We're examining the shared DNA between Drake and Bow Wow.
Sometimes, hip-hop audiences are quick to dismiss someone’s past accomplishments. Instead of focusing on what they’ve achieved in days bygone, there’s a tendency to fixate on what they’ve done for us lately. In the case of Shad Moss, better known as Bow Wow, this is taken to an extreme-- his contributions have essentially been overshadowed by a combination of bad luck and shortsighted decisions. From the infamous #Bowwowchallenge that clowned his use of a stock image of a private plane, alongside other rather credibility-damaging controversies, the past five years have seen the Ohio-born rapper withstand one blow to his reputation after another. Thus turning Bow Wow into more of a punchline than a pioneer, we’ve reached a point where younger sections of hip-hop’s audience would struggle to comprehend the scale of his success in the early 2000’s, and the importance therein.
Thrust into the spotlight by Jermaine Dupri and So So Def, Shad Moss got his first taste of stardom at the tender age of 13 when his debut album. Beware Of Dog, proved that he was a force to be reckoned with. Specializing in energetic and lovelorn hip-hop, Bow Wow had initially sidestepped all of the pitfalls that came with being a child star, garnering 3 platinum albums along the way. Then, in the period that followed 2009’s New Jack City II, his first record to bear a parental advisory sticker, the Bow Wow train abruptly came off of the tracks. Eventually, the 34-year-old rapper’s glory days were consigned to the past. And as his superstar status has withered away, Bow Wow has also found that his innovations have been marginalized. Or at least, that was the case for a long, long time.
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Shortly after Clubhouse users took notice of Bow Wow’s unsung role in hip-hopand labeled him a "legend,"Bow Wow’s stock has received another boost after the leading man in hip-hop’s commercial landscape claimed that the Ohioan had informed his own artistic development.
"If it wasn’t for you, there wouldn’t be no me," Drake said of the once Lil' rapper, during a celebratory Instagram live stream. "That’s why I’mma rock with y’all forever more." In a follow-up video that featured Bow Wow himself, Drake went so far as to interpolate some lines from 2001's "Thank You" in tribute to the artist.
Given that Bow Wow is little more than a year older than Drake, influence wouldn’t normally come into the equation. Without Bow Wow starting out at a prodigiously young age, they’d normally be viewed as contemporaries. However, when you take a step back and retrace Bow Wow’s steps through the early 2000’s hip-hop-boom period, the shared ancestry between Moss and Drizzy begins to take shape.
Since he came out of the gate, Bow Wow, like Drake, has avoided some of hip-hop’s more boisterous traits in favour of a less imposing approach. And rather than happen accidentally, Bow Wow’s mentor made a conscious effort to make his young protege into a more marketable breed of hip-hop star.
"These days in rap, kids don’t have any role models," Dupri told the New York Post in 2001 "I want Bow Wow to represent a young black superstar."
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Young, idealistic and approachable in a way that differed from the grittier artists of the day, Bow Wow’s wholesome image allowed him to infiltrate suburban home without moral panic, while his R&B-tinged beats meant that his records were easily digestible in a way that other artists' could never be.
To put this into perspective, Bow Wow’s debut album arrived in 2000, a year in which the biggest selling hip-hop records of the year included Stankonia, The Marshall Mathers LP and Mystikal’s incendiary debut, Let’s Get Ready.
So, while the New Orlean’s Mystikal was earnestly demanding that his listenership shake their ass and Eminem was falling afoul of every taboo he could, Bow Wow’s jovial offerings such as the Xscape-assisted “Bounce With Me” and “That’s My Name” offered some light relief.
In this sense, Drake filled a similar void when he first emerged, opting to forego the mean-mugging or drug-pushing that was still very much a part of hip-hop mainstream, in favour of becoming the corporately-acceptable face of rap. After demonstrating a level of chivalry and sensitivity that was almost unthinkable on his 2010 breakout mixtape So Far Gone, Drake found himself following in Bow Wow’s footsteps as he became the poster boy for hip-hop in mainstream marketplaces.
"I guess they recognized my potential based off what has happened with my music career in the last year," Drake remarked after inking a sponsorship deal with Sprite in 2010. "I think it's a great thing to be responsible, in a way, for exciting young kids."
Bow Wow may have grown up on NWA, and was first discovered by Death Row, but his brand of hip-hop would reject the "bitches ain’t shit" mentality that his heroes had popularized in order to focus on romance.
