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Bow Wow, Wow! To keep his career afloat, Bow Wow added movies to his résumé.

Boyz to Men

A guide to prepube soul stars. Or, does success stop when the nuts drop?

By Todd Inoue

THE CAREER of a preteen soul artist is blessedly short unless you're a genius (Stevie Wonder), an expert repackager (Bow Wow and IMX, who appear at the Compaq Center on Sept. 1) or a certified eccentric (Michael Jackson). There are many battles to be won: puberty, a fickle public, vices and bad business decisions. Here's a roundup of prepube soul singers yesterday and today--some who made it, and others who are parking your car.

Bow Wow

Peak Activity: 2002
Big Hit: "Take You Home"

Scoop: They grow up so fast. Jermaine Dupri sidekick and Snoop Dogg protégé Bow Wow has already dropped the Li'l from his name. The 15-year-old isn't going the Aaron Carter route; Bow Wow is now in his teens and bringing his fans with him. He's making movies and music that reflect his growth and personality.

In what may be a case of mistaken identity, Bow Wow's movie, Like Mike, shows the pint-sized rapper as still the lovable, huggable guy. The promotional video for the song "Basketball" shows Bow Wow in the firm clutch of puberty, bulging Adam's apple and all. Digesting the two Bow Wows in one video is a difficult task--like cutting between the fat and skinny Elvises. A multimedia threat, Bow Wow has the best chance of continued success. Watch out for this guy.

Where Is He Now?: Headlining the Scream 2 Tour with B2K and IMX (San Jose Sept. 1, Oakland Aug. 31)

Li'l Romeo

Peak Activity: 2002
Big Hit: "My Baby," "2-Way"

Scoop: When the market was flooded with too many thug-life CDs, No Limit's Percy "Master P" Miller realized the situation. He turned his attention to what was hot--teen pop--and scored huge by positioning his 11-year-old son, Li'l Romeo, in that direction. It's been a turn of fortune for P and No Limit, who was previously releasing music from Silkk the Shocker, C-Murder and Mia X, among others. Now we see P on the Nickelodeon stage hyping the crowd for his son.

As for the music, it's surprisingly slick. Romeo has a certified hit with "2-Way," and his segment on MTV Cribs had to be one of the oddest, funniest installments ever. His lifestyle is the stuff of kids' dreams, and he's living life as Richie Rich, enjoying every minute.

Where Is He Now?: All over Nickelodeon and Radio Disney--and probably checking out his new Mervyn's clothing line, reshooting parts of his movie, Shorty. New album Game Time comes out in the fall.

Immature/IMX

Immature/IMX

Peak Activity: 1994; 2002
Big Hit: "Never Lie"

Scoop: Immature is one of those industry rarities who arrived as boys, repackaged themselves at the onset of puberty and carved out a decent career since then, penning steamy R&B hits. The group treated its past like a plague (one album was titled Playtime Is Over), distancing itself from the treacle of its early releases. Immature found it wise to update its act and--taking a cue from Kentucky Fried Chicken--reduced its name to a three-letter abbreviation IMX.

Where Are They Now?: Opening up for Bow Wow and enjoying a second wind of popularity

Sammie

Peak Activity: 2000
Big Hit: "I Like It"

Scoop: Sammie was 12 years old when he left his Miami home to consort with producer Dallas Austin in Atlanta. The resulting album, From the Bottom to the Top, was a bottom-to-the-top flop on radio. Though the album went gold, he missed the Bow Wow/Li'l Romeo platinum gravy train by a year.

Where Is He Now?: MIA. Unless he challenges Emmanuel Lewis to a bout on Celebrity Boxing, Sammie is destined for obscurity.

Tevin Campbell

Tevin Campbell

Peak Activity: 1991-1993
Big Hit: "Can We Talk?"

Scoop: The silky-throated Tevin Campbell began his career at 13 with T.E.V.I.N. He had fans in Quincy Jones, Prince, Narada Michael Walden, Babyface and Pebbles. His voice changed, his looks hardened and rough times got rougher in July 1999 when Campbell was busted outside a Van Nuys elementary school for propositioning an undercover officer for oral sex. He pleaded no contest, was convicted of a misdemeanor, fined $1,080 and ordered to attend Narcotics Anonymous and AIDS-awareness classes.

Today, Tevin still banks on his name and connections and has a fairly successful career overseas. His story is a cautionary tale of talent and ambition left sadly unfulfilled.

Where Is He Now?: Big in Japan, with a best-of album

Kris Kross

Kris Kross

Peak Activity: 1992
Big Hit: "Jump"

Scoop: In a way, Kris Kross was a pioneer for the dirty South, proudly representing Atlanta, now a hotbed of hip-hop. The group included then-19-year-old Jermaine Dupri on the boards. Yes, Chris "Daddy Mack" Smith and Chris "Mack Daddy" Kelly taught us all to "jump," but one thing they couldn't leap over was the lasting effects of puberty. The follow-up--fortuitously called Da Bomb--suffered the dreaded sophomore slump. By 1996, their voices had fully crossed over into man mode. They came out with a couple of G'd-up singles, but by then their core fans were onto other things.

