The mention of Mario Winans' name will likely incite a sing-along of 2002's "I Need a Girl (Part Two)" in your head, and if it remains there, that only further speaks to its euphonious power—the same reason it topped Billboard's Rhythmic chart back then, and came in second on both the R&B and Rap boards, as well. But it also gives nod to Winans' proven talent.
He wasn't just the sidekick motorcycling through Miami alongside Puff Daddy, Ginuwine and Loon in the music video. He produced that track, and countless others. Check his credits of contribution and they read like a who's-who of not just Bad Boy's rotating roster, or the industry itself over the last 20 years, but a what's-what of incomparable musicianship. We'll get to that in a moment.
First, comprehending Winans' talent is easier once you understand his lineage. He's the son of gospel singer Vickie Winans, who married pastor and fellow artist Martin, the brother of singing duo Bebe & Cece. Having begun producing gospel music professionally after graduating high school for the likes of acclaimed Christian acts Fred Hammond and the Clark Sisters, Mario broke tradition (and into secular music) when programming R. Kelly's 1995 chart-topping self-titled sophomore album.
Sure, Winans saw his own solo success years later, in 2003, with the Fugees (by way of Enya)-sampling "I Don’t Wanna Know," but it's his resume that's most inspiring.
He's been name-checked in the liner notes of albums by the Notorious B.I.G., Jay Z, Mary J. Blige, Mase, 112, Faith Evans, Total, Lil' Kim, Shyne, Carl Thomas, Danity Kane, Jennifer Lopez, Rick Ross, R. Kelly, Brandy, Trey Songz, Keyshia Cole, Tamia, Destiny’s Child and, most recently, Kanye West and Puff Daddy himself. And not just as a producer, but as the man behind some of the records' composing, mixing, arranging, programming, overdubs, keyboards, vocals, and more. The drums on Puffy's Led Zeppelin-based "Come With Me"? That was Winans. The strings on Jay Z's "American Dreamin'"? That was him, too.
So, if you've ever made the mistake of writing him off as a two-hit wonder, understand now that when you think of Bad Boy Records—its peak, resurgence, and timelessness—Winans had a major hand in creating its ever-influential soundscape.
One B.I.G. Moment: Achieving success both international and at home when "I Don’t Wanna Know" reached No.1 in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, and held the No.2 spot for eight consecutive weeks in America.