R&B; singer Mario wants a mulligan.
The Grammy-nominated, platinum-selling Baltimore native wants people to forget about the sloppy way his last album, "Go," was handled. His record label kept pushing back "Go" until, when it was finally released in late 2007, it had disappointing sales.
When Mario started working on his new album, "D.N.A.," he did everything he could to make sure that wouldn't happen again. He took more creative control over how the songs were presented and how the album was handled. "D.N.A." sees a more mature Mario, who has essentially hit "reset" on his music career, he said.
"With D.N.A., I feel like I'm reintroducing myself," Mario said. "Anybody that's followed me will see that with this album."
So far, so good.
"D.N.A." hits shelves today - right on schedule. The single "Break Up" spent six weeks atop the Billboard Urban Mainstream chart, and was certified gold after selling more than 500,000 ring tones. Mario will perform at a sold-out show at Sonar tomorrow in support of the album.
From Mario's moody, emotive singing to the song titles themselves ("Don't Walk Away," "I Miss My Friend," "Get Out"), it would be easy to peg "D.N.A." as a breakup record. That's only half true, Mario said.
"It has the personality of a breakup record, but it's a story," he said. "It's a young man's story. Like myself, he has these emotions, goes through all these ups and downs and deals with a woman - or more than one woman."
He might only be 23, but Mario has already had plenty of ups and downs himself. Raised largely by his grandmother while his mother struggled with drug addiction, Mario started singing at an early age in Baltimore barbershops.
"I remember making $40 or $50 every time I would go to get my hair cut," he said. "Guys would give me $10 and say, 'Here little homie, you sound good, you keep up the good work."
Mario did just that. At 11, he sang the Boyz II Men hit "I'll Make Love to You" in a talent show, catching the eye of Troy Patterson of the production company 3rd Street Music Group. Patterson took Mario under his wing and managed his career until late 2004.
After signing to Clive Davis' J Records at 14, Mario had a hit with "Just a Friend 2002." His biggest single was "Let Me Love You," which helped Mario sell more than a million copies of his second album, "Turning Point."
Though critics liked his third album, "Go," the production setbacks and an online leak helped keep the album from selling much. Mario took it personally.
"It made me hungry - made me want it more," Mario said.
"I didn't go into it saying, 'Oh, I'm going to beat ["Go"],' but I went into it knowing that I had to create an album that had even more of me in it. If I want to put my time, hard work and effort into an album, I want to make sure it's all me."
"D.N.A." reveals a more confident Mario, who has matured noticeably from his first album, according to Vernon Kelson, music director for 92Q.
"He's not the baby Mario we've grown up with and known," Kelson said. "On his first one, he just wanted to know, 'Will she braid my hair?' Now, he's singing about relationships and what he's going to do to a girl."
When Mario recorded "The Hardest Moment," which he feels is one of the more heart-wrenching tracks for "D.N.A.," he thought back to the lowest points in his life: Watching his mother battle her addition, losing his grandmother and breaking up with his high school sweetheart - the woman he thought he would one day marry.
"I've never been that intimate before," he said. "It's not just a song about a relationship. It's about the world and the human in us, having similar experiences and going through hard times."
Several years ago, Mario began branching out from music. He acted in films such as "Freedom Writers" and "Step Up," and was a contestant on the TV show "Dancing With the Stars." And in 2007, his mother's heroin addiction was documented in the MTV film "I Won't Love You to Death: The Story of Mario and His Mom." His mother, Shawn, has since gotten clean and is working on a book, he said.
"She's one of the most important people in my life," he said. "More so now than ever. ... God preserved her for a reason."
There's no denying that "D.N.A." is one of Mario's most diverse albums yet. "The Hardest Moment" features little more than a Rhodes piano, some strings and Mario's voice. The last two lines in the song are "A man that ain't afraid to cry / is a man that ain't afraid to die." It's one of Mario's attempts at making "D.N.A." more classic-sounding, and affirming to listeners that his voice has range and emotion to comfortably cover cutting edge pop and vintage-sounding R&B.;
"There's a clear difference in the person I am on this record from the last," he said. "There's just been a natural growth. That's one of the things that has kept me around, each album shows growth."