Lil’ Bow Wow, the 13 year old protégé of Snoop Dogg, is caught somewhere between a crib (as in ”child’s bed”) and a crib (as in rap slang for ”home”). Sounding as if he didn’t dare crack a smile during the sessions, the former Shad Moss sternly brags about ”the dog in me” on his debut album, ”Beware of Dog.”
Even when he imagines the day he’s wealthy and famous (the rubbery single ”Bounce With Me”) or advises fans to ”make room next to your Backstreet poster/ ‘cuz Bow Wow’s here and it’s over,” this grim rapper takes his cues from Snoop and Ice Cube rather than the exuberant young Michael Jackson (to whom Bow Wow is compared, prematurely, in a press release). In ”Bounce With Me,” he warns: ”And I oughta snatch up yo’ daughter/ But I was brought up with respect/ When I turn 16 I’m a-call her, though/ And show her how to ride with a baller.” Kids today – they rap the darndest things.
The cornrowed Bow Wow IS talented, as he demonstrates with a few displays of lickety split rhyming, and producer Jermaine Dupri finds an agreeable balance between Nickelodeon channel pop and genuine hip hop, as he did with Kris Kross a decade ago. Dupri keeps the midtempo beats and flows uncomplicated and uncluttered, and cameos by Snoop, Da Brat, and Xscape add grown up appeal and hooky harmonies to the proceedings. (And talk about grown up: The slinky ”Ghetto Girls” is built on a sample by the old school fusion band the Crusaders.) It also helps that at 34 minutes, the album is half the length of an average disc.
The lil’ in Bow Wow peeks out occasionally: In ”Puppy Love,” he takes a date to the mall and Six Flags but cautions her, ”I’m not trying to get serious until I’m in my 20s.” Soon enough, though, he’s telling us about the 18 year old who came on to him and fantasizing about ”trying to escort Aaliyah or somebody to ‘Soul Train.”’ Apparently, keeping it real now begins during recess. B