Bow Wow is only 17 years old, and he's already talking about reinventing himself — for the second time. This time, however, it means he'll be kicking it old-school, all the way back to 2001. He's reuniting with original producer Jermaine Dupri for his fourth LP and he's bringing back one of his most beloved trademarks.
"We're trying to go for the whole vibe," Bow Wow said recently. "I'm growing my braids back. As you can see, my hair is kinda crazy — I got a 'fro right now, man. So we're bringing the old Bow Wow back — but I'm still Bow Wow, not Lil' Bow Wow no more." Earlier this year, the MC suggested that the throwback was in the works (see "Bow Wow Barking Up Donald Trump's Tree").
"I think his last record was a mistake," said Dupri, who was not involved with that album. "I think he lost a lot of kids. He had a lot of followers, and one thing [people] don't realize is that once these kids start following you and start getting their hair done like you, it's hard to drastically come out different, [with] a completely different style. It throws the kids off. I felt when Bow Wow cut his hair off, he kinda lost kids, 'cause that was his thing. Bow Wow is the leader of that little pack and I think he threw all of them off."
Bow Wow said he's hoping to release his next LP around Thanksgiving or Christmas, and although he and Dupri haven't even started recording, the pair have discussed where they want to go musically.
"He was at the forefront of the teenage rap movement and he's got to get back to it," Dupri said. "I was responsible for putting him in that place, so I'm gonna try again to put him back in the forefront."
As you might know, Dupri signed Bow Wow and produced his 2000 debut, Beware of Dog, along with most of Bow's second album, 2001's Doggy Bag. But after Dupri's label, So So Def, severed ties with Sony Music in 2002, Bow was contractually bound to Sony while Dupri headed over to Arista. The teen titan released his third album, Unleashed, in 2003 and suffered meager sales.
Although separated by business, mentor and protégé remained friends, and in February they met in Los Angeles and discussed getting back together in the studio. "Me and Jermaine's relationship is just incredible," Bow testified. "I don't even call him 'Jermaine,' I call him 'my big bro.' I'm like his little brother. I look up to JD, and JD knows that. Deep down inside, I'm sure it hurt him too, to watch me to go on by myself, knowing that he had a lot of input into my career. It was kinda hurting both of us. But yeah, man, me and JD are back."
Bow said he wants to continue to evolve as an artist, and on his new album, you'll hear his rapping and making beats.
"I'm even starting to produce," he revealed. "I've been watching JD for like five years now, so I'm taking everything I learned and using it in my own way. This fourth album is gonna stay on that mature level and just better my craft. I'm gonna talk about a lot of crazy topics that fans don't know about. I want to talk about my father — growing up, just me and my mother with no father. I want to just touch base with teenagers. I want to do a record that talks about the different things that are involved with teenagers."
One teenager he's been talking to is Dupri's newest So So Def success, J-Kwon. Bow appeared in Kwon's "Tipsy" video, and the two have done one song together that should be showing up on mixtapes soon. "He lives down here in Atlanta, I hang out with 'Kwon. I'm gonna definitely get him on my album," Bow said.
The only other guest that might take the mic on Bow's album is the man who discovered him, Snoop Dogg. "That's about it," Bow said. "I'm good. I really want this album to be all about me kicking it with the fans."
Bow's fans will have the chance to kick it with him in person and win 10 G's at the same time: He's involved in Hawaiian Punch's Unleash the Punch contest.
"The winner has to write a rap," he explained, "and whoever I feel has the hottest rap, that's who wins the $10,000 and gets the chance to meet me."