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Bow Wow

Unleashed (Sony)

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Kriss Kross and Another Bad Creation learned it the hard way: Rap fans aren't interested in watching baby gangstas transform from boys to men. Now that he's reached the latter stages of puberty, Bow Wow is acting all grown up. The cherubic Columbus, Ohio, native even dropped the Lil' from his name and added a few pounds of floss to his third effort -- sure signs that Bow Wow is aging in dog years.

"Let's Get Down" finds the rap wunderkind pimping like Dolomite; his peppery verses meld nicely with Jazzy Phe's ultragloss production. It's a promising start, but the rest of Unleashed sounds tame by comparison. The album has a staggeringly high quality-to-filler ratio; throwaways such as "Don the Dutch" contain skeletal tracks with perfunctory beats and heaps of pointless bragging. He's lost the playful vibe that made his debut one of 2000's guilty pleasures -- now he just raps about chicks and tires like all the other hardcore G's.

But Bow Wow knows that MTV butters his briz-ead. On "Eighteen," the precocious rapper makes a direct appeal to his grade school fanbase, fantasizing about life after he comes of age. Registering to vote doesn't make his to-do list, but plans include purchasing an automobile with clean rims, mingling with twentysomething paramours and securing a residence of his own. Whether Bow Wow will have any fans left at that point remains to be seen. On "I Can't Lose," he bravely raps that failure is not an option for someone who's been in the game as long as he has. Apparently Bow Wow missed all those Like Mike reviews.

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