When we sat down with soon-to-be 21-year-old R&B singer Mario, his album title was Effortless and J Records’ President Clive Davis was in the process of deciding a cover. Less than a month later, an album title change to Go indicates what most consumers are now aware of – nothing is set in stone until the album actually drops. Regardless of the date or the name, Mario promises us the music will be what we least expect from him – in a good way, of course.
It has been quite a year for Mario. His acting career has picked up with roles in Step Up and Hillary Swank’s new movie Freedom Writers. On the personal front, Mario took some drastic, grown-up steps by filing a lawsuit against his former manager and childhood guardian after discovering millions of dollars were being stolen from him. No easy task for a child who grew up in a single parent household with a mother who had a drug problem.
“Let Me Love You” and “Just A Friend” are great R&B tracks, but teenage R&B is different from adult R&B. How is this once 16-year-old dancing and singing sensation going to transition into adulthood? Mario lets us know exactly what his fame and his fans mean to him.
AllHipHop.com Alternatives: You said you want to talk about your fans, let’s talk about them.
Mario: There’s a lot of fans. Once I started this MySpace thing, and I’ve been on it a lot lately…
AHHA: Did you start it?
Mario: Well I have a personal one, and then there is one which the label and I started together. I didn’t know how many fans I had of different ethnic backgrounds, different age levels, it’s beautiful man.
AHHA: Have you ever toured internationally? So you must have had some idea…
Mario: Yeah I have. Australia is my favorite. I love it all, but Australia was the highlight for me. It was the end of the tour and I went out every night. I just had a ball in Australia. The people were good, the food was great. The women were amazing – their personalities…
AHHA: What have you been doing since your last album came out?
M- Recording this album, shooting films – I did two film projects. Thank god, they came across very well.
AHHA: Let’s talk about Step Up.
Mario: We shot that in Baltimore, my home town. The film itself did really well; everybody was really good in the film. The cast was great; the script was really good. I personally enjoyed my character a lot. I enjoyed his personality. I enjoyed his ups and downs. I was really able to connect with him.
AHHA: What about Freedom Writers? You’re working opposite Hillary Swank. What’s the movie about?
Mario: Freedom Writers is a very intense film about a teacher who changes the lives of a group of students, who went to a school that was not interested in their education, interested in their life at all. And she came and basically changed all of that by helping them discover that they were important – they meant something to the world, they meant something to other people’s lives. She basically helped them discover themselves. These are kids from all different backgrounds. My character happened to be an African-American kid from the west coast who grew up with his mother having drug problems, with a father who was a pimp and was never there, with a brother who was like his best friend but is doing life in jail. So he was basically supporting the household.
AHHA: How was the recording process different from your other albums?
Mario: This process – I was a lot more involved in my album. A lot more involved in making some of the bigger decisions, handling everything, making sure the business is right. I felt like this is where I am, this is where I’m supposed to be. It’s not just, “Oh his record is coming out” – it’s a movement for me. It’s a period of my life where I am defining who I am. This is going to matter two years from now.
AHHA: You felt more in charge?
Mario: Yeah absolutely, handpicking who I wanted to work with.
AHHA: You have a lot of appearances on this album….
Mario: Production wise, yeah.
AHHA: Is there anyone you didn’t work with that you wanted to?
Mario: I didn’t work with Kanye West on this album. I wanted to work with Kanye. I think he is a visionary. I think that he is a big part of Hip-Hop. And he brings a lot to Hip-Hop and Hip-Hop is definitely an element that – R&B and Hip-Hop run head to head when it comes to today’s music and how it influences our culture.
AHHA: Did you reach out to him?
Mario: Yeah but I’m pretty much done with this project now so I’d rather just wait for till next time. I worked with Akon, Nelly, Sean Garrett, Alicia Keys…
AHHA: What was your favorite?
Mario: I like all the songs. I love the record I did with Pharrell called “Go.” It kind of explains how I am in the club, when it comes to the ladies.
AHHA: You also worked Ne-Yo?
Mario: Yeah I worked with Ne-Yo on the project. We co-wrote a song called “If” – it’s a classic.
AHHA: Everywhere you see Ne-Yo’s name, you see Mario’s because obviously he co-wrote one of your biggest hits. Were you given that song to sing?
Mario: No, we were actually in the studio together. He played the song from his point of view. And when I listened to it, I listened to it from my point of view. He wrote the song, Scott Storch produced it.
AHHA: Did you ever think he would be such a star?
Mario: At the time I knew he wanted to be a singer – he definitely had the voice, he definitely had the talent for it. I guess his shot just hadn’t came yet, but I’m happy that it did and I’m glad that he’s been able to do what he wants to do.
