Bow Wow released his first album, 2000's Beware of Dog, when he was just 13 years old. He's since evolved into an elder statesman of hip-pop. Last month, the 20-year-old rapper released Face Off, his sixth CD — a collaboration with another former teen star, Omarion, who used to sing with B2K — and his first since splitting with longtime producer and mentor Jermaine Dupri. The Columbus native, who was born Shad Gregory Moss, comes to town this week as part of a tour that includes the latest R&B teen sensations: Chris Brown and Soulja Boy Tell'Em. The old-timer gives us the scoop.
Scene: On Face Off, you do the rapping, and Omarion does the singing. Kind of like Jay-Z and R. Kelly's collaborations, no?
Bow Wow: It's sort of similar, but it's not. There's a lot of things that are different. I have a lot of pressure on me with this album. I'm stepping away from Jermaine and just trying to prove to myself and to other people that I can do it.
Are you sick of people making fun of the album cover, which has your faces split in two?
That's why we did it — to entertain people! I wanted people to talk about it. If they're not talking, it's a problem. It was on every blog and website, so I'm like, "Right there, we won." Nicolas Cage and John Travolta, they did the same thing with the half-and-half on the poster for [the movie] Face/Off.
Do you and Omarion have different tastes in girls?
My taste is different, because I'm pretty much open to anything. O has an ideal picture of how he wants his woman to act. His level of maturity is very, very far. I'm kind of different. I'm still the one who likes to wild out, go out. I like the more wild girls, and O is into the more conservative type of thing.
As a rap veteran of sorts, what advice would you give to tourmate Soulja Boy?
Number one: Don't listen to what nobody got to say. Because right now, Soulja Boy's been catching flak. [Some artists] feel like anybody can go into the studio and say you a hundred times and have a hit record. But one thing that you can't take away from him is his stats. Right now, he's got the biggest record out. Period. If you asked a lot of rappers to make records like Soulja Boy, they couldn't do it.
What do you think about that video circulating of him peeing off a hotel balcony?
People don't realize that he's only 17. He's just a kid. I'm not saying that's the right thing to do — to pee off a hotel balcony. But people need to realize that Soulja Boy is Soulja Boy. He's a wild 17-year-old. I would tell him: Don't do that no more, because it's nasty! That's very disgusting. I actually saw the clip. It's crazy. But that's what makes Soulja Boy Soulja Boy.
Do you still believe what you told XXL magazine in 2005 about Will Smith not being a real rapper? You also said, "The only real rappers out there right now are me, Kanye, 50, and maybe Jay. But Jay ain't in it like that no more."
That is a crazy statement! [Laughs] I look at that, and I'm like, Why did I say that? I get so many comparisons to Will Smith. It's not a bad thing; it's a great thing — I do like Will a lot. Actually, after that interview, I called him personally and asked him to have a one-on-one with me in my trailer. So we talked everything out. What I meant by the comment was, at that moment, I had two No. 1 records, and I was the only rapper who was headlining his own arena tour. And the only rappers that was hot at that moment — at that moment — was 50, Kanye, and Jay was on the Fade to Black thing. They didn't put all of that in the interview.
Why did you break off from Jermaine Dupri?
The main reason was to discover who I am. My whole career, I've wanted to write my records. I want to be more involved with the direction my music goes. And I can't do that when I have a coach that I'm playing for, and he draws up the plays. I've learned everything I can from Jermaine, and now I'm ready to move on. I'm so smart that when my fans hear the music — especially my next album, which I might do myself — they're really not going to be able to tell whether Jermaine was part of the project or not.