Like a proud parent watching his or her child successfully progress through maturity, R&B listeners have both seen and heard the effortless progression of velvet voiced Mario. Two years ago, the Baltimore native was crooning about such innocent affairs as hair braiding and the always dreaded “friend zone”, but these days adult feelings such as seductive love, sexual practices, and infidelity are Mario’s desired subject matter. Now 18-years-old and sounding better than ever, manhood has welcomed Mario in nicely, and, as evidenced on his recently released sophomore album Turning Point, his talents should easily continue to develop.
Arriving at this comfortable point in his career has been an eventful journey for the dedicated young man. After being discovered by current manager Troy Patterson during a performance at a college talent show while only 11-years-old, Patterson brought the wide-eyed singer to the attention of J Records mogul Clive Davis. A jaw-dropping rendition of Boyz II Men’s “I’ll Make Love To You” sealed the deal, and his self-titled debut hit shelves in 2002, powered by the hit Biz Markie update “Just A Friend 2002”.
Mario’s youthful appeal was seemingly limited by time’s constraints, however, as the natural trials of pre-adulthood began to present themselves. Realizing that this maturation needed to be evident on record as well, Mario put pen to paper, co-writing several songs that could capture his personal growth for the new album. Led by the undeniable soul of the Scott Storch-produced smash “Let Me Love You”, Turning Point is a fitting collection of grown-up R&B that manages to transcend age boundaries with its genuine skill and execution.
Just like fine wine, Mario seems to be improving with each passing year, promising a lasting career full of high expectations. With industry elite such as Alicia Keys, Lil Jon, and Jadakiss cosigning on his potential, Mario’s Turning Point may, in actuality, be his true genesis. In the midst of his hectic schedule, Mario took time out to build with AllHipHop.com Alternatives about his journey into adulthood, his fans, and his bright future.
AHHA: Having been successful at such a young age when Mario dropped back in 2002, what lessons did you learn about the industry that helped you in making Turning Point?
Mario: Oh man! Be able to work really hard and be ready to not get as much sleep as you wan to. You got to be ready to be up for long periods of time to get the job done. Basically, giving up things that you are used to doing and having. You have to give up a lot of things that are important to you, and make some real sacrifices in order to reach that level of success that you want.
AHHA: What sacrifices did you have make that you weren’t expecting at first, and maybe had trouble dealing with at such a young age?
Mario: I wasn’t able to be with my family as much once that album came out. Being away from home so much because I was constantly on the road was a lot for me to deal with at that time. It was very surprising. After awhile though, you start getting used to it. You start to realize that that’s what happens when you’re doing what I do. Everything happens for a reason. You learn what is needed to get where you want to go, and how you have to make it happen. It all depends on where you’re trying to go with things. I’ve known from the beginning that I want to make great music that will stand the test of time, so to make that happen, I made the necessary sacrifices.
AHHA: Being away from your family and your home for such long periods of time, how are you able to keep yourself grounded?
Mario: You learn things and you see that you only really have God. Once you realize that, you’re able to keep moving and keep going. Once you lose focus on the fact that you’re not bigger than your success, you lose focus of the fact that God is on top of everything. That’s when you just lose it, period. You have to try not to lose that.
AHHA: Having that important sense of awareness now, it seems that you’ve matured nicely coming into this new album. Were there any concerns, though, about how you were going to approach you growth musically and from the fans’ perspective?
Mario: Definitely, man. I always hope that people take this album the right way, and that the record continues to touch people. I hope people get the same feeling from the record that I did. It’s just a great R&B record. I think it’s a timeless record. The emotion of love is something that will be around forever, and that’s something that I think helps the record make sense. I’m at the age where I’m learning how to be a man, and be able to give that affection the right way.
AHHA: The first single is huge, and it definitely seems like the perfect first look at your new growth. When you finished recording the song, could you tell right away that it was big?
Mario: Actually, at first I didn’t think it was the single. The CEO of my label, 3rd Street, kept telling me that ‘Let Me Love You’ is a big record. He kept saying, ‘That’s the single!’ I didn’t think it was my single – I was wrong. [laughs] I wanted to come out with a big club banger. The part that made me realize that ‘Let Me Love You’ was the right single though was [that] once I recorded it, I got a feeling from it that I had never gotten from a song before. The song had a certain chemistry to it. The lyrics and the simplicity of the song got me.
