|Next Project:||And Then There Was Me|
|Twitter:||Mario on Twitter|
It’s been said that we’re in the midst of a musical Renaissance—whether you agree or disagree, it’s hard to deny that many of the industry’s foremost movers and shakers fit the ‘Renaissance man’ (or woman) archetype to a tee. With a résumé that includes acting, modeling, songwriting, and dance (to name a few), Mario is a shining example of this ideal, but the many music-lovers who have followed the 22-year-old overachiever since he dropped his self-titled debut back in 2002 will always know him best as one of new-school R&B’s top-tier talents. Now, the Baltimore singer is preparing for the release of And Then There Was Me, a fourth LP that will prove once and for all that a ‘jack of all trades’ can nonetheless be a master of his craft.
With the release of Bangladesh-produced, Gucci Mane & Sean Garrett-assisted lead single “Break Up,” Mario surprised fans by forgoing traditional balladry in favor of a less conventional sound, but, as demonstrated by the cut’s current position on our own R&B Chart, though, the singer’s risk-taking paid off. Now, listeners are eagerly awaiting the further musical surprises the singer has in store on his fourth studio album, set to drop sometime this summer.
In an exclusive interview with our own DJ “Z,” Mario steps into the Booth to discuss the personal and artistic growth that have played into his musical innovation, the drama (and unfortunate irony) surrounding leaked cut “Emergency Room,” and just how titillated he was by a certain starlet’s topless photographs.
Listen to the Interview
Mario Interview Transcription
DJ Booth: What’s goin’ on, everybody? It’s your boy, “Z,” doin’ it real big, and joining me inside the DJ Booth is a gifted young man whose diverse skills have led to quite a few accomplishments, which include platinum-certified albums, an acting role in an acclaimed motion picture, a long run on a competitive reality television show, and the start of a children’s foundation—not too bad, if you ask me! Please welcome, for the third time, my man Mario—how are you?
Mario: What’s goin’ on, man? It’s good to talk to you again. That was a helluva introduction. A lot of people seem to get the facts wrong, but you seem to get ‘em all right! [laughs]
DJ Booth: I do my research; I wasn’t gonna do you like that!
Mario: There’s a lot more to it, though. Thanks for havin’ me.
DJ Booth: Absolutely, thank you for joining me. Mario, your brand new single, “Break Up,” hit our front page in April, and it has risen up our R&B chart every week since. You have said that this could be one of the biggest records of your career.
Mario: Any time you’re a multi-platinum artist, and any time you’ve had big records, it’s good to come back with something different you haven’t done before, and those tend to be the records that take you to another level. So, being that “Break Up” is so different for me as a singer, I think that it will end up being a huge record in my career and, not just that, a record that allows me to go to another level as a performer and as a singer. I’ve proved already that I can sing good music, I’ve proved already that I’m one of the best, if not the best of our new generation of singers, so I wanted to do a record that would show my personality, and allow me to team up with good friends like Sean Garrett and Gucci Mane and just shine, and do something young and fresh that’s not out there.
DJ Booth: When you take a chance like that, and do something that your core fanbase is, up to this point, unfamiliar with, does that make you nervous?
Mario: Yeah, it does, but it’s also exciting, because I feel like, if you don’t take a chance on something, and it’s your career, and you don’t take a chance at stepping out into unfamiliar waters, how will you ever know what you can do, and what your fans will accept and what they won’t accept. That’s one thing, and another reason I did it is just because it’s a fun song. I’m 22 years old, I grew up listening to love songs, I grew up listening to The Whispers and Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke and Stevie Wonder, even people like Joe and R. Kelly who, of course, led the way for artists like myself. I’m 22 years old, I didn’t want to come out with a song that was just about love, a slow record that’s not who I am. This is a record about a relationship, I just twisted it up a little bit, and I wanted to do something that was more creative.
DJ Booth: You mentioned a relationship. Now, I am not in one right now, nor could I be in one that could be going south—if I was, could this record save a relationship?
