THERE ARE reasons the Scream Tour IV is subtitled "The Heart Throbs 2005," and those reasons are Bow Wow, Omarion, Pretty Ricky, Bobby Valentino, Marques Houston and the Atlanta-based five-brother group, B5. All score big with screaming teenage girls, and most of them are teenagers themselves, even if they've been around for a while.
Bow Wow, for instance. As the artist formerly known as Lil' Bow Wow, now 18, explains on his new album, "Wanted," "Since I was 13 I've been known for pumpin' out that steam / Ain't nothing changed, homeboy, I'm still bringing the heat."
As the only rapper on the R&B-heavy tour, Bow Wow is talking about his music, but he also spends a good chunk of "Wanted" touting his appeal to the young ladies in such expletive-free tracks as current hits "Like You" (featuring rumored girlfriend Ciara, the little princess of crunk) and "Let Me Hold You," a collaboration with Omarion, the former B2K singer who launched a successful solo career earlier this year.
The Bow Wow/Omarion collaboration suggests a more youthful, and decidedly more youth-friendly, version of the Jay-Z and R. Kelly "Best of Both Worlds" tour, except that they actually like each other, a friendship dating back to the first Scream Tour.
"It's been going good; we've been selling everywhere," Bow Wow reports from the winding-down road. "My intentions were just to go ahead and put together a good show, give people the unexpected, and that's how we're doing the tour. Everyone has their own thing, and that's really what makes it so exciting, especially when O and me take the stage together."
That should pump up the screaming at MCI Center, particularly when they launch into "Let Me Hold You," which last week helped "Wanted" return to the Top 10 on the Billboard 200 best-selling albums chart (where it opened last month at No. 3). "Let Me Hold You" (which features a Luther Vandross sample) is No. 4 on the Hot 100 singles chart even as "Like You" has bulleted its way up to No. 12; it's also No. 1 on the Urban Mainstream Monitor and Top 40 Rhythm chart. And in testimony to the buying power of Bow Wow's target audience, the tracks were Sony BMG's two top-selling ring tones last week, with "Let Me Hold You" selling more than 700,000, "Like You" more than 200,000.
Meanwhile, the video for "Like You" has been the No. 1 downloaded clip on Launch.com and is AOL's No. 1 video worldwide, with more than 1.4 million plays to date. Bow Wow won't discuss his relationship with Ciara, whom he met two years ago when she was an extra in a video for his "Unleashed" album. But anybody who has seen the "Like You" video or who saw clips of Bow Wow and Ciara mooning over each other in June backstage at the BET Awards show, where she performed at Hollywood's Kodak Theatre, would know something's going on.
BET's Web site noted that Bow Wow showed up for the awards show in a suit, "letting everyone know he's not a kid anymore," this just five years after his debut as Lil' Bow Wow on "Beware of Dog." That album, produced by hip-hop hitmaker Jermaine Dupri (who first made a name for himself overseeing teen hip-hop act Kris Kross), sold more than 3 million copies while establishing Lil' Bow Wow's status as a fledgling hip-hop heartthrob through such Dupri-written tracks as "Bow Wow (That's My Name)" (in which he advised girls to put their Backstreet Boys posters aside), "Puppy Love," "Ghetto Girls" and the buoyant "Bounce With Me," which put the 13-year-old in "The Guinness Book of World Records" as the youngest solo rapper to hit No. 1 on the charts. In October 2001, he became the first "kid" to be included in Vanity Fair's prestigious annual music issue.
"I'm the flyest thing walking through junior high school," Bow Wow noted in "Bow Wow," but even then he was something of a showbiz vet. Born Shad Gregory Moss in Reynoldsburg, Ohio (near Columbus), he had appeared in television commercials and talent shows as a toddler, telling jokes, dancing and rapping (holding combs as pretend microphones). He was something of a novelty act until 1993, when his mother took him to a concert by the artist-then-known as Snoop Doggy Dogg during his Chronic Tour. When Snoop asked for a volunteer to come onstage and trade rhymes, 6-year-old Shad waved his hand, got Snoop's attention and was hauled on stage. Snoop invited the pint-size rhymer backstage and signed him on as an opening act for the rest of the tour, also bestowing on him the name Lil' Bow Wow. (He admits he's glad his original moniker, Kid Gangsta, didn't stick.)
