ is the sort of feel-good song destined to be a summer anthem.”
By the summer of 2001, Lil’ Bow Wow was a teen sensation. When he undertook his Scream tour, accurately named in view of the reactions his appearances elicited from teenage girls, tickets for major venues sold out in less than an hour. The Evergreen Plaza shopping mall in Chicago had to be shut down for the day after girls fainted from excitement during a promotional Lil’ Bow Wow appearance. The rapper generally lapped up the attention, but occasionally seemed a bit overwhelmed. “I really thought it was crazy,” he told Jet.
“Bounce with Me” gained added exposure from its inclusion on Dupri’s soundtrack for the Martin Lawrence film Big Momma’s House, and Lil’ Bow Wow’s image appeared on a free promotional book cover given out to millions of students by the makers of the soft drink Dr. Pepper. The song landed the youngster in the Guinness Book of World Records as the youngest rapper to have a number one hit. He also performed with superstar Madonna at the beginning of the 2001 Grammy awards. With publicity like that, Lil’ Bow Wow was well placed to match the multimillion-copy sales of Beware of Dog with his next release, Doggy Bag. That album, released a week before Christmas in 2001, reportedly sold over a million copies by early February of 2002, and seemed well on its way to equaling or eclipsing the sales of its predecessor.
Lil’ Bow Wow, who has a pet box turtle named Snoop, moved in the usual rap-star fashion to diversify his activities in 2002. He prepared to launch a clothing line, Lil’ Bow Wear, and in the summer of that year made his first starring appearance on film in the family-oriented comedy Like Mike. The rapper played an orphan who finds a magic pair of athletic shoes that might once have belonged to basketball superstar Michael Jordan. The shoes turn him into an NBA superstar, and the five-foot-tall Bow Wow (he dropped the “Lil”’ in 2002) announced plans to play in the NBA himself.
That proclaimed ambition exemplified one of the keys to Bow Wow’s ongoing popularity—he has the gift of gab. “I just always know what to think and what to say next, “he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. On tour in the summer of 2002, when he was asked by that paper where he planned to be in five years, he responded, “I don’t know; I feel like I’ve done everything. The only thing I’m missing is a Grammy. I’ve got the keys to five cities I’ve never heard of. I have a street named after me. I’ve accomplished more in the last five years than a lot of people.” Despite that sentiment, it was obvious that rap’s child star displayed a quickness and ease that should allow him to continue to master new challenges.
Beware of Dog, Sony, 2000.
Doggy Bag, Columbia, 2001.
All About the Benjamins, 2002.
Like Mike, 2002.
Baltimore Sun, July 4, 2002, p. E1.
Daily Telegraph (London), July 23, 2001, p. 13.
Entertainment Weekly, July 12, 2002, p. 55.
Jet, November 13, 2000, p. 14; June 4, 2001, p. 58; February 11, 2002, p. 56.
People, January 28, 2002, p. 37; July 22, 2002, p. 60.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 5, 2002, p. 24.
San Diego Union-Tribune, April 19, 2001, p. Night & Day-22.
Sports Illustrated, July 1, 2002, p. 28.
Toronto Sun, January 12, 2001, p. Pop Life-46.
Washington Post, June 30, 2002, p. G1; July 8, 2002, p. C14.
All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com
—James M. Manheim
The youngest rapper ever to have a hit single in the United States, Bow Wow was six when he made his recording debut as a guest artist on a Snoop Dogg album. Calling himself "Lil' Bow Wow," he made his solo recording debut in 2000 at the age of 13 with Beware of Dog, which went double platinum the following year. A single from this album, "Bounce with Me," earned him a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as the youngest rap star in American history. Bow Wow followed this release with Doggy Bag in 2001, and added "film star" to his resume a year later when he starred in the basketball movie Like Mike. In 2003 Bow Wow released his third album, Unleashed, added more film roles to his list of credits, and dropped the "Lil'" from his name. Unleashed continued the rapper's practice of clean lyrics, proving that rap music need not be vulgar to be popular.
Bow Wow was born Shad Gregory Moss on March 9, 1987, and grew up in Columbus, Ohio. His mother, Teresa Caldwell, a purchasing manager at a computer systems company, saw her son's talent early on, entering him in talent contests when he was only four. Bow Wow began rapping when he was just five, repeating lyrics he heard on TV, performing at that time as Kid Gangsta. Because his mother and father separated before he was even a year old, Bow Wow's biggest influence as a young boy was the pop super-star Michael Jackson. The first rapper he listened to extensively was Jay-Z.
Bow Wow got his start when he climbed on stage at a Snoop Dogg concert and began rapping. "The next thing you know," Bow Wow later told Lauren Wakefield in the Washington Post, "he wanted me to come backstage, which I did with my mom." The famous rapper invited Bow Wow to continue with him on his tour, which he did, accompanied by his mother. During the show, Bow Wow would wait for his cue, then jump on stage and begin rapping as part of Snoop's act.
