Mario Aims Wide With J Records Debut

Excerpted from the magazine for

Just because he's young, don't dismiss Mario as another teen artist. According to J Records chief Clive Davis, Mario is special in that he also possesses adult appeal. "Yes, he's 15, and teens and younger kids like him," Davis notes. "But we know through call-out [research] that we have mass appeal here. He's an original with an amazing vocal range."

Mario is currently making a name for himself with lead single "Just a Friend 2002" from his eponymous July 23 debut. An update of the 1989 Biz Markie hip-hop jam "Just a Friend" and produced by Warryn Campbell, the tune stands at No. 9 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks and No. 13 on The Billboard Hot 100.

Mario's debut set also features production by Harvey Mason, Gerald Isaac, and award-winning labelmate Alicia Keys, who contributes two songs, including "Put Me On." Initially appearing on the "Dr. Doolittle 2" soundtrack (on "Tameeka" featuring rapper Fabolous), Mario came to Davis' attention one year ago by way of a talent show in the artist's native Baltimore -- the breeding ground of such acts as Dru Hill and Ruff Endz.

"At the time, I didn't really know who Clive was, so I had to do my research," recalls Mario. "I went to his office and sang for him. After that, things just started taking off."

Calling to mind a young Michael Jackson or Tevin Campbell, Mario's assured vocals definitely belie the singer's 15 years. That comes across particularly well on the simple yet deep ballad "Never" about not hurting or disrespecting a girlfriend.

Mario notes, "I know [the song] is a little mature, but I've already been through a couple of things. When I first heard the song, I could understand exactly what was going on. I also needed something like that on my album, because I don't always want to attract listeners my age. I want to attract all ages."

In addition to airplay on BET and MTV of the video clip for "Friend," Mario has made appearances on the respective channels' "106 & Park" and "Total Request Live" shows. The artist will also star in a half-hour Nickelodeon special this month and contributes the track "Put Me On" to the "Like Mike" soundtrack (So So Def/Sony Music Soundtrax), which debuts this week at No. 10 on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and No. 18 on The Billboard 200.

Sounding wiser than his age attests, Mario says he's not in "this for the girls, fame, or money. And I'm not trying to imitate anyone. I'm doing my own thing. That's it."

Excerpted from the July 13, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the members section.

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