Bow Wow spent several years honing his chops before making "Beware of Dog," appearing on Snoop's "Doggystyle" album, Will Smith's "Wild Wild West" soundtrack and the Dupri-produced soundtrack for "Momma's House." His friendly pop-rap and cornrowed good looks quickly made him a star (and inspired such imitators as 11-year-old rapper Lil' Romeo, son of rap mogul Master P.). A follow-up in 2001, "Doggy Bag," was somewhat aptly titled, a rehash of the debut, but 2003's "Unleashed" represented several changes. The Lil' was gone, as were Bow Wow's distinctive braids and producer-mentor Dupri. (He left to run another label and was contractually barred from working with Bow Wow.)
Working with such producers as the Neptunes, Swizz Beats and Lil' John, Bow Wow began negotiating the difficult transition from adolescence to adulthood that Kriss Kross never quite managed, getting a little more serious, but also showing he was still something of a kid at heart. "Eighteen" even provided a wish list of all the things Bow Wow wanted to do and have once he got old enough: "When I turn eighteen / I get my crib up on my first day / And every week we celebrate like it's my birthday."
" 'Unleashed,' " he says now, "was letting me off that 'young' chain. Everybody wanted me to be Lil' Bow Wow, everybody wanted me to stay at that kiddie stage, but I'm not and that was the difference. The last record was me just trying to tell everybody I am getting ready for my adulthood. 'Unleashed' was me coming into a man, but 'Wanted' is just a rap album, really. There's no message about getting to tell everybody I'm older now . . . I've already done that, I don't have to keep putting that above people's heads."
" 'Wanted' is the first real rap album that I've done, and the response has been great," he adds, noting that " 'Big Dreams' is definitely my first real record that I can say has a strong meaning behind it." The track chronicles the deadly consequences of drugs, gang life and other self-destructive behavior, and encourages youngsters to keep "eyes on the prize." In concert, the production is reportedly quite dramatic.
Back on his debut, Bow Wow mused in "The Dog in Me" about the day he could see for himself what driving a car and getting into clubs were all about, while on "Puppy Love" he suggested "when it comes to honeys I got too many / And I'm not trying to get serious until I'm up in my 20s." Even now, he rarely references women with anything other than respect, but you can tell he's happy to be on the other side of 18 and finished with high school. (He was home-tutored from the eighth grade.)
"Now it's me talking about subjects that I'm able to talk about," he says. "These things are new to me -- I'm in the clubs and seeing the girls and the different places I hang out at night and do what I do. My life had changed, and it's weird for some people because they're so used to seeing me as that younger kid, but the things that I'm experiencing now as an 18-year-old are different. I still have to be careful how I say things and how I word things, but at the same time, I'm an artist and this is entertainment."
On the new album's "B.O.W.," Bow Wow boasts about having "money stacked higher than the Empire State Building" and discusses the joys of Porsches, Lear jets and "Caviar" with guesting Doggfather Snoop; among Bow Wow's eight cars are a Lamborghini that he likes to craft his rhymes in. He's still getting good counsel from his mother/manager, Teresa Caldwell, and he is back working with Dupri.
"For me not to work with him on the third album was tragic," Bow Wow admits, "and now for us to be back together, making music and doing things like how we used to do, is just bringing back that old feeling, and it shows."
Already back on the charts, Bow Wow returns to the big screen next month in "Roll Bounce," a '70s-set roller-skating-themed coming-of-age comedy co-starring Nick Cannon and Mike Epps. Having made his film debut starring in the 2001 box-office hit "Like Mike" (about a kid who finds a pair of Michael Jordan's sneakers that have magical powers that catapult him to the NBA) and MTV's "Carmen: A Hip Hopera" (with Beyonce Knowles and Mekhi Phifer), Bow Wow has since appeared in such films as "All About the Benjamins" and "Johnson Family Vacation."
Doing "Roll Bounce" was hardly a stretch, Bow Wow points out. "I'm originally from the Midwest, and all we did was skate, though I had to bring [the skating] back to life a little bit. We did about three weeks of rehearsals, and by the time we got to shoot, I got it down, and it definitely shows in the movie."
Now he's hoping that "Bow," a WB network television series set for next year and offering a fictionalized look at the actor-rapper coming of age and taking control of his business, shows yet another side of Bow Wow.
"I can tell you it will be the funniest thing to ever hit the airwaves, and it's going to give people the opportunity to see the real me, let everybody know that I'm real."
BOW WOW -- Appearing Friday at the MCI Center with Omarion, Pretty Ricky, Bobby Valentino, Marques Houston and B5.