We recently caught up with Mario Winans for an interview on Instagram Live. During our conversation, we discussed his history with Puff Daddy and Bad Boy’s Hitmen Producers, creating some of his biggest hits, what went into creating his solo albums, what to expect as far as new music, and much more.
Mario Winans: I had known them from Detroit, they were working at this studio called Sound Suite. I met them there, them guys was making some music that was incredible. We just started a friendship and kept in contact. They left Detroit and signed with Dallas. I was in Atlanta and I called them. They told me they were going to come pick me up and bring me to the studio to play tracks for Dallas. I went there and actually sang a song for Dallas, and my initial contract was to be an artist. I didn’t want to be an artist, I wanted to be a producer! So I signed on as a producer with Rowdy. Tim & Bob connected me with that.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Take us back to a young Mario Winans during that time. What was your mindset?
Mario Winans: I was just eager and ready and hungry to get into it and to make hit records. Just absorb and soak it all in and grind.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Which artist that you originally met made you feel like you had to step your game up?
Mario Winans: When I first started producing when I was 14 or 15, that guy was Teddy Riley. I just wanted to make music that makes people feel the way his music makes me feel. Once I signed with Dallas, just seeing how he worked and all of the different people on the squad, it was very inspiring to me. I definitely wanted to grow and get to the next level. Once I got to Bad Boy, seeing my brother Stevie J. and D. Dot, it made me hungry. I started going hard. All I did was stay in the studio and lock myself in a room and create.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Let’s talk about your debut album “Story of My Heart”. What do you remember about it?
Mario Winans: I love that album, it’s one of my favorite bodies of work I did. It was in the transition when Andre Harrell had just left Motown. That album was something I poured my heart into and didn’t think too much. I went into the studio with my writing partner Kenny Hickson, and my other partner Paul Allen, and we just went daily, just creating records.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about joining Bad Boy and what it was like in the beginning.
Mario Winans: It was a group of all stars. You got Stevie J. D. Dot, Ron Lawrence, Nashiem Myrick, Chucky Thompson, J. Dub, Prestige, Young Lord, Carlos Brody, along with Puff Daddy. It was a cast of producers that were so freakin awesome. Not just producers, but musicians and real creative people. It was like a crew that was so dope that I was like this is where I need to be. When I jumped on board, Puff had just put “No Way Out” out, and they were doing a bunch of different performances. When I got to rehearsal, Puff found out I played the drums, and then I was on percussion. Once Puff saw that, he said I’d play drums on everything. It took it to another level.
YouKnowIGotSoul: How did you guys as a collective make each other better?
Mario Winans: We were competitive among everybody else. When we came to the studio, it was always open for any of us to jump on anybody else’s tracks to do what we can do to enhance. It was no inner competition, we just wanted to demolish everybody who wasn’t a part of our crew.
YouKnowIGotSoul: In 1998, there was 112’s “Room 112” album, Faith Evans’ “Keep the Faith” album, and Total’s “Kima, Keisha & Pam” album which all came out one week after another. Take us back to that moment.
Mario Winans: It was just everyday. It was three rooms in Daddy’s House. We’d be in there making music all day every day. The artists would go from room to room and pick tracks. The writers would be there, it was like an assembly line. It was all we did and made sure we gave them the best records we could, and some hit records. It was really dope to have such a synergy and energy of all of the dope artists and producers. It was great times.
YouKnowIGotSoul: When you look back at that era, do you recognize the impact you guys made?
Mario Winans: Yes, I’m very grateful for that. It was an era that still is continuing. Those records still play on the radio and that’s what lets me know. I was actually having a conversation with Stevie J. the other day. We have a duty to make sure we continue to put out music that has a certain level of longevity to it. I think we have that responsibility. That’s where my focus is for the future. I recognize what we were able to do in the past, but my focus is on what’s happening in the future of music. We have a duty as those who have carried music to make another impact. I think it’s really time for change in this game, so that’s what we’re getting ready to do.
YouKnowIGotSoul: True or false, that’s you singing background vocals on Tamia’s “So Into You”?
Mario Winans: Yes, that’s me! I sang the reference for her and we kept my backgrounds on that. Shout out to Tamia. I did two songs on her Tamia album, “Never Gonna Let You Go” and “Rain on Me”. I used a sample from Quincy Jones and he called me and told me he wanted to finish the record with me. He came to the studio in L.A. and he stayed in the studio with me until 6:30 in the morning.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Let’s talk about “I Need a Girl” part 1 and 2. I heard you made those two beats in the same session. Two classics in one day! Take us back to that.
Mario Winans: Puff called me and said he needed the next hit. I’m a big fan of renting a lot of different keyboards, I always surrounded myself with instruments. So I rented about 17 keyboards, some dating back all the way to the 1960’s. I wanted to craft a sound that no one really heard. I made five tracks. The first was “I Need a Girl” Part 1, and the fifth one was “I Need a Girl” Part 2. I’ll tell you a funny story about that. He picked part 1, and Usher was in the studio. Part 2 was just open. I told him I would keep Part 2 for myself. It was originally called “Pretty Woman” and it was going to be a Mario Winans record. When I finished it, Puff heard it and loved it. I told him he could keep both, and put both out, but he had to keep me on the second one. That’s how I had the verse on Part 2.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Let’s highlight some of the songs you did for Faith Evans. We love “Don’t Cry”, but “I Love You” is another one. Talk about your body of work on Faith Evans’ “Faithfully” album.
