When Bow Wow announced his retirement, much of Rap Twitter predictably responded with a resounding “who cares?” As far as most are concerned, Bow Wow had been retired from their headphones a long time ago.
But Bow Wow’s exit still marks something substantial: the first full career of a child star in hip-hop.
Of course, Bow Wow wasn’t the first young rapper to surface. He was ushered in by Jermaine Dupri, who earlier had found massive success with adolescent duo Kriss Kross, but he’s the only rapper who continued to stick around long after entering into public view at such an early age.
Bow Wow was initially discovered at age six by Snoop Dogg at a concert in Los Angeles, and Snoop gave him the name Lil Bow Wow as a result. He met Jermaine Dupri at age 11 in 1998, and he dropped his full-length debut Beware of Dog in 2000 at age 13. The double Platinum-certified album includes memorable hits like “Bounce With Me,” the Snoop-assisted “Bow Wow (That’s My Name),” and “Ghetto Girls.”
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From there, we saw Bow do the same thing most teenagers do: try their best to grow up at whatever pace makes sense to them. There was the erasure of the “Lil” from his name and the seemingly forced relationships with R&B starlets.
Rap has always been about youth, but not prepubescent youth - since Bow Wow came into the game as a child, with somewhat gimmicky rap tunes, he'll always be seen as the little brother instead of the youthful prodigy. No matter what he does, even seven albums deep (yes, seven albums deep), his career will be viewed as a reaction to our perception of his youth instead of as an expression of what he actually became.
On the other hand, Bow Wow might have delusions of grandeur when it comes to his rap and entertainment career; whenever he talks, he speaks about his own celebrity in a way no one else does. But it’s an understandable point of view when you’ve been told that you’re a star since the age of six. And truth be told, that same self-confidence is likely what helped him become such a hustler in the business. Whether it’s TV roles, movie roles or hosting duties, it's safe to assume Bow Wow will always be able to leverage whatever star power he has, delusional or not, into something that will get him paid and make other people watch.
Make no mistake, this isn’t a “Bow Wow is underrated” editorial, but it’s worth noting that with his impending retirement, for better or for worse, we’re seeing the close of a one-of-a-kind career in rap.
By William E. Ketchum III, follow him at @WEKetchum
Photo Credit: Instagram