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The R&B singer Mario (Barrett) released his self-entitled debut at the age of 16 in 2002. "Mario" finds the artist at the point where he was immediately able to breakthrough into mainstream attention as he came through with his cover of "Just A Friend" showed that he was about to refresh the R&B world in doing so.
1. "Just A Friend 2002"
He gets the album underway in the best way possible with his cover of Biz Markie's classic rap ballad (but here done in a serious manner) it is a fun little Pop R&B joint and one that throws him right into the game with this R&B/Hip Hop link up that few would have expected to have occurred. It is a banger of a joint and one that promises a lot as the album gets underway to show the sort standard he is capable of.
He keeps things rolling here by coming out with this fly little jam that keeps the liveliness of his music coming through as he gets on top of a Hip Hop staple in the Lyn Collins "Think (About It) break and goes off with something that I really can't see you having any problem with if you enjoyed the single that got the album underway as it keeps you interested and expecting more big tunes from him later on the record.
3. "Braid My Hair"
The pace is lowered significantly with this one as you find that you get a track that has him showing that although the tendency for young singers is to push pure Pop upon them, he can do some more weighty stuff too. However it appears he's not yet capable of carrying it as what you get here is simply a wack track and one that has him singing lyrics that I can't imagine he'd be too satisfied by.
4. "2 Train"
He comes in with a track that has him moving on towards the mid-tempo stuff, after doing a slow one prior to it, and you find that here we get a composition that appears to force some Neo-Soul upon him, but really he wasn't ready for anything of that sort of significance by this point and so this sounds like a very forced and although he may be a decent vocalist, he's unable to do a good enough job here.
5. "What Your Name Is"
Here we have a nice little love song from the young singer as he brings one that has him doing more of the predictable songs that you would tend to expect to get from an artist of his age working in this style at this time (and can be likened to lots of others in R&B and Hip Hop during this specific period). It is another that I felt didn't have anything near what was needed to impress and it left me wanting much more.
6. "Holla Back"
We get a much-needed boost here as we get a track that sounds as though it would have done reasonably well as a single as you find that you get a little club-suited tune from him designed to switch up the pace of things and lift it all by putting his great vocals to a different use and to shift it towards something that if you were into mainstream R&B, you couldn't really complain about (although it may be a little plain).
7. "Could U Be"
Here he gets back to more of the samey stuff that has come through at the slower end of the album and it is material that I really just couldn't engage with and I don't think it really offers anything that I really cared for at all. I think that it may have been a little outdated for its time too and so their wasn't really much going for it at all other than his consistently-strong vocals that show that future releases will improve.
8. "Put Me On"
This was a really unexpected joint on the record as you find that here you get something funky coming through with some of the flyest production that has been seen since the first two songs on the release and so it makes for something that I would have embraced if it had come out as a single. It was about time that he dropped something as impactful as this and it adds to it significantly to show he's not going to save all the quality for later.
9. "Chick Wit The Braids"
He gets the opportunity to show that he is actually able to do quite well when faced with a track that is all about the contemporary R&B sound and he ensures that he is able to keep the flow going from the last one to make for something that gives a much better preview of where exactly he would be able to take the music as he could work with better producers and writers to make full use of his voice.
He tries out another one that I felt didn't really fit in with expectations, but it was predictable in the fact that when making such a big gamble, by the end of it he didn't actually come out with anything that's I'd say I cared about. It goes nowhere and I felt that the low pace did nothing but drag things out for him as he attempted to show how he is able to cope when working with stuff that isn't aimed towards people of his own age.
11. "Girl In The Picture"
The album ends on this one as you find that he gets another chance to bring through that smooth Pop R&B material that I thought made for the best results (especially when it comes to this album). It is far able to compete with others who were active during this period and so you can't say its anything all that special, but it still gives a little more to leave it on a high as his closes off his debut.
This really wasn't the best way to get Mario's career underway and I'd say that it was expected to go in this way as he tries out so much in one go and with a short album such as this it makes it sound very inconsistent when it could have been padded out with more Pop R&B tunes to prevent it from this overall feel.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Just A Friend
3 Braid My Hair
4 2 Train
5 What Your Name Is
6 Holla Back
7 Could U Be
8 Put Me On
9 Chick Wit Da Braids
11 Girl In The Picture