By: Erich Donaldson
There was a time where Bow Wow was everywhere. A 13-year-old rapper wasn’t too common, and Jermaine Dupri made it work. He saw the vision in the young Columbus, Ohio native and turned him into a star. Bow’s debut album, Beware The Dog, is certified double platinum. It was the introduction to the world as songs like “Bounce With Me” and “Bow Wow (That’s My Name),” featuring Snoop Dogg, became hits. This was the path that Lil Bow Wow ended up on, but imagine if he took a different journey on a less of a kid friendly record label and never got introduced to Jermaine Dupri.
In 1993, Shad Moss attended a Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg concert in his hometown. The duo asked for people to come up on stage, and Shad’s mother’s boyfriend raised his hand. Shad, however, didn’t want to go up despite being a performer already and having won talent shows under the name Kid Gangsta. He would tell Vibe magazine in 2000 that he “got up there and did his thing.” A Billboard article from the same year says that Shad freestyled for the sold out crowd and impressed Snoop enough to be invited backstage after the show.
Backstage, Lil Bow Wow was born. Snoop Dogg, who gave him the name, invited him on the rest of the tour. Several reports over the years say he was signed to Death Row, but a 2002 article NY Times says no contract was ever in place. It’s also unsure whether he was five or six at the time. Surely, for Bow Wow, this was a dream he never saw coming. From not wanting to hit the stage to being around one of the most notorious hip-hop labels at such a young age. He moved out to L.A. with his mom. “When we discovered the nigga he was ready to go,” Snoop recalls in a clip on Bow Wow’s Youtube. “They [Death Row] had him on some bullshit songs, but he was going hard on the motherfuckers.”
Bow Wow was still developing, so the influence from Death Row was strong. He did the kid skits on Doggystyle. “I wanna be a motherfuckin’ hustla, ya better ask somebody,” he said on the “Classroom Intro” skit. He was cussing more than a six-year-old should ever be allowed to. There was an appearance on Arsenio Hall in 1993. While working on Murder Was The Case’s soundtrack, Bow was supposed to appear on it with “After 3,” a song featuring Kurupt (who wrote it all), Jewell and CPO Boss Hogg. The song would remain in the vault until 2012.
Lessons were learned during Bow’s days at Death Row. One studio session would teach him to have thick skin if he wanted to make it in the music industry and that practice will always help. “I was in the studio and Snoop had written something for me,” he told Billboard. “I really couldn’t get it. They were yelling at me and I didn’t like it. I wanted to quit. I went back home and studied that rap. I went back the next day and showed them I could do it.”
He’d later reflect on his time in an interview where he makes it clear that if he hasn’t left, he’d be “doing something stupid, gangbanging or whatever.” Snoop Dogg was smart enough to get him out of the situation before he was in too deep, so Bow went back to Columbus feeling defeated. His mom said he was devastated and tried hard to get back to Death Row for him. It wasn’t until 1998 when Snoop was leaving Death Row that he was able to help. He’d recommend Bow to a friend, Jermaine Dupri (although the NY Times article conflicts with this saying Snoop referred them to Epic who signed Bow and they got Jermaine through the label). “Death Row ain’t the label for this little kid,” Snoop told Jermaine. “I know you know what to do with him. Let’s put our heads together and do what we gotta do.” Even though it never escalated, Suge Knight always hated Jermaine, because he assumed he stole Bow Wow, but that idea doesn’t add up to the timeline above. He didn’t know Snoop was behind it, though.