Heed recently sat down with the “other” Mario whose music we all loved to play growing up. The young crooning casanova is reemerging with his highly anticipated album slated for an early 2017 release. Asantewaa Ricks of Artist Republic, an entertainment strategy group, moderated our discussion with Mr. Bennett.
Asantewaa – It’s Mario! People have been looking for you. Where have you been?
Mario – I’ve been everywhere. You can see fans taking pictures of me at shows – in the studio and different places. I’ve been working though and really gearing up to release a new project next year.
Asantewaa – Do you know the name of it yet?
Mario – It’s called Paradise Cove
Asantewaa – So Mario take us back. You’ve been in the music for almost 15 years now. How did you get started in music?
Mario – Started singing in church, singing at home, singing at talent shows for the young kid in Baltimore. It was a really popular thing to do. There’s a school called Coppin State. That had big talent shows. Had all these new artists coming to judge the talent show. So, it was something to give the inner-city school kids an outlet and kind of share their gifts and be apart of something in the community. I got a deal when I was 14 by someone who seen me at a talent show basically and introduced me to Clive Davis. I sang for Clive Davis and he signed me on the spot.
Asantewaa – What’s so interesting about the J Records and Mario relationship was one that we kind of thought would never end. A few years ago, you were making a move for independence and started New Citizen. What is New Citizen?
Mario – The way the J Records situation happened was this: J Records was a company started by Clive. They merged RCA with Arista and Jive became RCA. So that’s pretty much how J Records ended. I transitioned out of that when there were so many changes in the company. I kind of just wanted to take my music, take my brand and go elsewhere. So, I started my own label to be a record label that goes against the path they were taking me down.
Asantewaa – What does that name represent?
Mario – It represents the creative guy. My growth outside of music has given me a foundation that I feel really inspires me from everything that I do in terms of spirituality and being a new citizen of my own. That’s why the title is a personal thing. When we do it with our hearts and we do it without fear – we go for it and nothing can stop us.
Asantewaa – Over the last year or so we’re getting a holistic approach to understanding Mario. You’re working on a book. You talk a lot about spirituality being from the inside out. So, just talk to us a little bit more about the book that you have. Where did this inside out approach come from?
Mario – Life, you know? Being a young artist and seeing how choices effect people around me. I feel like my calling is a little bit different than my peers in that, in order for me to sustain a certain level of consciousness, I needed to live a different type of lifestyle. So, I chose to do the vegan thing for more reasons than one. That type of perception is what led me to want to write a book. The things I was seeing around me and the people I grew up with in Baltimore who didn’t know how to get themselves out of certain mental spaces.
Asantewaa – You’re like a dope songwriter. You have all of these energy beads and talk about spirituality and health in your book. Are we getting some of this story in this new project?
Mario – Absolutely! Definitely! You’re still getting classic love songs on this project but you’re getting them from a different perspective. Different sounds and different vibes. I’m still working on the album. There’s parts of it that I feel like I want to take a little bit deeper and then there’s other parts that are more commercial. Definitely, you’re going to get a deeper and more transparent experience.
Asantewaa – You worked on a project with Rico Love and one of the things that you said is, “amongst the challenges with the album is that it didn’t tell the right story for you as an artist”. So, is that becoming more important to you, not just having hit records but having your story being told as an artist?
Mario – There’s so many different stories to tell. But, telling stories that I’m interested in telling is very important. Lyrically, sometimes having another artist or having other writers work with you doesn’t work. Sometimes it does depending on if that artist writes in a way that fits the direction you’re going. I really think it’s more about the perspective in the song. I feel like the project should bring your family closer. You’re music is like an avatar for you.
Asantewaa – For the many artists that are looking up to you, since you’re almost a vet in the game, what are the biggest lessons and takeaways that you’ve learned over the last 15 years?
Mario – The lessons that I learned then, some of them don’t apply now. I think now, it’s having a great sounding project. A great cohesive project. A project that you’re really passionate about. You’re able to go out here spend hours getting the creatives together, touring, doing interviews. I like to see artists who love to do something outside of just having a hit record like you said. Who is the artist? Who is behind the music?
Asantewaa – Artist think that to be successful it’s about chasing radio.
Mario – Radio is definitely a component of it but I guess you have to decide what type of artist you want to be.
Asantewaa – What do you think an artist should strive toward? You think they should strive to be an artist that’s chasing radio?
Mario – I think an artist and the person behind the artist should strive to be whatever they want to be. I can’t really tell somebody you should strive to do that. You should strive to do whatever you want to do. If you believe in yourself and you have people around you that believe in you anything is possible.
Asantewaa – Can you give us a little teaser into what this album is going to feel like? Your single is so different from what we expected visually and creatively. What should we expect from the new album?
Mario – The single is definitely different from everything else on the album. I did that single almost a year ago. It’s something I had planned on releasing. So, I don’t even know if that song is going to be on the album. This album has different vibes on it. I would say that it’s R&B, Alternative Soul, Pop. Overall the vibe is classic and concepts that everybody can relate to.
Asantewaa – What mental space were you in when you recorded this album? Where were you in your life?
Mario – I’m where I am now. I’m in different mental spaces everyday. Everyday I’m experiencing something different. That’s the hardest part about recording an album. It indirectly puts in you in box because you have to choose what parts of yourself you want to show. It’s hard to put everything in one project. You’re going to get a different side of me and different perspectives. I have a song called “hurry up” that’s more like a ballad. It talks about letting a person know you love them before it’s too late. Sometimes you may be scared to be the first one to say, “I love you” and the first one to express how you feel. I was like look, I’ll be the first one to say it. Just hurry up and say you love me back. That type of record. I still have those classic records that the fans want to hear. I know ya’ll want those classics. I got you!
Asantewaa – You have a lot more freedom now that you are doing it independently. It’s almost like there are no boxes this time around.
Mario – There aren’t any boxes but at the same time it’s still making a project that’s cohesive and that shows growth.
Asantewaa – What are you listening to right now?
Mario – Everything. I listen to everything. What I got playing right now is Travis Scott. I’m listening to Childish Gambino, Beyonce, Kanye West. Solange’s new album is dope. I like the vibe she’s on right now. I respect her vibe. I like that she’s going after what she believes in. She an example of what I mean by “New Citizen”. I don’t know if she’s going after radio. I just feel like it’s unique and it’s distinctive.
Asantewaa – Has this process been challenging for you without the machine of the record label behind you?
Mario – In some ways it has but in some ways it’s very similar. Your workload is still the same. In other ways it’s been a little more challenging. I think I appreciate it more.