Bubble Gum Babes

Four South Florida girls hope to follow Christina and Britney to the top

"That wasn't so great," Danielle says after they finish.

"Say what's on your mind," cracks Emmi.

Mark tells the girls they'll perform November 21 at St. Jerome's High School in Fort Lauderdale. Brittany is psyched by the news. One payoff: boys.

At left, Brittany receives a bouquet of flowers as a baby ballerina; at right, she looks over her science fair entry at her Montessori school.
At left, Brittany receives a bouquet of flowers as a baby ballerina; at right, she looks over her science fair entry at her Montessori school.
Emmi plays an original trance music composition on her electronic keyboard and computer.
Colby Katz
Emmi plays an original trance music composition on her electronic keyboard and computer.

"Yessss!" she says, pumping her fist like a tennis player.

The recorded soundtrack for "Whoomp! There It Is" thumps through the studio. The four begin the song like a sculpture, leaning on one another in a scrum of hips and attitude. Then they fan out and rap.

"Yeah, Funn Club music/In full effect/We're Emmi, Kelsey, Danielle, and Brittany/We're kicking the flow, we're kicking the flow/And it goes a little somethin' like this/Funn Club, back again."

Brittany throws herself into movement with complete abandon, kicking out her legs, spinning, swinging her hips.

After an hour of rehearsing, Mark tells the girls to take a break. They tumble into the break room, where a panting Brittany heads to the fridge for water.

Danielle tumbles into the green leather sofa, snaps on a headset, and sings along to a CD of Mandy Moore's Candy. "I'm so addicted, to the lovin' that you're feeding to me/ Can't do without it."

The talk around a kitchen table where the other three girls cluster veers to boys. "Kelsey and I are the flirts," Brittany says. "But I can't really say I'm a flirt because I don't have any guys to flirt with." There are only six kids in Brittany's eighth-grade class at the Appletree Montessori School.

"Can't you hear me callin'," Danielle sings, oblivious. "Begging you to come out and play..."

Kelsey directs the conversation. "I'm going to marry Aaron Carter," she says of the teen singer and younger brother of the Backstreet Boys' Nick Carter. "I think he is soooo hot."

"He's 15, and he has four cars... He has four cars, and he can't even drive." (Carter is actually 16.)

"Like sugar to my heart," Danielle continues. "I'm cravin' for you/I'm missin' you like candy."

On a large television with the sound turned down, the image of Christina Aguilera appears. Kelsey goes bonkers. She runs over to the set. "Danielle, Danielle!" she shouts. "Christina Aguilera! Turn it up! Turn it up!" Danielle doesn't hear her. "Christina's skinny again," she says. "Danielle, look!"

David and Mark Watson entered the music business playing clubs in St. Petersburg, Florida, where they grew up. They started out playing jazz. By 1981, the brothers had gravitated to pop with the band Bop. David sang and banged the drums; Mark played saxophone, keyboard, and bass. They moved to Miami in the early '90s to record with Henry Stone, the legendary founder of TK Records whose company was nicknamed "Motown South" and who's credited with discovering KC and the Sunshine Band.

At the high point of the Watsons' career, Atlantic Records signed the brothers to a five-year contract, David says. But in 1993, the brothers abandoned their musical aspirations, rented a space in Sunrise, and formed the independent label DM Records. It seemed a natural fit as they entered their 30s. "We put our business hats on," Mark says. "We kind of learned the ropes from being artists and producers."

They focused on a niche market, churning out deep and thundering bass tracks favored in the '90s by young black men with superbad cars and super-loud stereos. "That's what started our label," Mark says. "We did quite well. We started with that and branched out."

Through its affiliated labels, DM today records urban, gospel, and rap artists. Dun & Bradstreet's 2003 regional directory lists the company as doing a paltry $1.1 million in sales. Mark Watson calls the figure inaccurate, asserting that the firm did just less than $5 million last year. DM's most successful release was Tag Team's "Whoomp! There It Is," a quadruple platinum single on the Billboard charts that sold 4 million copies.

DM does well enough. Mark says he earns a six-figure salary and drives a 1999 Range Rover. His Lighthouse Point home was assessed at $941,350 this year by the Broward County Property Appraiser's Office.

The Funn Club's pop is far removed from DM's other music, such as the Dirty South crunk of Lil' Jon & the East Side Boyz, for whom the label recorded a compilation CD, or Quick Pick's Worldwide Booty Search.

But the brothers look more like college professors than rap moguls or bubble-gum Svengalis. Sitting behind his dark wooden desk in a small office at DM's headquarters in a bank building, Mark is dressed in a gray tweed sports jacket and khaki slacks. The older brother at age 43, he sports thick, charcoal-gray hair that flies as though he has just been in a windstorm. David, who is 40, wears a soft red sweater, gray, wide-wale, corduroy slacks, and buttery leather Ralph Lauren polo loafers. Mark's saxophone sits on the floor beside David's chair.

It was Mark's idea to create the Funn Club, David says. The so-called "tween" market -- roughly 8- to 14-year-olds -- appears to the brothers much like the young black demographic that bought their bass tracks. "It was a decision really from the marketing side," Mark says. "It seems like the major labels are ignoring this segment, the preteen market, so it is an opportunity for an independent label."

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