*With a sultry, soulful voice that rivals the likes of any R&B artist, past or present, male or female, Mario—the multitalented singer, songwriter, and actor—is back in the studio preparing his fifth solo project. Although a release date hasn’t been set, the album will feature some of the biggest and brightest producers music has to offer. Mario also plans to solicit the help of other vocalists—he wouldn’t divulge specific names—and his fans can expect new material in the fall. Until then, Mr. Barrett (yes, that’s his last name) has decided to broaden his horizons.
Joining a star-studded cast, he will be performing in the upcoming production “Hair”—a Tony Award winning musical based on the tumultuous Civil Rights Era (1960s). On August 1-3 at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, Mario will portray a young African American revolutionist (Hud) with dreams of making a difference in his community.
“This play is about making a mockery of racism, religion and war,” he explained during an interview. “It’s about people being free and having a good time.”
Mario continued, “I play a young black man who is against war and racism. My character has experienced both of these things and singing is his way of coping with adversity while also drawing attention to the problems in his neighborhood. It’s a very powerful role, and I’m honored to have been chosen for it.”
In Hair, the characters act as representatives of their respective stomping grounds. Throughout the play they engage in thought-provoking dialogue about racism, warfare, classicism and other sensitive topics that push the proverbial needle. The multiracial cast includes a variety of actors and actresses from television and film, as well as less-known performers from the Broadway circuit. With respect to America’s heightened sensitivity toward race-related issues, the language in Hair might ruffle a few feathers. However, Mario promises that the show is written in good taste and won’t offend attendees.
“We’re not trying to upset people,” he explained. “We aren’t pointing the finger at anyone directly. The show promotes one common ideal: that under the sun, in the universe, were all one.”
In reference to the play’s title, Mario continued, “No matter what kind of hair you got, or what color you are, we should not be ashamed of who we are and what we represent. It’s called ‘Hair’ to bring it back to the oneness.”
Although he has sold more than 2 million albums worldwide, Mario remembers having to overcome discrimination on his way to the top. He explains racism as being an issue in entertainment that takes place behind closed doors.
“It’s definitely common in the industry; but not as much as people might think,” he explained plainly. “The older generation has more to say about racism. My generation—we’re all connected through social media and music. I try not to see color.”
“In entertainment, quality will always win no matter what color you are,” he went on to say. “Young black artist shouldn’t make fly by night material. Our music should always be at a high level so that we can compete with the best.”
Although he’s dabbling in other areas of entertainment like theater, Mario has no intention of delaying his music career. He’s been traveling the world, fine-tuning his sound, and gaining new inspiration. Now, after several years away from the spotlight, Mario is finally ready to reconnect with his fans and the world of music.
“I’m more involved now,” he explained. “I’m writing more songs and I’m handpicking producers; and I’m also co-producing records. It’s more of a hands-on experience for me now, and I think that when people hear the music, they’ll see that.”
He added, “I want to make music that will give me a broader audience. There’s not enough up tempo in traditional R&B for it to sell now; it has to be merged with something. I’m still going to sing ballads; but I’m also going to incorporate elements of rock, pop, and house music. This is what the industry has programmed people to listen to. I’m simply embracing the evolution of R&B.”
Many of today’s most celebrated artists—Chris Brown, Trey Songs, Rihanna, Jay Z, Beyonce, etc—are also business moguls and entrepreneurs. Although he supports thinking out of the box, Mario vows to remember why he started performing in the first place.
“Some artists focus too much of their time on selling records and making money by any means,” he explained. “My music has to match who I am on the inside. I want people to feel my vibe without me having to open my mouth. I want to have a brand that people can relate to and understand.”
Mario continued, “People want to feel something when they listen to music. I’m constantly growing. I want to introduce people to something they haven’t seen or heard from me; but I want to do it an organic way.”
One of the ways young artists gain attention from the media is by engineering feuds with one another. In 2012, rapper Drake and troubled singer Chris Brown drummed up a media firestorm with their alleged brawl inside of a crowded night club. However, Mario says these stories are often fabricated, and in many cases, utterly untrue.
“Disagreements happen but when you allow the media to control the situation; then it can get out of hand,” he explained with a laugh. “To me, none of that stuff is real. I certainly play no part in it.”
Instead of participating in the Hollywood hullabaloo, Mario spends his off-time reaching out to his community in Baltimore, Md. His “Do Right Foundation” works with young people whose parents suffer from drug and alcohol addiction.
“I wanted to give back to those kids mentally and spiritually,” he explained. “I also wanted to educate them on how to prevent themselves and their families from falling into a life of drugs. The streets are crazy right now; a lot of kids are using drugs at an early age. I’m doing what I can to steer them in the right direction.”
In addition to recording another album, Mario plans to reconnect with his fans in a variety of different ways.
“I’m putting together a tour overseas right now,” the singer explained. “I’m also writing a book; it’s going to be about my life and things that I’ve experienced throughout my career.”
With more than 10 years of professional experience under his belt, Mario has one piece of advice for young artists trying to break into the music industry.
“Whatever you do in life, or want to do in life, don’t forget why you started in the first place,” he said softly. “Always remember why you’re doing what you do. That’s how you stay grounded; that’s how your music will stay real.”
Check out Mario’s classic Ne-Yo penned and produced jam, “Let Me Love You”: