The first album R&B star Mario ever bought was Destiny’s Child’s The Writing’s on the Wall, but prior to purchasing the group’s 1999 smash, he would regularly raid his mother’s CD collection, put the discs into a karaoke machine and practice his singing. In the latest installment of Rolling Stone’s “The First Time,” Mario remembers regularly taking his mom’s Stevie Wonder CDs without her permission, though one day he made the fatal mistake of taking the CD, keeping it in his pocket all day and thinking he was home and dry when he slipped the disc back into its case later that night.
“My mom comes home, ‘Mario! Bring your ass in the kitchen right now,’” Mario recalls. “I had scratched her whole CD! Back in the day, CDs, you scratch them and they’re skipping everything. So that was my first time getting my butt whooped because of Stevie Wonder. Thank you, Stevie, love you still though. You still the GOAT.”
Mario also remembers the first time he actually met Wonder, which was at Clive Davis’ annual pre-Grammys party. Mario was performing Wonder’s song “Knocks Me Off My Feet” that night, and unbeknownst to him, Davis had plotted to get Wonder on stage to help him perform the second half of the track.
“I think it’s a regular piano player playing, and I turn around and it’s Stevie Wonder,” Mario says. “I literally stop singing, I drop the mic. I just went over to the piano and stared at him like a crazy person. It was amazing, that was my first time meeting Stevie, it gives me chills just thinking about that moment.”
Elsewhere in the episode, Mario talks about performing live at neighborhood block parties and school talent shows, meeting personal heroes like Ray Lewis and Usher, and launching his Do Right Foundation. He also talks about his first tattoo — a piece on his back that reads “Soul Truth” — and the frequent misreadings it prompts, but also its humble origins.
“Every time a girl sees it she’s like, ‘Does that say Soul Fruit?’” Mario cracks, before admitting. “The ‘T’ does look like an ‘F.'” He adds that the phrase was inspired by his grandmother who passed away, saying, “She told me, ‘Be true to yourself and you’ll always find me in your heart and in your soul.’”