AHHA: One thing that is crazy about ‘Let Me Love You’ is how it has touched all listeners, from the females to even the most thugged-out guy. Does it trip you out how even the thugs are loving that song?
Mario: It does touch everyone. That’s an emotion that everybody feels, though. I don’t care if you are a stone cold killer; you still love somebody. You can’t really escape from that, and that’s why everybody can feel a song like ‘Let Me Love You’.
AHHA: You have some co-writing song credits on Turning Point. How often do you write now?
Mario: Now, I write a lot more lately. I want to be able to do a lot of songs for the next album. It took a lot of time to get used to doing. It’s an art. Once you find yourself, then you can write.
AHHA: How did you find yourself?
Mario: I just asked myself, ‘How do you capture a chemistry?’ Like, when you go into the studio, what has to be done so that you are comfortable and get in your mode? You have to have a hot track. First of all, it is different than anything I have felt before. Once you find that chemistry, you start to get the melody going, and once you start writing the words, it becomes something that is a part of you. A lot of the times when you first start writing, you think a lot of it can be better. When somebody else on the outside listens to it, they’ll be like, ‘Yo, that’s crazy!’ That’s when you find yourself as a songwriter.
AHHA: How do you think you’ve been able to groom your voice?
Mario: When I real little, my mother would take me to the barbershop sometimes. I would be in there just singing, and some of the dudes would be like, ‘Yo Mario, sing something man! I’ll give you a couple of dollars.’ All of the dudes would give me a dollar from their little booth. It was funny. From there, I started doing a lot of talent shows. I traveled a little bit and sang at different shows. The CEO of 3rd Street heard me and he had some relationships with somebody from J Records, and got me a deal up there.
AHHA: On your first album, you were talking about innocent subjects such as hair braiding, but on this album, you’re asking your ex-girlfriend why she’s teaching some new guy the ‘ghetto kama sutra’. How did the people close to you, like family and friends, react when they heard this new adult style?
Mario: Most of the reactions that I’ve had have been really good. Everybody understands the transitions that I’m making. They agree with it. When something is natural, I don’t think you can deny it.
AHHA: Alicia Keys had some input on your first album, and you seem to have a strong relationship with her. What kind of feedback has she given you on this new album?
Mario: She loves everything about it. She thinks I’m going the right way. She told me that I’m on the right road to success. Alicia tells me to keep a level head and stay focused, and that’s definitely the most important thing. Stay focused, and always be humble. She is always smiling and is always humble.
AHHA: Now, as you have gotten older, so have your female fans. Have you noticed the ladies becoming more wild now that you are entering adulthood?
Mario: Definitely. They know more of what they want, and more of what I’m trying to do. At that time of your life, as a young girl or a young man, you’re looking for a soul mate. So, for me to come out with a record like ‘Let Me Love You’ – that’s how I feel. I feel like I can love her now. [Women] look at it as, ‘Wow. He loves me’. Come on, you know how women work off of their emotions, boy! So, that’s perfect. It’s real.
AHHA: What has been the craziest thing for you, as far as how the female fans have grown?
Mario: Well, the craziest part for me is to see how my fan base grew. That’s the craziest part for me. Like, my fans really grew with me. Some of my fans on the first album were a little older, though. Then I have the mothers coming to me, and the fathers coming to me and telling me I have a hot record. If the whole family can sit down and listen to the whole record, then you know you have a hot record. [laughs]
AHHA: On the track ‘18’ you say, ‘I got seven years to catch up’ – referring to your older R&B competition. In what ways do you think you have to catch up?
Mario: Let me explain that song to you. First, I think a lot of people didn’t think I could make the transition from a teenage artist into manhood. I just needed a record that explained to them that I’m not trying to be like anybody else. I have time to grow. So, just give me that chance to grow. I’m 18 now. As you grow, you learn, so I can’t sit here and tell you what I’m going to learn in the next few years. But I know, whatever I do learn, I will use that to better myself as a person and as an artist.
AHHA: At this point in your career, what is your ultimate goal as far as music goes?
Mario: My ultimate goal right now is to change music. To make an impact on music in a way that will go down in history. I want somebody years from now to say, ‘Mario has always had great music.’ It doesn’t have to be the number one song in the world. Just great music.