He may not even be old enough to drive, but Mario, 15, is revving up plenty of girls’ hearts with his Top 10 single “Just a Friend 2002,” an infectious remake of Biz Markie’s 1989 hip-hop hit that the singer and most of his fans are probably too young to remember. No matter. This R&B newcomer, who brings to mind an Usher for the junior-high set, updates old-school sounds for a new generation on his debut album. On “C’mon” Mario samples Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock’s 1988 rap classic “It Takes Two,” while on another track he interpolates portions of Denroy Morgan’s 1981 reggae-disco hit “I’ll Do Anything for You.” The Baltimore native is no retro novelty act, though. He shows potential as a composer, cowriting two songs, and he proves himself worthy of two tunes cowritten by his Grammy-winning labelmate Alicia Keys. On “2 Train,” on which Keys sings backup and plays piano, Mario’s jazzy, soulful delivery displays a vocal maturity beyond his years.
Bottom Line: No juvenile effort