When Arlo Enemark launched the Watermelon Boy project in late 2015, he was interested in merging the future bass sound popular in Melbourne and Sydney with some of the exciting electronic music trends coming out of the Caribbean and Central and South America.
Watermelon Boy released a couple of EPs and a mixtape between 2015 and 2017, all of which were indebted to the reggaeton/house music hybrid, moombahton, and the fuzzy synths and dubstep tempos of local producers What So Not and L D R U.
By 2019, however, Enemark was eager to make connections with vocalists from a range of cultural and musical backgrounds, placing emphasis on artists from the Global South. A couple of years later, Watermelon Boy’s debut album, 101 Tropical Hits from Cosmic Space, can be seen as the manifestation of this cross-cultural mission.
The record features nine guest contributors, including vocalists and producers from Ghana, Nigeria, the USA and Enemark’s home city of Melbourne. Although the record includes just 15 songs (and not 101), it otherwise comes good on its ostentatious title—it’s a bright and colourful transnational affair, infused with the spirit of connection and engagement.
Tone Deaf caught up with Enemark to find out more about the collaborators who helped give 101 Tropical Hits from Cosmic Space its unique identity.
BRYAN THE MENSAH
Ghanaian vocalist BRYAN THE MENSAH features on two tracks from the album: ‘Same Day Same Thing’ and ‘Boss It Up’. Bryan, who has approximately 80k monthly listeners on Spotify, specialises in trap-influenced pop music.
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“[We connected] through an online collaboration site called SoundBetter,” says Enemark. “I sent him an email in December of 2019 and I actually was over in Ghana, in Accra, where Bryan’s from, but he didn’t get back to me until I was already on the way back. I was like, ‘Dude, I was literally just in Accra! We could’ve had beers.’
“He did a beautiful job on ‘Same Day Same Thing’, and ‘Boss It Up’ was really cool, and we’ve actually got another one in the works. I feel really privileged to have him on, because I think he’s a real Ghanaian to watch at the moment.”
Freeds, who also features on ‘Same Day Same Thing’, is a hip hop-influenced indie-pop artist from Melbourne. Freeds is the solo project of Adam Fridman, who’s been releasing music under that name since 2017.
“He was putting his music out through the distributor that I worked at, called Noisehive, and I really liked what he did,” Enemark says. “He wasn’t a rapper, but the music was kind of hip hop; it was like singing hip hop.
“When I heard ‘Same Day Same Thing’, the first verse was strong, chorus was strong, and I was like, ‘It’d be really nice to switch to another vocalist here.’ He was super keen and also did a beautiful job. He’s another artist who’s blown up a bit since that collab was initiated.”
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Nigerian vocalist Green Baker features on track three, ‘Kibaye’, which was released as a single in April 2020. Baker, whose real name is Adebayo Daramola, is influenced by R&B, hip hop and house music as well as the West African music styles fújì, Afrobeats and highlife.
“That was another one where we met online,” says Enemark. “But after we’d finished recording the song together, I was over in Ghana with my partner and he sent me a message on WhatAapp saying, ‘Are you in Ghana? We’ll come see you.’ And he and his mate got on a bus and travelled across two countries to see me in Ghana.
“We took photos, we shot a little film clip and we have stayed connected ever since.”
Rapper Christian Enjel appears on ‘See No Other’. Enjel, who’s based in Rochester, New York, makes rock-influenced hip hop music inspired by the likes of J Cole, Drake and Post Malone.
“I stuck that track out looking for vocalists and I was like, ‘Keen on a little bit of a Caribbean flavour on this one,’” Enemark says. “He approached me and said, ‘I’ve got Central American and Caribbean background. I make mostly hip hop, but I think I could do something really cool with this.’
“That came together super quickly and he also gave me all sorts of beautiful little vocal takes, like background noises and sounds and harmonies. It made it so easy for me to construct something really detailed.”
The Color Duchess
The Color Duchess is a rapper and spoken word artist from Philadelphia. Among other distinctions, the Color Duchess dresses exclusively in purple clothing in order to represent “royalty and enlightenment.” The Duchess’ verse on ‘Boss It Up’ is a highlight of the album.
“That was another one with Bryan [the Mensah] where I’m like, Awesome chorus, really strong first verse, but it’s just such a party kind of tune that I felt like, the more the merrier. So, having a female rap voice in there was awesome,” Enemark says.
“Her stuff is normally a lot drier; that old school, jazzy, authentic hip hop sound. This is much more of a party dance track, but she manages to bring that same sort of cool over into the track.”
Big Boss, a bass music producer from Melbourne, collaborated with Enemark on ‘Just Start Party’. Since its release in April 2021, the moombahton/bass music crossover has become one of Watermelon Boy’s most popular singles.
“Big Boss and I have been mates for ages and we have a shared passion for the mid-tempo moombahton style beat and the club music that’s coming out of Latin America,” Enemark says. “We definitely love big heavy bass music as well—we’re both Dillon Francis and Diplo, Major Lazer and DJ Snake fans.
“For [‘Just Start Party’] we just kept sharing things over Dropbox and it came together in chunks. I came up with the rhythm, he came up with the drop and I came up with the solo. It was a really different way of collaborating, but it was a lot of fun.”
Tolu Ade, who’s based in Atlanta, Georgia, appears on ‘Floatin’’, the album’s third-to-last track. Ade was born in Brooklyn, New York to Nigerian parents. Ade’s music celebrates his cross-cultural background, drawing influence from Afrobeats, hip hop and R&B.
“I reached out to him and I was like, ‘I’ve got this thing, I reckon it would be nice for your vocal.’ He came back to me with some draft ideas and I helped refine the lyrics,” Enemark says. “It was this dreamy, romantic concept that the nicest thing you might be able to do is hang out with somebody and get high.
“The vocal take sounded good, but there was something missing in the chorus. We left his vocal where it was, but we had the music come in on the off-beat. It really pushed it up and made it a bit hyperpop-ish and a bit more like Wave Racer or Flume.”
Chicago-based folk and Americana artist Tyler Sjöström appears on the penultimate track, ‘Monkey Grip’, under the pseudonym Okafuwa. Despite Sjöström’s fondness for the music of Mumford & Sons et al, the electronic dance-pop of ‘Monkey Grip’ is a world away from folk music.
“He’s a very talented writer of melodies and I had this vocal take on it that sounded like a Phil Collins vocal,” says Enemark. “It was another one where I was able to collaborate on the lyrics. The narrative built into this idea of feeling like you’re not completely certain about your romantic connection to somebody, but not being able to move on from it.
“In the post-chorus, there’s a theremin line that’s just my favourite bit of the song. And the vocal takes were excellent, super excellent.”
Paris Wells joins Watermelon Boy for the album’s final track, ‘Nerve’. The Melbourne-based Wells has a long history of releasing soul-influenced electronic music and has previously collaborated with the likes of Bliss N Eso and Chance Waters.
“That one initially wasn’t going to go on the album, but playing the potential tracklist through, I stuck it at the end and it just made such a beautiful closer to the record,” Enemark says. “Obviously there’s a really cool vocal there with Paris and the way the theremin sound sings out the melody at the end, it just made me feel all warm and fuzzy.”