Mario is sitting comfortably on a dressing room couch, eating fresh fruit and sporting a red silk button-up with light blue jeans and crisp kicks. He’s not too far from his Baltimore hometown; he’s at D.C.’s Harbor National to perform at Femme It Forward‘s Serenade series concert. The Live Nation-powered show is also being headlined by Omarion and Pleasure P, who performed their biggest hits. Fresh off his Verzuz victory against Omarion, his confidence follows him to the stage — where his sex appeal was at an all-time high, and his mic was most definitely on.
In 2002, Mario Dewar Barrett had girls everywhere wanting to braid his hair or just be his friend. The young R&B heartthrob’s debut single, “Just a Friend 2002,” from his self-titled debut album, peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 3 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs charts. Two years later, Mario released “Let Me Love You,” which held down the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for nine weeks. He has also toggled with acting, appearing in Step Up, Freedom Writers, and Empire in 2018. Mario also starred in the live television production of the musical Rent in 2019.
After suffering the loss of his mother in 2017, Mario made it his duty to remain resilient. In 2018, the Baltimore native channeled his trials into Dark Shadows, his first album after a decade-long hiatus. The project was released through his independent music label New Citizen and housed the intimate single “Care For You,” in which Mario chronicled some of the darkest times in his life. He also released the EP Closer to Mars in 2020.
While anticipating Mario’s next album, fans have been enjoying his new music in 2022, including singles “Get Back” featuring Chris Brown and his most recent collaboration with Tory Lanez, “Main One.”
VIBE was invited to speak with Mario backstage at the D.C. show of the Serenade concert series. There, the R&B crooner shared who he’d consider top-tier for his own super group after hearing about Ray J, Sammie, Bobby V., and Pleasure P’s collective, RSVP, amongst other topics. He also spoke about why his confidence is where it is after years and years of hard work.
VIBE: Thinking back to when you first signed to J Records, how has artist development and vocal exercise changed since then for you?
Mario: For me personally, I’ve always been a lover of music, so I’ve always sang. Like, even if I wasn’t an artist, I would be one of those dudes that just knew how to sing. In the city, I’d be at all the town shows, you know? All the karaoke (laughs), you know? So for me, I love singing so much that I’d do it regardless. I think that’s why I’ve always practiced. And I’ve always kept my voice up because I just love it so much. I love singing to the ladies.
Speaking of that, when it comes to your vocal training and performing on stage, what’s something specific that you do?
Touring is where your voice is stressed the most. Before I go on the road, I literally strain. Like I sing a week before until I can’t sing no more because it’s a muscle, and then it just grows back faster to get me prepared for the show. Some people are like, “Ah, that’s dangerous. That will–” but I’m like, “It works for me because it just makes the voice stronger.” [When] you go to the gym, you’re working out like your sh*t can start burning. It hurts, but then the muscles grow back faster. It’s weird, but it works. I wouldn’t suggest just anybody do it.
Following Verzuz, we kind of witnessed our favorite male R&B singers having competition amongst themselves. I know we hear rappers always having “beef “with each other. What about the R&B singers?
I think Verzuz is set up that way. You know what I’m saying? (laughs) What male R&B artist has done a Verzuz within our generation? Nobody. I think that it’s just set up that way. Verzuz is a space where there are no rules. The only rule is: you’ve got 20 songs.
Everything in-between is just personality, and just real energy, you know? So for me, I didn’t plan my songs. You’ve got to understand, I just came there with songs I wanted to do. I didn’t have a setlist. Other artists be having setlists already planned, so I think the energy for them may be different, but for me, I was going with the energy of like, “Okay. All right, this is what I’m going to do next.” You see me on Verzuz, I’m talking to my DJ, ‘Yo [singing]. I’m going to do this.” “All right,” and I get back center stage, and I get to it. It was just like that. I felt like I was just on the block with the homies, talking sh*t. That’s how I treat it. I say, “All right, I’m going to just have fun.”
I’ve always kept my voice up because I just love it so much. I love singing to the ladies.– Mario
I think most fans just view you as this sultry R&B sensation, but when you were on stage, you were showing your cocky, confident side. Where does your confidence come from?
I mean, I don’t really show a lot of my personality on the internet, so like, if you were to run with me on any day, you wouldn’t be surprised by what you saw. I don’t know where it comes from. I’m just being me. And also, I’ve been on my own in the industry for so long that I think it’s just more of me just standing on my ground. Like whatever room I’m in, just having to do that when a lot of people are doubting you. It just comes with that type of energy. There were a lot of comments I was getting before [Verzuz]. It was like, “Yo, you about to get washed. This, this, and this is about to happen to you.” I’m like, “Damn, like people really think that?” So when I went on stage, I was like ready to go.
Following the Verzuz, did you hear of the R&B supergroup RSVP? What do you think of it?
Ray J was telling me the other day when I was in the A, Ray J was like, “Yeah, ni**a, we working on some sh*t. I’m gonna play you some music.” I’m like, “All right, yeah, okay.” I think it’s going to be fire. I can’t wait to hear the music.
So if you were to create a supergroup with you in it, who would be the other three members?
Four people? Four total? Damn, that’s crazy. Like anybody? (laughs) Okay, so, me, Chris [Brown], Usher, and Lucky Daye.
Ah. Okay, that’s a good combo!
I know that you have a memoir coming, or rather in the works. Can you talk to me a bit about that?
There’s a tentative title for it, but it’s really kind of like a day in the life, psychologically and spiritually—like how to deal with how you exchange with life energetically. I’ve been writing it for like, honestly, five years. It’s been on and off, because every time I go through something, or I go through another initiation in my life spiritually, I like to go back to it and update or add to what I’m talking about. I talk about my life, but I more so talk about how I’m responding to it[…] If I was having a conversation with a young dude from East Baltimore or West Baltimore, I would talk to him on this level, like how to control or how to influence your life psychologically, energetically, spiritually.
You’re going to have the dark with the light. It comes with it. Just kind of how to deal with contrast in the life that we live, because no matter at what point you are in life, you going to always have shadows that come out or things that come to attack your character, or just like situations that challenge you spiritually. And in order to hold your ground and to continue to not fold, you have to respond to it a certain way. It’s really just about that, and just about how to survive in the world where there are constant attacks spiritually on everyone, on us as citizens of the planet.
Through your independent label New Citizen, you just dropped your single “Main One” with Tory Lanez. Now, what do you do next?
I’ve got another vibe coming. Well, I don’t want to say the date, but it’s coming soon featuring Ty Dolla [$ign] that’s crazy. It’s called “Used to Me.” But yeah, just bringing R&B back. To be honest with you, my version of what that is.
What’s something that you want to check off your bucket list in this lifetime?
I want to go back to Baltimore and do a lot of work in the city, open up some businesses, help the youth, and just be a leader more so in my city–now that I’m at the point where I have way more influence. I’ve seen the trajectory of where the world is going. I feel like I have enough information to really be a resource to people in a different way, outside of just being an artist. So that’s one of my main goals. Other than that, it’s really just continue to build New Citizen, more films, more tours, my own tours, more music, of course, and then getting back to topping charts again.