NEW YORK — The chords sound familiar, but the voice, nothing like you've ever heard before ... thank God.
"I said gurrrrl!" Bow Wow sang — yes, sang — while his musical cohort Omarion played the piano tune from Carl Thomas' classic "I Wish."
"Gurrrrl," Bow continued, sitting in a chair behind the piano, snapping his fingers before stopping.
"I can pick it up, I can pick it up," O assured him, beginning to pick up the tempo a bit.
"Come on over," crooned Bow, who seemed to be making up all the words as he went along. "And I'mma rock your world. And that's the truth. And we can do what we wanna do."
The two burst out laughing, but Bow wanted to continue. "Keep going, n---a. Keep it going," he urged.
While O played again, Bow, who was off-key the whole time, put a little more soul in it. "I said girl, come on over and I'mma break you, I'mma break you off. Girl, I'mma go all night and you ain't gotta worry about that. Your man ain't me. No he ain't. I'mma do the things he won't do.
"What you know about Bow Weezy?" he sang, trying to hit high notes before he started cracking up.
Luckily, that record won't be on Bow and O's December 4 release, Face Off (see "Bow Wow, Omarion Talk Relationship Rumors — With Rihanna, Ciara — And Their Friendship"). The two friends have been recording in New York and California and have producers from R. Kelly to Timbaland lined up to contribute. One song called "Designated Driver" has already leaked to the Internet. For the two singers, the growth on the project means stepping outside of the kid-friendly motif they've been identified with for their entire careers.
"We respect what R. Kelly and Jay-Z did, but that was what they created," Omarion explained about the comparisons between Face Off and Jay-Z and R. Kelly's Best of Both Worlds (see "Jay-Z, R. Kelly Part Ways as Best Of Both Worlds Tour Collapses"). "What we created is Bow and O. The topics most people think we wouldn't talk about, we're talking about."
"In the past, we would make a song like we're gonna take this girl to the restaurant Nobu," Bow elaborated. "Now it's gonna be, we take this girl to Nobu, then I'm gonna take her back to the Trump Towers and I'm gonna put her in my bed and I'm gonna tell you what I'm gonna do to the girl when she's in my bed."
Omarion notes that the fans who loved them during their younger years are older now and ready for more adult content, such as "Lights, Camera, Action," in which the duo tell the ladies to get ready for their own private video session.
"We got a song called 'Listen,' which [deals with something] I'm sure a lot of homeboys go through," Bow added. "It's about when your boy tells you, 'Listen, your girl is no good. She's got a kid on the side, she got another dude on the side.' But your homeboy is blinded by it. 'I don't see it. I don't see no kid.' A lot of times, what breaks up a bunch of homeboy relationships is a female. Sad to say. It's a bunch of records we have, and they are all different and they are all 'bout something."
"It's a real album," Omarion said. "It wasn't just gonna be [Bow Wow's song featuring Omarion] 'Let Me Hold You.' It's not that, it's really Omarion and Bow Wow. Y'all gotta stay tuned."
Bow Wow, the admittedly more brash of the two, let a little cockiness come out when asked to predict how the album will fare.
"We're giving the people something they've been wanting out of us: great music," Bow said. "We're gonna make them have fun again, make them wanna run to the stores, run to the clubs. The records you hear from me and him is nothing like you hear on the radio. We gonna give them something new. That's why people gonna pay attention to this project come the fourth quarter. I guarantee you this: We're gonna own the fourth quarter."
Both Bow and O certainly have a catalog of hits under their belts. O's last album, 21, even debuted at #1 when it was released in December. Still, despite their star power, the young superstars haven't seen their albums reach a million in sales in quite some time, despite hit records like "Ice Box," "Outta My System," "Entourage" and "Shorty Like Mine" between the two.
"I'm not gonna sit back and allow certain things to happen," O said about what he plans to do to ensure Face Off sells. "I'm' not gonna give any excuse. But more so, I've been able to stay in the game long enough to really bring out the guns now. When you look into my eyes, understand I'm not going nowhere. I'm gonna solidify who I am. I'm gonna be that man that's on these two feet gliding and sliding on top of the walls if I can."
It seems like both performers are out to prove more than just the fact that they can make a hot album. For O, he wants to live up to his seemingly limitless potential and be the major superstar everybody thought he would be when he announced he was leaving B2K to go solo.
"I haven't really shown the world how serious I am about performing and entertaining," O admitted. "I haven't had my moment, and I promise you I will."
Bow wants to come out of the shadows and be his own man. That's one reason why his longtime collaborator and mentor, Jermaine Dupri, will not be participating in the project.
"It's really an odd situation," Bow said. "We had a conversation, I told him my vision, and it's creative differences. Jermaine has been like a brother or father figure to me that I never had. Jermaine took me in when I was 9 years old. Everything I learned from the business has come from Jermaine, just observing him. I learned so much from him. Now I'm at a point in my career where I wanna become the best. After awhile, you get tired of a person wanting to do everything for you. You wanna prove to the world you have say so. All my career, I felt like a dog on a leash that was trying to run free but could never be myself. Now he let that go. I respect him for doing that. It was a big decision, it was probably hard for him to do it, but it had to be done."
"I'm not working on that," JD said of Face Off. "Just the direction of where we were trying to go is totally different. I had to think about it for a long time and say, 'Do I really wanna back off and let them do this?' Then I said, 'Yeah. Let them go off and explore what they wanna explore.' "
JD says the Face Off project was his idea in the first place, and he wanted to keep Bow and O more or less in the same lane they are now as opposed to edgier material.
"I had a vision of where it should be," JD said. "[Bow] and O, they wasn't really on it. They wanted to cater to a different crowd this time. They getting older, and I guess they felt I was gonna keep them in the same spot and cater to their fans — which I was. I don't believe in fixing something that ain't broke. We continue to sell records like that. But sometimes an artist feel they wanna do something different, so I felt it was time to say, 'OK, I'mma let them do it. Y'all got a vision, y'all done talked, y'all two are kicking it more than me, and I'mma let y'all do your thing.' I'm not one to hold nobody up from what they wanna do. I got a gang of other sh-- I can be doing. I let them breathe. As young men, that's what you need. At some point, you gotta have that. You could see what other people be going through and how much work it takes. This makes them think a lot harder."
Still, both JD and Bow say they can be friends even though they are not working together this time.
"Dude, I still love him," Bow said about Dupri. "He's like my brother, my father. And he knows it. The position Jermaine is in now, I'm like the player and he's in the skybox looking down at the game just watching. He knows what I'm gonna do and what I'm not gonna do. He knows I know what's smart. I wouldn't be the rapper I knew I was capable of being if I stayed in the position where people take charge of Bow Wow. Just telling me the records I need to make, saying these are the records I don't need to make. After awhile it gets old. It's like a child being in a house growing up, when you reach 19, 20 years old you say, 'Man, I gotta get a crib. I gotta get my own space and do whatever I want.' ... It happened for the good. No bad blood."
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