Picks and Pans Review: Unleashed

updated 09/15/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/15/2003 01:00AM

BOW WOW (Columbia)

On his third CD, Bow Wow wants you to know that he is Lil' no more. The 16-year-old rapper attempts to play with the big boys on a set that features harder beats and less parent-friendly lyrics. "I can't lie/I like B-O-O-T-Y," he rhymes on the percolating opening track, "Get It Poppin', " Elsewhere Bow Wow sounds a lot like a mini LL Cool J on smooth R&B-ish jams such as "The Don, the Dutch," while he experiments with jazz-rap (think A Tribe Called Quest) on "The Movement." Despite these steps forward, though, Bow Wow still has a lot of growing up to do as an artist. Although his voice has gotten deeper, he has yet to really develop his own style and sometimes regresses to playing to the kiddie crowd. "Eighteen" is juvenile pop hip-hop that is too corny to appeal to anyone over the age of 8. Meanwhile, "To My Mama" reveals that underneath all that thuggish posturing, Bow Wow remains a puppy dog at heart.

BOTTOM LINE: Uneven

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