He's brought golden rays of sunshine into Lil' Kim's life and platinum plaques with even more shimmer to other Bad Boy compatriots.
Now Mario "Yellow Man" Winans, who co-produced most of P. Diddy's #1 We Invented the Remix, says he wants to go from being one of the game's best-kept secrets to budding star.
"I'm ready to be ready," said Winans, who gained notice by appearing in Diddy's "I Need a Girl (Part Two)" video.
If there is one thing Winans has learned from rolling with Bad Boy since mid-1997, it's the power of exposure. Mario, who's part of the world-famous Winans gospel clan, is hoping that catching eyes and ears with "I Need a Girl" will help build anticipation for his new album. He knows the harsh flip side that comes when nobody is checking for you. His debut, Story of My Heart, came out in 1997 on Motown and collected dust on the shelf.
Before that, he signed a production deal with Dallas Austin's Rowdy Records, but some of his early hits came while moonlighting. He helped craft "I Can't Sleep Baby" and "You Remind Me" with family friend R. Kelly in 1995. A couple of years later, a mutual friend arranged for him to meet with Puffy, but Winans wasn't a perfect fit for the Hitmen production team at first.
"Back then I wasn't really doing hip-hop; it was R&B," he explained. "Puff is the type of person if he's working on projects, he's gonna get those projects done. His ear is where those projects need to be. I might have been playing some pop smashes when he needed some hip-hop. The first couple of DATs I put in weren't really what he was looking for."
Yellow Man who got his name from Lil' Kim and Lil' Cease ("They was like, 'We gonna call you Yellow Man because your music shines like the sun and you make people feel happy' ") went back to the proverbial drawing board in search of heat but still got a lukewarm reception. Fortunately, Puffy saw potential.
"I played him some more tracks, and he didn't really pick anything," Winans continued. "He said, 'I'm gonna put you in the studio with some of my artists.' So I worked with Carl Thomas. First song I did with him was 'Emotional.' Then I worked with [former Bad Boy act] Little Jerome and had his first single. After that, it was like, 'OK, now we gonna do a bunch of stuff.' "
And while Winans would go on to pound out cuts for acts like Total, Faith, 112 and Mase by himself, he would prosper most alongside Puff.
"What happened was I started doing a lot of songs. Then [Puffy] called me to help him finish some of the other records. If he needed bridges or whatever it took to bring the record to the greatest point, we could bring it. We started doing that a lot. Then our friendship started getting really close, and the songs we were doing started getting better and better. He was like, 'Yo, let's just partner up and go out and mash everybody.' "
Now Yellow Man has started his own production company, Yellow City, and is almost done with his first album for Bad Boy.
"It's a lot of different flavors but within the same table setting," he said of the still-untitled LP. "Different moods but within one body. Basically, [Puffy] just let me do my thing. There are numerous things we did together. He has creative and brilliant ideas. No one can really tell you how to portray yourself, but he has come the closest to knowing where you are coming from."
Winans, who is also the co-executive producer on the long-delayed Bad Boy gospel album Thank You, doesn't have a release date set yet, but he said he thinks his first single will be "Pretty Girl B.S.," about a mate who is bringing him drama.