Bow Wow has nine lives. The rapper, who now goes by his birth name, Shad Moss, played his first sold-out shows long before hitting puberty. In only three decades, he’s cycled through innumerable career phases, from rapping at Snoop Dogg’s side to acting to hosting gigs and reality TV show appearances. Now Moss, a long-time staple of the Atlanta hip hop scene, is looking to honor his adopted hometown on WE’s newest reality offering, Growing Up Hip Hop: Atlanta. The series’ first season is slated to track Moss’ latest comeback and new music intended to herald his graduation from nostalgia-inducing puppy to top dog. Along the way, there’s sure to be romantic happenings, family drama, and rising tensions with his fellow Atlanta castmates.
Luckily, Moss is already well known for the kind of entertainment value that keeps channel surfers coming back for more. The “Like You” rapper has proven himself adept at combining the explosive elements of social media and minor celebrity to wreak havoc and make headlines. Using Twitter and Instagram, Moss has propelled himself to trending topic twice in the past few months. In March, he had Fox news anchors clutching their pearls after he fired off an incendiary tweet, defending his mentor Snoop Dogg and jokingly threatening to “pimp” the first lady Melania Trump. For his encore performance, he sparked an entire Twitter challenge by appearing to falsely flex on his Instagram. To hear Moss tell it, “It’s all part of the game”: While there are certainly bad tweets, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
We met up with Moss at the NoMad hotel in New York City, right as he and his WE co-stars were about to dig into an appropriately lavish spread of hamburgers and fries. The former child star turned social media savant graciously took half an hour out of his lunch break to tell The Daily Beast about growing up hip hop, his group chat with Snoop Dogg and why he’d like to apologize to Melania Trump.
So you’re starring on this new show, but you’re also an executive producer. What type of reality TV shows are you trying to emulate with this series, and what inspired you to take on such a big role?
I hated reality TV. I’d seen how these networks would put these people in these situations, it seemed like, to make fun of them—it just didn’t seem positive. I stayed away from it because I felt like it wasn’t the time. When I saw T.I. do it, I was like OK, alright, alright. And then I started seeing other guys get into it and it became like the thing. I really wanted to wait until the right opportunity presented itself… So they wrote the first Growing Up Hip Hop, it was a hit, and they came back to me and they said, “Look, we want to do something with you really bad. We’ve already got this project, it’s ready to go, it’s a spinoff, and we just want to bring you along to quarterback and executive produce it.” And I was like, no doubt. If it’s a boss move, then I’m with it. I know that if this becomes a hit, which is what we’re picturing will happen, then this will give me leverage to go back and produce another show that has nothing to do with this, and that’s my goal. My goal is to own a network. I want to sit behind a desk and call shots, I want to watch my investments grow. That’s really where I’m at in this stage in my career.
I definitely feel like with Remy Ma and even Kanye, you have legit rappers getting involved with reality TV shows. There’s a lot of overlap there.
Exactly, exactly. It’s just the thing now. You want to stay relevant and move with the times, and if it’s the right situation, you do it. Like Snoop had a reality show and he’s family. Everybody has dipped and dabbed in it. I hear about [Lil] Wayne getting ready to do one… so it’s just the thing to do. It’s a great platform to promote other things, and create the awareness. Why not be on TV once a week, every week?
So people will presumably be tuning in to Growing Up Hip Hop: Atlanta because they’re attracted to a certain type of glamorous hip hop lifestyle—
But what do you think viewers are going to see on the show that they weren’t expecting?
The real life shit that we go through. That’s what they need to see, they need to see that we’re human. With me, of course you see the actor, you see the rapper, you see the star, but at the same time what’s behind the scenes is what makes it interesting. You see me go through things with my daughter’s mom, you see my father come back into my life, and these are things that are all real. It goes back to your first question when you asked me about reality TV. One thing that I hated was that it’s so scripted—this shit looks horrible! And it’s not the cast’s fault, it’s the producers that come up with these storylines. They put people in these spots and make them act and it’s like, “Yo, they’re not actors.” You know what I mean? They’re not actors, I’m sorry. So then when you watch it, it’s terribly shot, it’s too glossy, it doesn’t look real. So for this, that’s what I studied. I studied the dos and the don’ts of reality TV. Everything that you see is not staged. You can’t script this. It’s hard to keep me in a box, and I feel like that’s what scripted does.
You also speak with your estranged father with the cameras rolling.
