LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - Celebrating his 21st birthday in June, R&B singer Mario is already dreaming about where he sees himself in the future.
"My biggest dream is to become heavy in commercial real estate -- to sit back and watch my buildings go up," he said.
For now, the multiplatinum-selling artist will have to be content watching his new single, "How Do I Breathe," climb the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart (at No. 26) and Hot 100 Airplay (No. 69). The song is the lead track from Mario's new album, "Go," due August 21.
The project, his third for J Records, continues the teen-to-adult transition Mario began in late 2004 with the release of "Turning Point." That album's hallmark was the long-running R&B/pop crossover hit "Let Me Love You," co-written by Ne-Yo.
Ne-Yo is among the collaborators on "Go," having contributed the song "What's It Gonna Be," about a woman playing a guy at his own game. Additional producers and songwriters on the album include Akon, the Neptunes, Timbaland, Polow da Don and Sean Garrett. Under the banner of his production team the Nightriders, Mario also co-wrote several songs.
"This is an awesome time for us right now," Mario (whose last name is Barrett) said when asked about his place amid such R&B artists as Tank, Lloyd, Ne-Yo and Akon. "We're the next generation of Marvins, Stevies and Jackie Wilsons. It's friendly competition where we're unconsciously feeding off each other."
PASSION AND INTROSPECTION
The more mature feel of "Go" underscores how much Mario has grown musically since those not-so-long ago teen idol days of early hits "Just a Friend 2002" and "Braid My Hair." One of the songs he co-wrote for the new album is possible second single "Kryptonite," which he calls a "passionate anthem about a 20-year-old trying to stay in a committed relationship."
The most surprising track is the introspective "Do Right," co-written by Mario and produced by Akon. The song stems from a painful chapter in Mario's life that he has been reluctant to discuss: his mother's drug addiction.
"I wanted to do something that would allow my fans to come a bit closer," he said. "I'm letting people know that I may have experienced some of the same things they have."
So much so that he agreed to let MTV film a documentary on his family life. The film exposes what was happening behind closed doors as Mario, the oldest of several siblings, juggled a troubled home life in Baltimore while dreaming of a music career.
Mario has matured businesswise as well. In 2006, he sued former manager Troy Patterson and Patterson's Third Street Music Group to void an "oppressive" production deal. The complaint charged that under the contract Mario signed with Patterson -- who discovered and later sheltered a minor Mario during his mother's bouts with drugs -- the singer received only about $50,000 from the sale of more than 3 million records. Those units generated about $20 million for J Records. After Patterson filed a countersuit in April 2006, the dispute was settled in January 2007. Mario is now managed by J. Erving of J. Erving Group.
Now on the other side of those personal and business issues, Mario declares that he "definitely knows what I want and who I am. It's about creating a legacy. As I experience more things, I'll be able to relate more with people on a different level. Creating music for life; that's more important than anything to me."