On his new album with Omarion, this former kiddie rapper is manning up. Can he make a hit without Jermaine Dupri behind him?

Ten years in the rap game, a multitude of platinum plaques, several feature roles on the silver screen…one would think these accolades were those of a weathered vet, and you’d be right; they are. It just happens that this veteran’s not old enough to buy a drink, but his financials tell a much different tale. Shad Moss, commonly known as Bow Wow, grabbed the microphone for the first time almost 15 years ago on the Chronic Tour, kicked some rhymes that impressed Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg and was deemed Lil’ Bow Wow. Subsequently, he met Jermaine Dupri who signed the young upstart to his label, So So Def. The hit-maker supplied Bow Wow with a familiar formula that was proven to be profitable over and over again; making radio-friendly tracks that targeted adolescent women. In 2004, he finally started getting some respect as a grown-up artist with his “Under 21 with a Black Card” verse on the remix to Dem Franchize Boyz’s “I Think They Like Me.” But after cashing in on his teen-oriented pop one more time on 2006’s The Prince of Fame, Bow Weezy is ready for a change. His new duet album with Omarion, Face Off, is his first without Jermaine Dupri. Beware of the dog!

You’ve been hinting at it for a while, but is this the record where Bow Wow finally gets to grow up?
This album is one of the biggest highlights of my career as far as music goes because I’m now free. I can talk about things I’ve been dying to talk about for so long. Now that I’m of age, I don’t have to feel bad about it when I leave the studio. It’s me raw and uncut. I got the opportunity to step away from JD and do my own thing and be an executive producer. [I want to] prove to the people and prove to the world we can do this without Jermaine. That’s really the big thing about it. It’s totally different.

How much did the R. Kelly and Jay-Z album inspire you to team up with Omarion?
The last tour that we did together was the Scream IV tour. When we first came onto the stage, we performed “The Best of Both Worlds.” Jay had heard about it when the tour came to Madison Square Garden. I remember watching Hov in the front row watching the entire show and he was like “This shit is crazy” [laughs]. On top of that we had a number one record together —“Let Me Hold You.” It’s just smart business knowing that we cater to the same demographic. Any artist can do an album every year with 13 tracks on it. It gets boring after awhile. I feel like I would be cheating my fans if I just went in the studio and did just another album all over again. I want to give them something different; something they could remember; something that I haven’t done. I salute the ones who did it before us. We actually had the chance to work with Kells—he did three records for us.

Since Jermaine was out of the picture, who else did you work with?
We worked with T-Pain, R. Kelly, one of my up-and-coming producers, Lil Ronnie, who actually produced the first record with me and R. Kelly [“I’m A Flirt”]. He actually produced the “Same Girl” with Kells and Usher too. On top of that we worked with The Dream. We had the opportunity to work with my man Jim Jonsin out of Miami, who’s crazy with it. We’re working with all the hot, up-and-coming producers. When you work with a lot of experienced producers, they always feel like, “Oh, this the kind of record you need,” and you end up giving them a $150,000 for it. It comes out to be something wack but you forced to go ahead and pay. The thing about working with cats like Lil Ronnie is you go in there and have a chemistry with your producer and you can tell them what you need. Actually, Lil Ronnie got like six tracks—damn near half the album.

What’s your relationship with Jermaine Dupri like now?
The relationship with me and JD is kind of crazy [laughs]. I haven’t seen Jermaine in like two months. Last time I actually spoke to Jermaine was the first time in a long time. It’s just different with me and him right now. I’m in my own world right now. I’m tired of people always wanting to do things for me. I have a passion for music. I love what I do. It’s kind of hard to be at a distance and you can’t really touch it. My whole entire career with Jermaine, he’s always laid out everything and never really made me work for mine. Everything really came easy and I’m at a point in my career now that I’m not just willing to take that. I’m ready to work for mine. I’m ready to write records and if niggas walk in the studio and be like, “That’s wack, scratch it, re-do it,” all it’s gonna do is push me harder. We really not even on talking terms; I don’t really talk to him, he don’t talk to me. I just had a real deep conversation with Snoop last night. We was talking about personal things. He gave me a lot of advice, telling me what I should do. As of right now, that’s my big brother. Me and Snoop talk everyday. As far as Jermaine is concerned, I have no affiliation with So So Def and no affiliation with him. That’s just what it is. It’s nothing negative towards him. I just wanted to branch off and do my own thing. I’m a grown man now. I’ve learned all I can learn from him. I don’t take nothing away from him. I even got the afro man on my arm because I know without dude, I wouldn’t even be where I’m at right now. I probably wouldn’t be talking to you. That’s how I look at it. When I see him, it’s funny, but that’s life.