Mario: I’ll tell you one thing: a record like “Break Up,” it makes you ask yourself the question, “Why should we break up?” Even though I’m sayin’ it from a mirror’s perspective, it still puts that question in your head; it makes you wonder if you breakin’ up would be the best thing to do for your relationship. And this is tough times right now, just on another note; if you love somebody and you’ve invested so much time into a relationship, why would you want to break up? You’re gonna have to start all over with somebody else, you’re not gonna wanna be alone, those nights when you’d usually have that person with you, you’re not gonna have them there. It makes you wonder about breakin’ up with that person. It definitely does.
DJ Booth: Exactly! And you mentioned hard times with our economy—plus, the joint bank account would be gone, so that’s another reason why not to.
Mario: Yeah, that’s a whole ‘nother level of relationship right there. I’m assuming you’re talking about marriage! [laughs]
DJ Booth: Absolutely. Well, this record can be played on a variety of levels…
Mario: It definitely can, no matter who you are. Lyrically, the record is amazing. It’s very exciting for me.
DJ Booth: Mario, the response from our DJBooth members was really hit or miss. A lot of your fans who are used to the slow ballad kind of guy, they were kinda like, “Eh, I’m not sure where he’s going.” Artists tell me all the time that it’s impossible to make music that everybody is going to like. Do you believe that to be true, or do you feel that you have the capability to make universally-accepted music?
Mario: I personally, as an artist, outside of putting me in a category with other artists, I think that I personally can make music that is accepted universally. Because, that’s what my album is: I didn’t make an R&B album, I didn’t make a pop album, I didn’t make a rock album, I didn’t make a hip-hop album; I made an album that just feels good and that will be accepted universally, ‘cause that’s just the direction I’m goin’ in as an artist, ‘cause that’s just where my voice is and where my life is right now. However, whatever type of record you make, I think it’s important for people to understand why you made that record, what that record means to you, and why they should go download it on iTunes. You want them to like it genuinely, like it for themselves. But “Break Up” is a reaction record. “Break Up” is a record that, when you hear it for the first time, it’s like, “Whoa, this is fresh! I’m not used to this!” It’s the same thing for me: when I go in the studio to work with a new producer or writer that doesn’t know me enough to write a song that’s true to my life, it’s a shock for me, ‘cause I’m not used to this person. But in music, and in creativity, you’ve got to try things that you aren’t used to, and it’s the same thing with fans: they’ve gotta get used to hearing something that they wouldn’t usually. But, of course, the record has to be hot.
DJ Booth: Well, this shows the evolution of your career over the last decade, and I think it’s a great step forward.
Mario: Thank you, man, thank you.
DJ Booth: You’re very, very welcome. Let’s get into the album. It’s gonna be dropping late summer, early fall. The title is And Then There Was Me, and that title is really ambiguous—it could mean a lot of different things. So, break it down for me.
Mario: Goin’ into the album I had a couple different titles I was foolin’ around with sleepin’ on. We recorded records and I was like, “Maybe this song could be the title of the album,” but I didn’t feel like there was one song on the album that explained or illustrated who I am and what I’ve become and how I’ve evolved, so I said that it has to be a statement. Because not only musically have I evolved, not only does this album separate me from the other artists in my generation, but me as a person and the things I’m doin’ outside of music, and my foundation, and business-wise, like, everything—there’s just an evolution there. And I think my fans will see it visually, also, with my videos and my performances. And Then There Was Me is more than just me sayin’ my music is fresh, but who I am as a person. That title for me is like, you’ve got the Trey Songz’, the Ne-Yos, and you’ve got the Chris Browns of the world—you’ve got all these new artists. This is my fourth album, and some of them aren’t even on their third [album]—I’m coming back with something fresh and new. And then there’s me, there’s Mario.
DJ Booth: So, when you push all these other artists to the side, and you focus in on what you do the best, that is really what this is: a showcase of where you’ve come from and where you’ve headed?
Mario: Absolutely, without a doubt. And the fans who have grown with me and who have been there from “Just a Friend 2002,” can definitely and will definitely see a difference in this record and what I’m bringin’.
DJ Booth: Mario, last we spoke, we discussed the continuously delayed release of your last album, Go. You said, “When my fans are disappointed, I’m disappointed.” So, how can you ensure your fans, myself included, that they won’t be disappointed leading up to this brand new go-around?