After moving to Los Angeles with his mother, Bow Wow made his first recording when he was six years old, appearing as a guest artist on the 1993 Snoop Dogg album Doggystyle. Snoop Dog gave Bow Wow his stage name and also helped him land his own recording deal with Death Row Records, Snoop's label. Bow Wow's first recording sessions at Death Row were not successful, however, and the label decided that the young rapper did not fit its lineup of hard-core, gangsta rappers.
Disappointed, Bow Wow and his mother moved back to Columbus, where Caldwell worked to land her son a new record deal. Her persistence paid off in 1998 when Snoop referred her to an executive at Epic Records, a Sony label. Sony signed Bow Wow to make his first solo album under the creative direction of producer/rapper Jermaine Dupri.
In 2000, at the age of 13, Bow Wow released his debut album, Beware of Dog. It was a hit, selling upwards of three million copies; a single from the album, "Bounce with Me," earned the young rapper a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records as the youngest rapper in the United States to have a hit single. Dupri, who the New York Times claimed had "created the blueprint for kid rap," believed the time was ripe for a new wünderkind. He described his working relationship with Bow Wow to Josh Rottenberg in the New York Times, "I wanted him to get my vibe, to turn basically into me as a little guy. I'd write all the lyrics and do all the demos. Everything you see from Bow is basically from me."
Caldwell has made sure that she is at the center of all decisions regarding her son's career to make sure he is not exploited, despite money and pressure to do so. "I will not," she told Rottenberg, "let anybody make a slave out of my son." In 2001 Bow Wow won the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Best Male Singer Award. Among his many appearances that year was at the Grammys, which he opened with pop superstar Madonna. That same year Bow Wow released his second album, Doggy Bag, which also went platinum. A single from the second album, "Thank You," was an homage to the fans who helped him become so successful.
By the time he was in eighth grade, the demands of his career made it impossible for Bow Wow to attend school. He began to study under tutors, beginning in the ninth grade. Predictably, he says that he doesn't miss being in school.
In 2002 Bow Wow starred in the film Like Mike, in which he plays an orphan who finds a pair of magic sneakers that allow him to play basketball like NBA superstar Michael Jordan. Bow Wow said that he'd always dreamed of being a basketball player, and that acting in movies had been another ambition. As he told Barry Koltnow in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "I always knew [movies] … would be part of my rapping career.
In 2003 Bow Wow released several singles off his upcoming third album, including "Let's Get Down," and "18," in which he raps about wanting to be old enough to get a tattoo and have other adult privileges. When he released Unleashed in August of 2003, fans found that the rapper's voice had deepened. Then 16, Bow Wow he told Jim Farber in the New York Daily News that "it didn't change my flow and that's what matters."
There were other changes, as well: with this album, Bow Wow dropped the "Lil'" from his name, no longer wanting to be regarded as a child star. He wrote most of the album himself, and insisted on covering more mature themes, saying that his fans had grown with him and no longer wanted to listen to kid's stuff. If the charts were any indication, his new sound was right on the money; a single from the album, "Let's Get Down," landed in the number 15 position on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart, and number 30 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
For the Record . . .
Born Shad Gregory Moss on March 9, 1987, in Columbus, OH; son of Teresa Caldwell (his manager).
Made recording debut on the Snoop Dogg album Doggystyle, 1993; released debut solo album, Beware of Dog, 2000; released debut solo single, "Bounce with Me," 2000; became youngest-ever U.S. rap artist with a hit single, 2000; released second solo album, Doggy Bag, 2001; starred in the film Like Mike, 2002; dropped "Lil'" from his name, released third album, Unleashed, 2003.
Awards: Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards, Best Male Singer, 2001.
Addresses: Record company— Sony Music Entertainment, Inc., 550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022-3211. Website— Bow Wow Official Website: http://www.bowwowunleashed.com/.
In addition to his recording efforts, Bow Wow launched a line of clothing called Bow Ware. As of 2003, he was at work on more film projects, including Mr. President, a comedy in which he appears with Will Smith, and Johnson's Family Vacation, co-starring Vanessa Williams. Asked whether he intended to pursue acting as a full-time career, Bow Wow was noncommittal, saying that he just wanted to keep trying new things and see what appealed to him. He did say that he still held his dream of joining the NBA, adding that he did not intend to be a rapper for the rest of his life. He planned to go to college at 18, then play for the NBA at 20. In the meantime, he said that he loved his celebrity status and was quite happy just being where he was.
"Bounce with Me," Sony, 2000.
"Bow Wow (That's My Name)," Sony 2001.
"Ghetto Girls/Puppy Love," Sony, 2001.
"Thank You," Sony, 2001.
"Let's Get Down," Sony, 2003.
Beware of Dog, Sony, 2000.
Doggy Bag, Sony, 2001.
Unleashed, Sony, 2003.
Billboard, August 16, 2003, p. 15.
Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY), October 4, 2002, p. G15.
Chicago Sun-Times, July 1, 2002, p. 34.
Daily News (New York, NY), August 19, 2003, p. 48.
Jet, February 11, 2002, p. 56.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 5, 2002, p. 24.
New York Times, June 30, 2002, p. 22.
Washington Post, July 8, 2002, p. C14.
Bow Wow Official Website, http://www.bowwowunleashed.com (September 23, 2003).