Teairra Mari - shot by Estevan Oriol

Detroit-bred singer Teairra Mari has been throughout a lot in the music biz. Although she’s just 24 years old, she’s traveled a long bumpy road that can wear on a any celebrity, young or old. While still a teenager, Mari would land a record deal with Jay-Z, where she’s become the face of his Roc-A-Fella imprint, and was touted as the “Princess of the Roc.” Mari took to the role with ease, and would go on to enjoy success in 2005, when her first single “Make Her Feel Good” made noise on the Billboard singles charts and self-titled peaked at #5 on the Billboard 200.

Things looked bright for the young singer, but … when the album failed to meet sales expectations, she was dropped … via a phone call right before her high school prom. Mari was devastated. Although it hit her hard, initially, she refused to give up. Mari got back on her grind, hooking up with manager Cudda Love (a man who helped Nelly’s success) and they went to work. She took an untraveled road for an R&B singer, hitting the mixtape circuit and building her buzz back up. Eventually, Teairra would garner the attention of a label again, inking a deal with Warner Bros. Records, and began recording what would be her sophomore album. But, when the label tried to interfere with the creative process, she decided to leave.

That was 2010. Fast forward to 2012, Teairra has signed with producer Rico Live and his Division1 imprint, and is dilligently working on her long awaited sophomore set, now title Sex on the Radio. So far, she’s release the 2 Chainz-assisted “U Did Dat,” and most recently, dropped a brand new mixtape, the DJ Scream-hosted Unfinished Business (download it here ).

With much work left to do, we caught up with Teairra recently, and reminisced about the ups-and-downs of her career thus far, the lessons she’s learned, and most importantly, the future.

You started off your career very young, singing with Def Jam/Roc-A-Fella as a teenager, where you released your self-titled debut. What were the pros and cons of getting a break early on?

Teairra Mari - shot by Estevan OriolThe cons were I was so “green”, I didn’t know anything. Coming into this business, for me, was like being a deer in headlines — me and my mother, we both had no experience. That was one con… That was the only one really, because it made it easier for other cons to happen. There were people playing “Divide and Conquer” with me and my mother, people were being manipulative… Just being so young and oblivious was the biggest con for me.

Pros: I got to see the world at a young age. I got to work and be around greats like Jay-Z and Beyonce. I had the time of my life. I got to do what I wanted to do and get tutored (laughs). I didn’t have to go to school. I was on the road, and in the studio, and I loved every second of it. Those are some of the best pros.

In a previous interview, you talk about receiving a phone call from Def Jam about being dropped. How hard was that, being that you made it so far and to have to start over?

Of course, it was hard. I was a young girl, and I had become dependent on being Terrari Mari, the “Princess of the Roc.” That was my identity at the time. So, I just felt like my whole world was crashing for a moment, and I didn’t know how I was gonna pick it back up. But, you know, that comes from being young and naive as well, because that, of course as I know now, was not my identity and never was. It was a situation, and opportunity that I got early on in my life and I’m happy for it.

Yes, it was hard at first. But now, it’s a laughable situation, because it happened and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Was it someone giving you advice, or was it just time that helped you get over the situation?

Not many people knew, but umm, it was just timing. It was a tipping point. It was like, “Ok, it’s time to get out the funk and do what you’re gonna do with your life, whether it was singing or going back to school. Whatever it is, you need to get up and you need to do it.” I’mma fighter, and I wanted to do music; and that’s what I am doing.

What did you learn from that experience?

I just took that I need to be humble, and to never be dependent on anything or anyone, and to be resilient.

Since your first album, you released a slew of mixtapes and EPs. Singers usually don’t go the mixtape route. Why did you decide to release those projects, and how did it help you?

I decided to do mixtapes because nobody was searching for me to give me a record deal, or put me in the studio. So, when I had the opportunity to be in the studio — my manager (Cudda Love) has his own studio — I was like, “Listen, let’s not wait on a record label. Let’s just start recording, and just putting stuff out there for the people. Let’s take the rapper route, the Lil Wayne route I call it.” (laughs)

I got crazy response from those tapes, bigger than I thought. I don’t regret doing the mixtapes at all. I’m actually dropping another one.