PS: That backward-clothes ("totally krossed out") look was one of the stupidest fads ever. But If you didn't like it, you can get the finger (the middle).

Where Are They Now?: MIA

New Edition

Peak Activity: 1988
Big Hit: "Candy Girl," "Cool It Now," "Can You Stand the Rain"

Scoop: Maurice Starr helped propel this group to stardom, positioning them as the new-school answer to the Jackson 5. The members--Ronnie DeVoe, Bobby Brown, Michael Bivins, Ricky Bell, Ralph Tresvant and later Johnny Gill--were all talented singers and dancers. The group has gone through various ups and downs--mostly to do with Bobby Brown's various missteps--but the members managed to keep the late '80s and early '90s interesting, as documented on the excellent compilation of solo and group hits All the Number Ones. New Edition is one of the rare cases of success lasting through puberty.

Where Are They Now?: They do the occasional reunion show--minus Bobby--and stay busy with solo projects. PS: The 2002 Bell Biv Devoe is seriously screwing with the legacy.

Stevie Wonder

Peak Activity: Stevie owned the '70s
Big Hit: Pick one, but the reigning opinion is "Superstition"

Scoop: The original Li'l. As a preteen, Stevie was a bespectacled boy hoofing into a harmonica, stomping out "Fingertips." His talent and inner vision shone through during his mid-'70s heyday. He combined '60s soul with '70s funk that culminated with such classic albums as Innervisions, Songs in the Key of Life, Fulfillingness and Talking Book. But even Stevie was fallible. He stumbled through the '80s with some soft-rock crud that Lionel Richie wouldn't touch. "Part-Time Lover," "That's What Friends Are For," "Ebony and Ivory" and "I Just Called to Say I Love You" nearly torched everything Stevie worked for.

Thankfully, his classic albums have stood the test of time and Stevie is forever credited among the neosoul and hip-hop set. DJs Bobbito and Spinna host a Wonder-Full party every month where originals, B-sides and Stevie songs done by others get spun. Stones Throw Records recently released a limited edition tribute record. And even George W. Bush tried to get the attention of the blind genius by waving at him. A genius is a genius, and Stevie Wonder will always be the Man. If a Santana-type tribute is in order, Stevie's name should be top of the list.

Where Is He Now?: Working with his many humanitarian causes. His music is saluted in a new Las Vegas revue at the Venetian called Signed Sealed Delivered.

Michael Jackson

Peak Activity: 1984
Big Hit: Thriller

Scoop: He sacrificed his childhood to achieve his dream (or his father's, according to the telepic) and has spent a lifetime trying to regain it. How else would you explain Neverland ranch and his constant need to make pals like Macauley Culkin?

Jackson stopped creating interesting records after 1991, but those pre-Dangerous ones are doozies. As much as we laugh and point and think of Michael as a total freak, all is forgiven when songs like "Billie Jean" or "Rock With You" come on the radio. Who isn't singing and "hee-hee'ing"?

Where Is He Now?: Chilling with Bubbles and the Elephant Man's skeleton at Neverland Ranch

The Boys

The Boys

Peak Activity: 1989
Big Hit: "Dial My Heart"

Scoop: The four-member group was discovered dancing on the Venice Beach promenade. The Boys were mentored by Pebbles, LA Reid and Babyface, and soon found themselves singing sickeningly sweet gumdrops on R&B radio. They maxed out the recommended daily allowance of cuteness. The youngest Boy, Bilal, was 9. "Dial My Heart" got them on Soul Train, but the Boys missed the transfer to the Promised Land.

Where Are They Now?: The Boys are back in town, now known as Suns of Light.

Anotha Bad Creation (ABC)

Peak Activity: 1991
Big Hit: "Iesha"

Scoop: Overseen by producer and mentor Michael Bivins, ABC struck while the hormones were hot and then bounced. After releasing Coolin' at the Playground Ya Know, the group fell out of favor quickly, just as New Jack Swing tapped out. Anotha Bad Creation was the least-performing crew in the "Boyz II Men/ABC/BBD" triumvirate, and even Kris Kross had the cajones to clown ABC as "another bad idea" on its debut album.

Where Are They Now?: Probably washing your car as you read this

The Puppies

Peak Activity: 1994-1996
Big Hit: "Funky Y-2-C"

Scoop: Hyperactive with high-pitched voices, this is a rowdy day-care center put to rat-a-tat-tat beats. The Puppies should have been put to sleep.

Where Are They Now?: Full-grown dogs scattered to the four winds


Bow Wow, B2K and IMX perform at 5pm on Sunday (Sept. 1) at the Compaq Center, 525 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose. Tickets are $27.50-$37.50. (408.998.TIXS)


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From the August 29-September 4, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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