That was something that was going down with or without this show. I needed that for my own closure, it just so happened that we were filming. I just brought it to the attention of my colleagues and said, “I’ve been contemplating speaking to my father, might as well do it on the show.” My fans have never seen my father like that. I’ve spoken about him before, they know I don’t really like him like that, but at this point in my life, I was going to have this conversation with him without y’all even being here. So why not get it on film, just film us talking, film the conversation. And it was a real conversation. There wasn’t no “Stop, can you go back and…” Nah! They know that if they do that then I’m going to leave the set. I want it to be accurate and I want it to be authentic.
You were discovered when you were 5. Being a child star in the entertainment industry in general seems tough, but I imagine that being a kid in hip hop is absolutely wild.
It is, it is. You go through a lot of shit. First you hit the “aw he’s so cute” phase. “Aw, they’re growing up now.” Then you hit the “ah, that motherfucker ugly.” That’s something Snoop always says, he says, “Yo, you got lucky, you made it, cause most of these child stars they be ugly as a motherfucker now at this age.” You know what I’m saying? He’s right. But you go through a lot. You gotta be prepared for the ups and the downs, you gotta be prepared for the bullshit that’s gonna come as you get older, you gotta prepare for the media, how they’re gonna treat you. It’s just about withstanding the time, that’s all you gotta do.
A lot of former child stars say that they grew up too fast. Did you?
No I didn’t, and I think that’s why they fucked up. Honestly, that’s why they’re on drugs, or they look crazy nowadays, all strung-out looking. You know, it’s important that you have your childhood. For me, I sold 3 million records but I didn’t care about the record sales. I was riding around on a Razor scooter, just having fun. That kept me grounded and kept me humble. Even to this day, I don’t even do nothing. Like I’ll go out to the nightclub here and there, but for the most part I’m at home, very normal, watching the games, having my boys over. That’s the things that I like to do. I always made sure that I had some type of normal in my life. Even when I was Bow Wow, I was playing basketball at the rec league like all the normal kids were. I always just wanted to fit in. I’m human like everybody else. But of course the outside world, they don’t see it that way.
I wanted to talk about the Bow Wow Challenge on social media earlier this month. I heard you in an interview saying that everything’s for the show and that if people want insight into that controversial Instagram, they’re just going to have to watch.
Yea, there’s a scientific method to my madness. Because the real Bow Wow challenge to me is like… the joke is really on everybody else. Because only the smart ones understand. I never said that I was on that jet! I never once said it.
There wasn’t a caption on that Instagram?
No, we made the caption. But I never said that I was on the jet!
I just said I’m going to New York! I never said, “Oh, I’m pulling up to the jet, to the big boy jet, I’m about to take off.” I never said anything like that. And so people kind of just took it and ran with it, and made it their own. Which was cool! Because I joke, I play all the time. For me, I never once get mad if I’m getting trolled or if I’m trending. I look at it like, “A motherfucker is popping! Let’s take advantage of this shit.” I’m calling WE TV like “Yo, y’all seen this shit? A motherfucker’s the number one trending topic right now! Hey listen, here’s what we need to do: I’m about to go heavy with the promo, right? We about to go AWOL with it. I need all my photos, I need videos of the show, ain’t nothing going to be on the ’gram but Growing Up Hip Hop: Atlanta. Let’s go! I need T-shirts… let’s amp it up!” ’Cause I’m a hustler. People don’t understand that—I feed into that.
You clearly have a sense of humor about yourself.
You got to. I think people who are sensitive to jokes are guys who lack self-confidence. I didn’t turn my comments off, the picture’s still up, because I did no wrong—I never said I was on the plane! I just feel like Black Twitter was bored, and somebody took a picture of me in first class, and of course that was me. I’m not gonna say, “No, that was Photoshopped.” I was in first class, you know what I’m saying? It wasn’t like I was in coach. I was on my phone, I was on the Wi-Fi, I was chilling! And somebody just really wanted to be famous, I guess, and they assumed. But when you assume, you make an ass out of yourself. So I let the world take it for what it is, and they made it big, they got it cracking, and I love it. I feel like America will accept you if you roll with it. So shit, I’m gonna roll with it. It ain’t negative! It ain’t like I hit a woman and I’m ducking and hiding—that’s detrimental to a career if you do some lifely shit. This ain’t no lifely shit. They joke on everybody. So if you can’t take one on the chin, then you ain’t built for it.
So did you look through the #BowWowChallenge hashtag? Do you have favorites?