Was there a specific event that changed the relationship?
Yeah, it was just a real disagreement. He was supposed to produce the entire Face Off project, but straight up, I didn’t like the record and he dissed us. Simple as that. That’s when you go back to working with cats that are hungry, cats that are willing to hear your input. You know, with Jermaine… I just held my own opinion. I felt that the record he did for me and O’s album wasn’t a hot record and I told him that and some things were said; a lot of arguing going back and forth. When you’re a family, those things happen. It’s unfortunate that those events had to occur in the studio.

On the internet, your wordplay and flow on some recent tracks like B5’s “Hydrolics” and Paula Deanda’s “Easy” has gotten a lot of comparison to Lil Wayne’s style. Can you see any similarities?
Wayne is actually a really good friend of mine. Every time I’m home in Miami, we kick it like everyday. A lot of these rappers that cats really like or that’s hot, when they see me it’s like, “Man I wish I had one of your records.” When Wayne saw me, he was like, “Yo, that ‘Shorty Like Mine,’ man I wanted that. I needed that!” It’s crazy because it makes me feel like, Damn, sometimes I want to step it up, lyrically. Not necessarily where y’all at, but I would like to step it up and prove to people where I stand as an artist. Me and Wayne, we cool. We mess around in the studio and all that but people can take it how they want to take it. It’s all gravy.

On the remix to Gorilla Zoe’s “Hood Nigga,” Young Jeezy has a line where he says “I’d never let a bitch Lil Bow Wow me.” What did you think when you heard that?
Man, you know’s what crazy about that? When I heard the record, I loved the record. T.I. had an album release party and I was in the parking lot. I saw Jeezy and I said “What’s hap’nen’?” He came over to the car, it was all love, we shake hands or whatever. It wasn’t a diss. Basically, what I think he was trying to say was, when I made the record “Outta My System,” it was for Ciara. I guess he was saying, “Yo, I’ll never let a chick get me down to the point where I’ll make records about her or where I’ll be all hurt about her.” It was just an undercover line, but really it wasn’t. It was just like, “I ain’t never gon let a chick get me down like that. I’m seeing this nigga in the rain.” I didn’t really think it was a diss, and if it was, that night when I saw him in the parking lot he definitely wouldn’t have came over to my car and said what’s up because I already know how real niggas get down.

What can we expect from your next solo joint?
My next solo album will be my last album with Sony. This is where stuff gets good—where I’ll get the chance to go in the office and renegotiate my contract and go and get that big money. My first album was called Beware of the Dog. I want to call my sixth album Still Beware of the Dog. I want to have my sixth album cover to resemble the first album cover with the pitbull. I want to release the album on the same day I released my first album. I’m just in pre-production. I been so focused on this Face Off album. I think I already have the first single for my sixth album though. It’s kind of crazy. I can tell you now. It’s bigger than “Shorty Like Mine,” bigger than “Let Me Hold You.” That’s the thing about me—I stay consistent and I know how to make hit records. I may not be the hottest rapper. I might not be the hardest nigga, but when it comes to making hit records and selling records, nobody can take that away from me. I think my ultimate goal is to deliver this sixth album and just sit back for the next two years and just run my label; just put my artists out. I just signed Short Dawg who is one of coldest lil’ niggas that’s out, period. He’s from Houston. Next year, I’m just gonna sit back and play C.E.O.