You’re signed with Rico Love’s label, Divison1. Obviously Rico has a proven track record, but what was it about him that made you feel like it was the right choice for you?

We have history together. We have great chemistry, so I knew that I wanted to work with Rico, a lot. I wanted him to do my whole album, no matter what label I was on. I was on [Warner Bros. Records] at the time we first met, when me and Rico started working on the “sophomore album” that I was supposed to be released through Warner. But, we weren’t seeing eye-to-eye creatively and it just didn’t work out. I asked to be released so I could sign with Rico .. and then, I could do the music that I want to do. That’s where I’m at now.

Teairra Mari - shot by Estevan Oriol

Rico lets me create. He understands me. He’s from right next door to Detroit — he’s from Milwaukee. He just understands me. We have a connection — a Sagittarius connection, a mid-west connection (laughs), and a musical connection that’s very strong.

“U Did That” is the first single, featuring 2 Chainz. In a recent interview, you say that you plan on doing more collaborations for the album, specifically you mentioned Big Sean. Has that happened yet?

I’m still working on my album. It will happen, but not yet. I also wanna get Tyga on the album, and Pharrell, and that’s pretty much it. But, I have to work with Big Sean though. It’s just a Detroit thing! Somebody’s on from my city, and we need to go big together.

Can you tell us more about how the album is coming together? Is there a title yet? A theme you’re going with, etc.?

Yes, Sex On The Radio is the album. It’s very sexy driven. It’s going amazing. It’s the kind of music I wanted to do. It’s kind of reminiscent of 90’s R&B, but with a modern twist. It sounds new and fresh, but it still puts you in that ’90s vibe, like Jodeci, Mary J. Blige, etc. The 1990s was my favorite time in music, especially R&B music. So, I’ve been wanting to create that kind of music. I still play 90s music on my iPod all the time. I work out to Mary J. Blige, Jodeci, Aaliyah … and I wanted to go back there. But, like I said, keep it fresh at the same time.

How would you say you’ve grown over the years? Since your first album?

I’ve grown tremendously, experience-wise, vocal-wise, and writing-wise. Life is about growing. You can’t control growing, unless you’re just dead (laughs). I’m alive and I’m growing. I’ve grown a lot, though. Business-wise, and in every way possible. I’m wiser. I’m just better.

I first saw you re-surface in music videos in the past year or so, and it just seemed like you were all grown up outta no where. How hard was it transition from being this young girl into being a women?

It wasn’t that hard. I’ve always been so mature for my age and so advanced. It wasn’t hard. It was harder for me, personally, because I’m like, “Oh, I can do whatever I want now and I don’t have to sneak. I’m grown now.” (laughs)

In a recent interview, you said that in movies, you’re always casted as the “sexy girl.” Is that something you wanna stray away from in music too? Or just in movie roles?

Just in movies. Music, it is what it is. I feel sexy right now and that’s what I’mma create. Movie-wise… Yea, I wanna stray away from that. Get more serious roles and show off my wits.

“Love & Hip-Hop”, you got a lot of publicity for your appearances on the show. But, it was filled with so much drama. Did you get tired of being in the middle of so much drama?

Honey, no. I had my imaginary popcorn and watched it all go down. As long as I wasn’t really in the middle, I was good.

Teairra Mari - shot by Estevan Oriol

What’s your immediate plans for the coming months, and before the end of 2012?

Of course, release Sex On The Radio. I’m also in Wiz Khalifa and Snoop Dogg’s new movie, Mac and Devin Go To High School.

How important is social media to you?

It’s very important. I think that Twitter is a gift for us in the limelight. It’s important for me to stay connected. I run my own Twitter, I tweet all the time, I answer back. I love Twitter. Follow me: @Teairra_Mari.

All photos in this article were shot by Estevan Oriol, visit his official website at EstevanOriol.com and follow him @JokerBrand.