Mario: How can I ensure that they won’t be disappointed? That’s a hard question to answer, man. It’s one of those things where, if I put 110% towards being the best artist that I can be, continuing to make fresh music and continuing to challenge myself, I feel like it’s also pleasing to my fans to go on that route with me. And my way of ensuring [they’re not] disappointed is continuing to make music that is better than what they’re hearin’ on the radio and that is up to par with the direction that I’m going in. Hopefully, they’ll enjoy the album; I think it’s amazing.
DJ Booth: I remember you telling me that you really never stopped recording throughout the past delays and throughout the release of the last album. So, this new album, will it contain all newer recordings, or will it consist of a handful of releases that have been in the can for a few years?
Mario: Everything that’s on this album is fresh, it’s new. Some of the songs on my mixtape that’s out right now were songs I recorded maybe five months ago, because I felt like they were that good and they weren’t gonna be on the album. Those are records that may be on the mixtape, but everything on the album is fresh.
DJ Booth: There was some unintentional drama when a demoed reference track entitled “Emergency Room,” which is on the mixtape you speak of, supposedly featuring vocals from Rihanna, leaked to the ‘net shortly after she and Chris Brown made headlines. So, why don’t you clear everything up for everybody—what’s the story behind the unfortunately ironic timing of that leak?
Mario: Well, “Emergency Room” was a record demoed originally by someone in Akon’s camp, and it was originally said that Akon was on the record, but he wasn’t. When the record was played to me by the guy who produced the record—his name is SoundZ, he’s a dope producer, he works with Red Zone—he played it for me and he told me it didn’t belong to anybody. I loved the record, I said, “Let me do my own version of it,” so that I did. Rihanna was supposed to listen to it in the next week or two and give me feedback on it, but unfortunately the incident with her and Chris happened, and we never got around to it, and the record leaked out.
DJ Booth: So at this point it’s just gonna be a mixtape-and-done, or is it something that you still think could make an album?
Mario: I think the record itself is amazing, the subject matter… a great record is a great record. It’s gotten a lot of love on the Internet. I would love to do it with Rihanna, because I think the record’s a smash, I think the record is widely appreciated across all formats, so if it happens it happens, if it doesn’t, it’ll just be another great record that leaked on the Internet.
DJ Booth: Speaking of leaks, though, you and Ne-Yo, every time I turn around, have a new song seemingly popping up somewhere on the ‘net? What do you contribute to all these leaks, and how can they stop?
Mario: Man… I worked at a lot of studios recording my album. There are a lot of people that pass through studios, a lot of engineers, a lot of stuff gets left at studios, and it gets leaked out. And a lot of times, people hack Gmail accounts—my Gmail account has been hacked multiple times, I know producers whose Emails have been hacked; Rodney Jerkins, who I worked with, his Email was hacked and a song we did together called “Promised Land” was leaked out. It’s inevitable. Like, you’ve got to keep one hard drive on you, you’ve got to know at all times who has copies of your records. Hopefully, whatever you put your voice on is a smash—you [can only] put your voice on good music. [laughs]
DJ Booth: I tell people this all the time: it’s really hard to contain a leak, but you’d have a bigger problem as an artist if your stuff leaked and nobody cared about it.
Mario: Right—you can’t put your voice on nothing you don’t want it on. That’s one thing that I’ve definitely learned.
DJ Booth: Mario, in your Twitter bio, you list the following, “singer, sensation, actor, writer, philanthropist, dancer.” Out of those six occupations, which is the most challenging, which is the most fun, and which provides the most fulfillment?
Mario: Wow… that’s a great question.
DJ Booth: Thank you.
Mario: The most challenging for me would probably be the dancing part of it, ‘cause it’s not something you’re doing every single day, 24/7. It’s tough to just get out there. I’m not really a freestyle [dancer]—I’m becoming a better freestyle dancer as I perform and stuff like that, but it wasn’t a natural gift for me.
DJ Booth: What about fulfillment? Which of those six provides the most fulfillment in your life?