Across his string of platinum-selling records, Lil Bow Wow created rap that took its cues from similar "boy meets girl" stories of commercial radio, thus inherently reaching a wider audience, an audience that may have typically been sensitive to rap's gangster personas and "parental advisory" cautions.
Lil Bow Wow with Halle Berry at the 2001 Nickelodeon's Kid's Choice Awards - Chris Weeks/Liaison/Getty Images
From the youthful innocence of “Puppy Love” through to the lyrical tenderness and delicate melodies of 2005’s “Let Me Hold You” with Omarion, Bow Wow fashioned a lane in which more prudish audiences could engage with the art of hip-hop. This meant that the young Shad Moss' output would actually help to bridge the gap between pop and hip-hop, long before there was such a clearly defined union between the two. In the process, allowing him to rack up 11 top 30 hits at a time when this was no easy feat for an MC. And when it comes to those tracks that reached the top 10, it’s the love songs that always raked in the highest numbers.
Synonymous with both slow jams and upbeat party anthems, Bow Wow’s commercially-palatable style assured a young Aubrey Graham that you didn’t have to grow up on the street corner to become a crossover star, let alone, a rap star. And if you take Bow Wow’s all-time greatest hit, the Ciara-aided “Like You” and zoom in on bars such as: "And I done seen the best of the best, Baby, still I ain't impressed cause ain't none of them at all (Like you)," thematic similarities to some of Drake’s most beloved work emerge.
From "Best I Ever Had" and "Find Your Love" to "Practice," "Make Me Proud" and "Hold On, We’re Going Home," placing the object of his affection on a pedestal has informed some of Drake's landmark tracks. While he may have mastered the art of sweet serenades in hip-hop, his decision to style himself as the perfect suitor for his female-centric fanbase was informed by a childhood spent listening to Bow Wow openly pleading with his love.
On top of a willingness to collaborate with pop artists such as JoJo, and the carefree nature of tracks such as "Fresh Azamiz," which focus on stunting, rather than striking fear into the hearts of the competition, one of the key attributes of Bow Wow’s career that has bled into Drake’s own journey is a reluctance to take himself too seriously. Where many of hip-hop’s best and brightest are wary of making themselves look foolish in fear of damaging their credibility, Bow Wow’s avoidance of the tropes of the “serious” artist enabled him to seize opportunities in the entertainment world that would otherwise be out of reach.
By the time that he had two albums under his belt, the young Shad Moss was already becoming a shining example of a mainstream rapper, after turning his focus to acting.
Following a couple of cameo appearances, a young Bow Wow plunged into kids’ movies when he starred in Like Mike. From there, he would continue to take on roles in films that were anything but hard-hitting, such as Johnson Family Vacation and Roll Bounce. All the while, continuing to further his rap credentials in a way that remained separate from his burgeoning career onscreen. Although his plans to be “the next Will Smith” didn’t quite pan out, Bow Wow’s decision to take on the world of comedy and avoid the typecasting as a gangster, cop or even fictional rapper that many MCs encounter when transitioning to film marked a turning point for what rappers could do in the entertainment sphere.
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Meaning that, when an aspiring MC who’d cut his teeth as a wheelchair bound, high-school student on Degrassi: The Next Generation began to make his way through the industry, he wasn’t hampered by his past life on a teen soap opera. Instead, it’s just a humorous footnote in the career of a rapper who’s never been afraid to flex his comedic chops when the moment strikes. By travelling back and forth between the world of hip-hop and entertainment, Bow Wow had already proven that even something as absurd donning magical sneakers or partaking in skate-offs wouldn’t inhibit his ability to prosper in hip-hop.
In Bow Wow’s rise, a young Drake saw an alternate path that eschewed the clandestine side of hip-hop’s presentation in order to present yourself as every bit as worthy of mainstream acceptance as any boy band or singer/songwriter dominating pop culture at the time.
Unbeknownst to him, this approach would allow one of the biggest stars that hip-hop has ever seen to embrace his softer side rather than hide it. And while Bow Wow has felt the brunt of the hip-hop’s audiences’ mean-spiritedness, allowing Drake to attest to his greatness rather than lobbying for the public’s approval actually falls in line with comments that Bow Wow made to Big Boy during a 2019 interview. Where other rappers would fall victim to their more braggadocious instincts, the Ohio MC is happy to let audiences come to their own conclusions.
"It’s crazy how later on in your career, you start to get the recognition. I just let the fans do it. I learned that i’s better when they do it than when I parade my wins. Every time I post on Instagram, I start to see the goat emojis and people saying “Bow Wow” paved the way… Now I’m finally starting to get that."