I thought Chance the Rapper’s was dope cause he had his daughter, they had the matching Yeezys, I thought that was fly. French made me laugh, French Montana, he’s the homie. He had me dying cause he was like, “I love you little bro but they got me too.” His wasn’t really a Bow Wow challenge, what it was was he went through a situation where there was a guy who looked identical to French, and that guy fell asleep drunk in a bodega. And for the longest people kept telling French, “Yo, dog, why did you pass out?” And French was fighting motherfuckers like, “That wasn’t me!” And it wasn’t him, but damn it looked identical. So he revisited his troll and put it back up with the hashtag, I thought that was cool. Fifty’s was cool.
But it was all cool, I had no problem with it at all. Like, I tell folks how the media works. I’ve been doing this since I was 5 years old. A celebrity does some dumb shit every day. It’s just how it is. There’s gonna be a celebrity that’s gonna do something, either tomorrow or next week, and that’s gonna be the biggest shit going. It’s going to trump your story, and there you have it.
So I also have to ask about your tweet where you defended Snoop Dogg after President Trump went after him, and ended up threatening to “pimp” the first lady. My first reaction when I saw that tweet was that it definitely came off wrong. We’ve all made bad tweets. But the way some people reacted, even suggesting that you should be attacked by the Secret Service, seemed uncalled for.
It was a sensitive time. Women were marching all across the country for their rights, they’ve been fighting for their rights for so long. I have a daughter, and I guess the word pimp, I never knew it was that strong. I mean I know a lot of women are looking at pimps like they’re sleazeballs. I’m not a pimp, that’s not my thing. But… it was a quick jab. And maybe I should have left her out of it. People go at Donald Trump every day. We live in a country where there is freedom of speech. As for me, I felt like maybe I should have not said anything at all. But it was hard, because Snoop is somebody who is more than just a somebody to me. He found me, he’s the reason why I’m here, he’s the reason why I’m talking to you right now. So I felt sensitive to it. It really wasn’t a mad thing behind it, it was just like a joke, it really was. Maybe it was a distasteful joke. For the women that were offended by it, I apologize, because I really didn’t mean no harm behind it. And I’ve heard worse things being said about the president. Even celebrities have said the wildest stuff. Madonna said something that was just—I don’t really have the balls to say what Madonna said.
I think she said that she’s thought about burning down the White House.
Oh my god! If I would’ve said that, Jesus Christ. I would have been hanging upside down on the Empire State building. But like I said, there was no real aggression behind it, I wasn’t trying to offend. I could have used a better choice of words. I didn’t know pimping was that bad. I do now, but I didn’t before. Because that’s something in hip hop that we say in lyrics, we say in our rhymes, and I think that that was just the rapper side coming out of me. And I could have not said anything at all, or I could have kept her out of it. Because she is innocent, and she didn’t say anything about Snoop.
You and Snoop are obviously really close—what was your initial reaction when you saw the president of the United States tweeting about him?
It just shows you how iconic he is! He’s one of our living icons. We don’t have a lot left. Snoop, Jay Z, guys from the late ’90s, that gangster rap era. We lost Pac, we lost B.I.G. And for us to still have these guys here… Also, it shows you how much time the president really has! I think that for him to log on and tweet Snoop personally was dope. I thought it was so dope. Me and Snoop and Wiz Khalifa, we’re all in the same group chat, we spoke and laughed about it. I asked Dogg, I was like, “What are we gonna do about it?” and he was like, “You know, we already did the damage, just let it roll over. Everything will clear up in a week and everything will go back to normal.” So I listened to him and stayed off of it, and it is what it is.
My favorite part of that whole story was when The New York Times reported that you and Snoop were actually related.
The best one for me was when I watched the Fox one, I don’t know the guy’s name, but he was like, “Yea, his name is Bow Wow, aka little bitch.” And they were like, “He’s a dog, he thinks he’s so tough.” And me and my boys are laughing, I’m like, “I’m on Fox News! They got me up here like I’m on trial!” The tweet thing hit me when we were in the airport actually, like, “Yo, do you know what’s on the television in every airport? The fucking news.” So I said hey, we gonna move like this [pulls on his hoodie and zips his sweatshirt up all the way]… If there was anything I was nervous about it was that, going out in public, because you can’t beat Fox News and CNN. But it was OK. We all make mistakes, we all say things that we don’t mean at times, but it’s all about learning from your mistakes.