Mario: I would say singing, man, ‘cause, if it wasn’t for my opportunity to express myself through music, no one would know who I am. That’s where I got my start, and that’s opened a lot of doors for me to do everything else that I’ve done. And philanthropy too, but the singing moreso.
DJ Booth: We’re going to get into a segment, it’s called “According to Twitter.” Pretty much, I stalked your Twitter page, I took some notes, and now we’re gonna talk about it. First one: you’ve been hittin’ the studio and the gym—you are ripped, my dude. What are you bench pressing right now—250, 270?
Mario: The picture you see on my Twitter page is maybe four months old, I would say, ‘cause I started my Twitter page like a month and a half ago. At the time, the most I probably bench pressed was like 285, 290. You bulk up, and what happens is, if you don’t keep it up it just disappears.
DJ Booth: You’re talking to the right guy. I know all about when you don’t work out, you lose the muscle; I am the perfect example.
Mario: It’s irritating.
DJ Booth: Second “According to Twitter:” you are a fan of Cassie’s now-famous topless photo, so, Mario, on a five-nipple scale, where would she rank?
Mario: [laughs] She’s got a five, absolutely. They’re not the biggest—and no disrespect to Diddy for talkin’ about his woman like this, but it’s out there—they’re not huge, they’re not very big breasts, but they’re very nice nipples. Beautiful nipples. I’m a nipple guy, and nipples, yes, beautiful, love it. Five.
DJ Booth: Last “According to Twitter:” you are a Need 4 Speed addict, and I am not talkin’ about the video game; you admitted receiving not one, but two speeding tickets over a three-day span—what’s up there?
Mario: It’s hard to ride three thousand miles across the country and not hit top speed. It’s hard to sit in a car, that’s, like, a Maserati, and not hit it top-speed. When you’re ridin’ behind Bugattis and Lambos, it’s tempting. It was worth it, and I ended up with four tickets.
DJ Booth: So you doubled what I read on Twitter?
DJ Booth: What is the color of this Maserati?
Mario: Charcoal-gray. If you go online to pumamotorsport.com, or if you wait another week I’ll have all my videos up on my YouTube channel, from my Gumball experience. It was crazy, it was amazing, I’m definitely doing it next year. There were more guys than women, so we’re gonna take a whole bus and make it a movie.
DJ Booth: Well, you know what? If you need a few extras, you know who to call, right?
Mario: You already know, I’ve got you on that early.
DJ Booth: Obviously, what everyone’s excited about is your upcoming fourth album. It’s a big step in one’s career. How do you plan to make this the right step forward, not only toward a fifth album, but toward another few decades of prominence as an R&B singer.
Mario: Of course, startin’ off with “Break Up,” it’s a record where I can show a performance element that I’ve never done before, a personality element that I’ve never done before in my videos or most of my songs, and then midtempo records and slow records. But not only that, I’ve had so much more creative control [over] this record as opposed to the other records. Coming into your own feeling, and knowing who you are, and becoming you are, as you release records is amazing. It’s amazing, because I’m able to just try new things and challenge myself.
DJ Booth: To bring this interview full circle, I introduced you as a diverse, multi-talented young man who does a wide variety of things in a wide variety of lanes. Do you ever concern yourself that you’ve always strived to take on too much, and it’ll affect how you do each of those individual things?
Mario: Absolutely. And it’s funny, because I was looking at the interview that Floyd Mayweather did with the reporter dude, was it on ESPN, the other day?
DJ Booth: Mm-hm.
Mario: And he was tellin’ the guy, he was like, “You’re a jack of all trades and a master of none.” And I thought about it for a minute. I’ve done so many things in so many categories that some artists haven’t done, but at the same time I haven’t mastered, mastered any. But, with this album, that’s what I plan to do.
DJ Booth: Give everybody a website, a MySpace page, a Twitter account, so they can find out more about you.
DJ Booth: Mario, I thank you so much for takin’ the time once again to join me inside the DJ Booth. It was an absolute pleasure to speak with you, and the continued best of luck, my friend.
Mario: I’m lookin forward to doin’ it again, man. You already know. Thank y’all, man, peace and love out there.