A Wing and A Prayer
The #BowWowChallenge is NOT okay.
Yes, we can giggle at the fact that Bow Wow was faking the funk on his bank account — something we all do in some way or another. And yes, he’s a celebrity with four million followers on Twitter, so it’s open season and he has to pay the price. But when someone like Chance the Rapper, known for spirituality and positivity, boards a private plane while shouting out the #BowWowChallenge, things have gone too far.
It’s just wrong. Because I know why Bow Wow is pretending to be in a private jet when he’s flying commercial like the rest of us.
Because, for a very long time, Shad Moss was not like the rest of us.
He got the name Lil’ Bow Wow from Snoop Dogg. At the age of six, his mom pushed him on stage at a Snoop show. The crowd loved him and Snoop let him C-walk. Snoop invited him backstage, crowned him with his stage name and then immediately took him on tour. Bow Wow and his mother moved to Los Angeles from their native Columbus, Ohio, and for several years he then worked with Dr. Dre at Death Row to create his sound.
Let’s backup for a minute. Read what I’m saying: Lil Bow Wow, barely into his teens, was working with Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre in the early ‘90s — at the height of Death Row Records.
After leaving the Death Row team and hooking up with Jermaine Dupri, his career took off.
At the start of the 21st century, Bow Wow had Solange riding shotgun in his kiddie-car in the video for his first single. At the 2001 Grammys, he C-walked on stage before opening Madonna’s car and leading her out to her performance. His debut album sold three million copies. The announcement of his first headlining tour, The Scream Tour, sent his fans into a frenzy. The first date confirmed in Washington, D.C., sold out immediately and two more shows were added. Eventually, the entire 50-date tour would sell out, including the Madison Square Garden dates.
In hip-hop, selling out MSG is a small fraternity: Jay Z, Eminem, Run DMC and most recently J. Cole. Lil Bow Wow would sell out Madison Square Garden five times.
It’s hard to fathom how big Bow Wow was at the time if you didn’t live through it. It was a certain kind of fame that just won’t exist again.
He starred in Like Mike, there were lines of kids in theaters on opening night.
In his teens, Bow Wow dropped the Lil’ and continued to be a music industry powerhouse.
In the summer of 2005, five years after he initially hit the scene, I had to interview Bow Wow and Ciara for the cover of VIBE magazine. They were a new couple and they were speaking exclusively about the relationship.
I interviewed them separately, Bow Wow on the set of TRL and Ciara on the set of a film she was shooting in Los Angeles.
As he watched from backstage, I noticed that the screaming girls at TRL seemed to bore Bow Wow. After five years of being trampled and pawed at, he just expected it. He’d known nothing else. Some people have to take out the trash. He had to duck and dodge five hundred screaming teenagers every time he left the house.
We had to do all kinds of military tactics to try and get out of Times Square and into his (luxury, not rented) truck without being spotted by his fans. None of it worked. They figured out the random exit where his driver was parked and we were surrounded. His bodyguards got him inside the truck and the driver had to do the best he could to not tie up traffic and also not run over any of the squealing girls who were crying real tears and trying to hurl themselves over the hood of the car.
I remember thinking that day, What kind of life is this? And what happens when this ends?
Well, here we are. I’m not saying Bow Wow’s career is over by any means. But he’s not who he was when he was 14 years old. And like most child stars, that can’t be easy.
For the story I wrote, I also talked to Bow Wow’s mom. She’d managed him since he was three years old and a few days previous he fired her. He said he felt like he needed to move on and that he wanted her to just be his mom. She cried when she told me how hurt she was.
Firing your mom at seventeen years old — and telling her not to worry because she’ll never have to work again — is enormous pressure. Going from being the toast of hip-hop because every hot rapper has a kid who loves you to being clowned on Twitter because you’re flawed and human is something we just can’t understand.
This is not the first time Bow Wow has put himself in a situation to be judged, clowned and mocked. His relationship with Erica Mena was a messy social-media-infused disaster. More recently, his comments about pimping out the current first lady were criticized by people on both sides of the political spectrum.
But understand this: In 2010, Bow Wow tweeted, “I swear I be wishing I was dead sometimes. Because I feel like that’s the only way I’ll get peace.” We can only hope that Bow Wow has handled whatever challenges in his life brought him to such a dark space.
When people like DJ Funk Master Flex, Charlamagne the God, 50 Cent, Chance the Rapper and more mock you for pretending to have what you once did, where does that take you?
When you’ve sold out stadiums at a time when all of the above people couldn't dream of doing so — and still can’t — where does that take you?
We all have our insecurities. We all want people to see us a certain way. I’m not sure what clowning someone like Bow Wow is supposed to prove. I guess it’s supposed to be funny?
The real #BowWowChallenge should be selling out Madison Square Garden three times before you turn 16.
(Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images)