Mario Winans: I had a great time working with Faith, I think we did about 6 or 7 records on that album. I had always wanted to work with Faith. The records that I had heard before I got with Bad Boy, the Chucky Thompson records, I was very eager to work with her. So once I got that opportunity, I put the pedal to the metal. I created as many records for her as I possibly could. After that, we just continued to work after that. Even after she wasn’t at Bad Boy, I did some records for Faith.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Let’s talk about your sophomore album “Hurt No More”. You had “I Don’t Wanna Know” on there. We also love “Never Really Was”. Take us back to the album. That was a really sad album!
Mario Winans: I was an emotional guy! *Laughs* That’s how I got my emotions out. People would say I’m always sad. Look man, I put it out on paper. “I Don’t Wanna Know”, I had taken all of my equipment out of Daddy’s House, I needed a break. I went to the studio, this real small studio, and I just started creating. I wanted to use this Enya sample. Years ago before I was signed to Bad Boy, I had heard it at the end of this movie “Sleep Walkers” I think. The Fugees beat me to it! No one had ever sang on it. I had just put it together with this EPMD beat, and I just went into the vocal booth, and my man Michael Jones helped me write that record. “Never Really Was”, I’m a big fan of Madonna, and the “Papa Don’t Preach” record, I was just listening to that record, and the chords and strings really touched me. I just wanted to flip it. That’s how that was born.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You’re so versatile, none of your music really sounds the same. What is your approach?
Mario Winans: Growing up, I listened to a lot of different people. So the makeup of my sub conscious and what I love is always things that gave me this feeling in my stomach. That’s what made me produce for what I feel. I’m very much a sound freak. I collect sounds. I have Terra bytes of sounds. Every time I go to the studio I load up a different batch of sounds and pull from different things.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about creating the Keyshia Cole and Diddy song “Last Night”. You sampled Prince on that right?
Mario Winans: Nah, I played all of that myself! You know what’s funny though, I’m a huge Prince fan. When we did those records, his people called us and told us we had to take care of them for that sample. So we sent them the whole session and the files and they hit us back and said “Yall really didn’t sample that!” You know what it is, certain drum machines The Revolution used back in the day, I had all of those sounds. So I just created that from scratch, so it’s no sample in “Last Night”.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Fast forward to 2010, and R&B was not as popular. But you still had the hit record “Can’t Be Friends” for Trey Songz. Take us back to that.
Mario Winans: I’ll tell you a story. Every now and then, I would take one of my drum machines and put it on the side of my bed and sample all day and all night. If I hear anything. I was watching this movie called “Babble” with Brad Pitt. I fell asleep and the DVD went back to the menu screen. So it was playing this piece, but it wasn’t the actual piece I took, but it was a piece and once I heard that piece, I went and downloaded the original picture score from the movie. That’s when I found this other piece. I just threw it in the drum machine and I cooked that record up. My man Michael Jones wrote that record.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Another record you did, the song you did with Chris Brown “Yesterday” on the “Last Train to Paris” Dirty Money album. Talk about that one.
Mario Winans: I did that in my home studio! I was in my crib one day, just vibing writing some records, and that main sound, it was just something I was playing over and over. I just put the drums to it and I sent it to Puff and he loved it.
YouKnowIGotSoul: When you create these beats, do you take into consideration how you are going to be able to write over these songs? They are so unique.
Mario Winans: You really just have to know which writers to send certain beats to. You can’t just sent it to anybody. That’s another part of being a producer. If you are going to write it yourself or to have your go to writers who can bring the song to the next level. The production is not just making the beat. People get the confused, you’ve got to see it all the way through. Even after they write it, you’ve got to finish it off and make sure the mix is right.
YouKnowIGotSoul: We’ve been waiting for your album “My Purpose” for a long time. Is that still coming?
Mario Winans: It’s on my drive! I think I’ve done about three albums since then. But I’m getting ready to put out something, because I’m constantly writing records. I know it’s time. I had just took some time off to work on my inner self, but I have a lot to talk about. I have a lot of new perspective on life and love and different things I can talk about and really inspire some people. It’s time now. I have a lot of stuff coming, very, very soon.
YouKnowIGotSoul: What makes you decide what to keep in the hard drive, and what to put out. Music fans want to hear it all!
Mario Winans: Just what makes me feel a certain way. Certain things give me a feeling. If that’s one thing I can share with people, don’t lose the feeling. If you’re creating something and it doesn’t make you feel a certain type of way, it aint going to make too many people feel it. It may for a moment, but I’ve never been one to create for the moment. I want to create for the longevity. That’s why we’ve been blessed to have records that still play on radio today.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Tell us about what you’re currently working on. I know you’ve been working with The Weeknd.
Mario Winans: I’m a big fan of The Weeknd. I’ve always wanted to work with him, and he wanted to work with me as well. When I went into the studio, they had this skeleton of a record, and we just vibed, and I did my thing. It ended up being on the album.
YouKnowIGotSoul: How do you approach making music in 2020. It’s totally different than the 90’s.
Mario Winans: I approach music thinking about the people. I write songs for the world, not the streaming. When you focus on the people, you’re going to impact the people.