AHHA: So what made you want to work with him this time around?
Mario: We weren’t even in the studio together this time. I don’t know what happened. I heard the song first. I did my part, he did his part. I liked what he did so I kept it. We wrote the bridge on the song to really put the finishing touch on it.
AHHA: On the internet we read about your case with your former manager. Do you want to speak about that?
Mario: We can speak about it. It was just basically something that I had to overcome and I had to get some business right before I went into this new project. Obviously did what I had to do so I could move on with my career. And not regret doing it; I had to handle something that had to be handled right away.
AHHA: So how did you find out that he was doing something?
Mario: You know what? I wasn’t comfortable with where I was, so I had to get myself out of the situation.
AHHA: Did you grow up in a single parent household?
Mario: Yeah, it was pretty much just me and mom. All the memories are with me and mother. I don’t really go out with my pops, although we have a good relationship now, which is a blessing.
AHHA: Was your mom on drugs when you were younger?
Mario: My mother, yeah, she did go through a lot of self-esteem issues, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m so focused now and the decisions that I make. There’s a lot of other kids and young adults that go through the same thing. And it’s funny because if you ever think that you can’t do something because of something like that – a situation you go through – know that you can. Know that you can overcome it. It’s a blessing. Everybody… just because you are so close with somebody, that’s not your life. You still have your own life to live. But I always there for her and she was always there for me.
AHHA: What advice would give to young people?
Mario: I would definitely tell them to be conscious of the decisions that they make. Not to let another person’s life be your downfall. That wall in front of you that you lean up against and can’t push further, you got to climb over that.
AHHA: The first thing I thought about when I read this story was, “Oh my god it must have been hard” – [your manager] was probably somewhat of a father figure, correct?
Mario: Yeah it was. But I feel like people come in and out of your life all the time. And you got to take the good with the bad and you learn from your mistakes.
AHHA: You become independent…
Mario: Absolutely. You become independent. That’s the good part of being an artist and being able to travel – being able to have other outlets. I don’t just sing; I have movies. I’m also working with a friend and we’re putting a shoe line together. It’s on the low right now.
AHHA: That character – Andre in your new movie – you must have related to. Was that hard to play?
Mario: I related to him. Yeah, there were parts. I had this scene where I was leaving the house and my mother in the film was strung out, and she was on the couch and she had taken drugs for so long that she basically couldn’t comprehend anything anymore. So I had got her a plate of food before I had left the house, and plus I had to go make money – so I gave her the food and I left. And that part was hard because it kind of took me right back to some of the days that my ma was going through. But I was glad to be able to do something like that and influence people you know what I mean? The truth hurts sometimes.
AHHA: What’s some the biggest challenge of acting compared to singing?
Mario: The biggest challenge of acting is just showing that you can do it. When I’m shooting I’m not like I’m trying to prove myself. It’s like overall, your doing it so that you can have the opportunity to do any role that you would like to do and that’s where I want to get to. A point where I can hand pick my roles and say ok I want to do that, or wait until the right scripts…One day I might even do my own production company.
AHHA: You’ve thought about it…
Mario: You see me thinking right?
AHHA: What else have you thought about?
Mario: For some reason I want to host fashion shows…I love to see women walk down the runway. All over the world – I like fashion shows. Maybe I’ll go with Tyra. We can do something together.
AHHA: Is that a call to Tyra?
Mario: [looks in the camera] Hey Tyra how you doing? I love your shows, I love what you’re doing, I think you’re beautiful, intelligent.
AHHA: If you could collaborate with anybody who would it be?
Mario: Dead or alive? It would definitely be Marvin Gaye, because he had this soul – he was classic. He was around for a long time and he’s still here.
AHHA: What about alive?
Mario: Fall Out Boyz.
AHHA: Sweet! You turn 21 next year. What are you most looking forward to?
Mario: I don’t know. I’m going to do everything. When I turn 21, I’m going to have a taste of all the drinks that I wouldn’t dare to taste right now.
AHHA: Given the fate of most child stars, were you ever worried about transitioning your career into adulthood?
Mario: Definitely. But I’ve always felt like whether I made it or not into adulthood, which is funny, because I think some people who are older than me will always consider me the young Mario, of course. But my fans, just like I grow, they grow. Just like everyday it a new revelation for me, everyday is a new revelation for them. We automatically grow and my music will continue to grow. Just like when you hear this album, you’ll hear the growth, you’ll hear all those deeper thoughts, the fantasies, the kinky songs that I do. You’ll hear them, because that’s me.