Indie-soul collective Foreign Exchange plays the Cat's Cradle (via The News & Observer)
It seems like only yesterday Phonte Coleman was just a North Carolina rapper/singer, one-third of the up-and-coming hip-hop trio Little Brother. Back then, Coleman was also exchanging music files with an Internet help desk employee and aspiring producer in the Netherlands (Matthijs “Nicolay” Rook), hoping the two could make music together.

Phonte and Nicolay remain focused on The Foreign Exchange (via Creative Loafing)
With their fifth studio album, Tales From the Land of Milk and Honey, The Foreign Exchange has perfected its sophisticated take on R&B, incorporating not only a range of sticky sweet melodies, but also a smattering of nuanced romantic themes like domesticity and compromise. But whatever you do, don't call it ''grown man music.''

The Foreign Exchange Evoke Chaucer on 'Tales from the Land of Milk and Honey' (via Exclaim!)
''More than anything else, the biggest crime as an artist is to be boring.'' Phonte Coleman, the primary songwriter, vocalist and animated gif half of the Foreign Exchange, has probably never been at the receiving end of such an accusation. Over the course five albums with partner Nicolay, Phonte has equated love to an excuse, displayed affection through lunchtime chicken wing delivery, and made a gorgeously passive-aggressive ode to the better mate. His songwriting is unparalleled in its combined frankness, humour and relevance in our everyday dalliances.

The Foreign Exchange introduces its own Song of Solomon: 'Tales From the Land of Milk and Honey' (via Washington Post)
Phonte Coleman, the rapping, singing half of the hip-hop/R&B duo the Foreign Exchange, has a complicated relationship with religion. When he was growing up, he detested the mandatory trips to his grandmother’s baptist church, so he joined the choir just to make the ordeal more palatable. At least from the choir stand there was an added element of entertainment. Stationed behind the preacher, young Phonte could gaze upon the flock and see who was fanning themselves, who was trying not to fall asleep and who was struggling to stay on beat.

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Baltimore Performing Arts Examiner interviews The Foreign Exchange

by +FE on October 8, 2009 at 8:36 PM · Comments
Seven years ago Phonte (a North Carolina native) and Nicolay (a Holland native) began swapping music via America Online's instant messenger (AIM). Now, with two critically acclaimed indie albums under its belts, The Foreign Exchange will soon journey to Baltimore.

The group's last album Leave it All Behind (2008) is more R&B and less hip hop than its debut album Connected (2004). Yet, Nicolay said fans shouldn't think of the latest album as an abandonment of hip hop.

"We are considered a group that could take on various identities in terms of musical styles and different genres," Nicolay said. Leave it All Behind is "a musical progression of the first album," he continued.

Though Phonte admitted that some fans wanted a "Connected Part Two," most of their fans "have responded to it really well," he said. They "respected us for making an artistic leap."

Another perceived risk may have been the group's decision to allow nearly four years in between albums.

"I think that we're able to stand the test of time just because we put a lot of depth in our music," Phonte said. "There are a lot of colors, a lot of harmonies. There's a lot of stuff that reveals itself over a repeated listen. The music we make doesn't have an expiration date. It's more about doing what's in our hearts."

Perhaps it is the authenticity of The Foreign Exchange's sound that has garnered them so much success as independent artists. Front-man Phonte sings, raps, and song writes. Producer/composer Nicolay plays the drums, bass, guitars, and keys. Together they have toured all over the country, and have fans from Baltimore, Maryland to Sydney, Australia.

But it's the dedication to their fans that has made them a successful act, said the front man. "When we create the record we're thinking about what a fan would want. It's the dedication to our fans that has kept us alive and going strong."

Though Nicolay believes that the group's biggest musical achievement is yet to come, "I think the last album Leave it All Behind is a very good example of our growth," he said, citing tracks "House of Cards" and "Day Keeper" as examples of what he's always wanted to do with music.

Prince, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, 60s and 70s rock and folk are Nicolay's musical muses, he said. As for Phonte?

"The better question may be who aren't," said the vocalist before cranking out a list that includes Led Zeplin, Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, A Tribe Called Quest, Slum Village, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder.

The Foreign Exchange's Baltimore show will feature guest vocalists Darien Brockington, Yahzarah, and Carlitta Durand. Three days later at D.C's Black Cat, the guest list will also include Muhsinah as the opening act.

"I think that they make come to life a really important part of album and that's the harmonies," said Nicolay about the guest performers. "I'm a very big fan of the layers of vocals on the album. Outside of performing featured songs, the presence of all of them together comes close to the harmonies on the record."

Baltimore attendees can "expect to have a fantastic time," Phonte said. "It's not music so much as it is a revival. We want people to feel better walking out than they did when they first came in. Hopefully come out feeling renewed."

"Thanks to all our fans in Baltimore," Phonte added. "It's always been a real good city to us."

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