Success is a tall order for busy rapper/actor Bow Wow, who loves the game but could use a fast break.

July 04, 2002|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- With his deep brown eyes, slick raps and practiced tough-guy scowl, Bow Wow has become such a hip-hop playa that he's sold almost 3.5 million albums, shared the stage with Madonna during the Grammy Awards and now stars in a new basketball movie.

He's got cash; he's got a heavy Mickey Mouse pendant encrusted with diamonds, and he's got hordes of screaming female fans to complete the bad-boy lifestyle.

And in March, he turned 15.

By all appearances, Bow Wow's rap and movie career is off to a good start. But the fame, the concerts and the endless press tours are giving him other ideas.

"I definitely want to make more movies, more albums, and then I'll probably be 18, and then I'll be like, `You know what? Let me walk away for a minute,' " Bow Wow says during a recent Washington visit to promote Like Mike, a movie about a boy who finds a pair of magic shoes that propel him to NBA fame. The movie opened yesterday.

"I want to go to school, go to the NBA," he adds, sitting next to a giant standup poster of his movie in a stall at an MCI Center locker room. "I want to try something new, do something else in my life."

Spoken like a jaded music industry veteran -- which, despite his youth, would not be an entirely inaccurate portrayal.

The quiet teen with a serious demeanor, punctuated with just a few bursts of hip-hop posturing, was first discovered by Snoop Dogg on his 1993 Chronic tour. Bow Wow was born Shad (pronounced Sh-AH-d) Gregory Moss and raised in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio. After Snoop heard Moss rap, he christened him Lil' Bow Wow and started working with him.

"I was only 5 then," Bow Wow says. "I really wasn't familiar with Snoop at all. I was a shy little kid. ... It was a wonderful experience. By the time I was 6 or 7, my mom kind of explained to me what was going on. I couldn't believe it. I was happy."

Two years ago, with the help of Snoop Dogg and Jermaine Dupri, Bow Wow released his first album, Beware of Dog, which sold 2.5 million. His second, last year's Doggy Bag, has sold just under a million, and the soundtrack to his new movie has him on no less than four songs.

Even after his initial success, Bow Wow says he knew he wanted to try acting. After an adorable turn as a child convict thrown into an adult prison in last year's MTV movie Carmen: A Hip Hopera, Bow Wow landed the role of Calvin Cambridge in Like Mike.

The film -- in which Bow Wow has his first starring role -- is a coming-out for him in more ways than one. He's also using the press tour to emphasize that he's grown up now and wants to drop "Lil" from his name.

"I basically started the whole `Lil' thing," he says. "Lil' Kim had it, but she died down for a minute. I came up."

In Like Mike, which also stars Morris Chestnut, Bow Wow plays an orphan who has long dreamed of playing in the NBA and getting adopted. He says the role did not come easily to him.

"I had to get adjusted to Cal- vin," he says in his soft, slightly cracking voice. "For me, coming from, like, a hip-hop, urban perspective, I had to cross over to being a nerdy orphan. It was kinda crazy, but I managed and got through with it, and now we're here, happy about it."

One prime example of the difference between Calvin and Bow Wow occurs in the movie, when the character's friends ask him what the best part of fame is and he says: Room service. Bow Wow, however, has another answer.

"The girls," he says casually. "Just them screaming and fainting and crying and stuff. It's fun."

Donna Jones, Bow Wow's aunt and guardian on the press tour, says his family is still floored by the attention he gets.

"These little girls just go crazy," Jones says laughing. "To me, he's still Shad Moss."

She says Bow Wow's mother has laid down strict rules for the young star.

"She stresses to him that his education is important," she says. "The only reason he can do this now is on the condition that he has to go to college. He has to get his education. In this business, you can be here and be gone tomorrow. He understands that. You've got to have a game plan."

And Bow Wow does. With a tutor on the road, the 5-foot-1 star has kept his GPA hovering between 3.6 and 3.8 and has his sights set on becoming a shooting guard in the NBA or going to Harvard.

"I want to go to, like, a law school because if the whole basketball thing doesn't work out, I want to become a sports agent," he says. "I want to do something with sports, but I don't want to be sitting back and like, `Wow, this is what I did.' I want to keep moving."

For now, though, he's just trying to get through the press tours with enough sleep and his sanity intact.

"It's exhausting," he says. "Next year I might take the whole year off. There's no telling what's going to happen."

And when the questions are over, the camera is packed up and the tape recorder is shut off, it's clear Bow Wow has had enough. He starts to crawl behind the large standup movie poster next to him.

First his wiry body disappears, then his legs slowly curl up into the darkness and then a tiny hand appears to adjust the poster, now a shield holding back the world.

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