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.

The Foreign Exchange's Nicolay tours to find new inspiration (via IndyWeek)
Phonte Coleman and Matthijs 'Nicolay' Rook keep their distance. Together, they've made several albums, toured the world, been nominated for a Grammy and built a little independent empire under the name The Foreign Exchange. But Coleman raps and sings from Raleigh, while the Dutch-born Nicolay lives in Wilmington. The space between them must be fertile, as they both pursue separate artistic offshoots. Coleman has his hip-hop and TV endeavors, while Nicolay has just released his expansive fourth solo album, City Lights Vol. 3: Soweto, in which he offers up a Euro-soul take on South Africa's native rhythms.

We Be Spirits interviews Nicolay
Nicolay is one of the most eclectic and innovative music producers around, full stop. His first notable achievement as producer came in 2004 after Connected was released – the debut album of The Foreign Exchange, of which he is half. The album was famously recorded with the 'exchange' of electronic files across the Atlantic; the artists meeting only after it had been finished. He has since gone on to cover new and exciting musical ground releasing albums as a solo artist, as well as part of TFE.

Nicolay wraps his experiences abroad into a jazzy album (via Star-News)
It was around 3 a.m. one morning in May of last year when the Wilmington-based musician Nicolay and his neo-soul band, The Foreign Exchange, crossed Mandela Bridge in Johannesburg, South Africa. They were dead tired from being on tour, and only hours earlier had played a sold-out show for fans they didn't know existed.

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Wilmington producer Nicolay relishes Grammy nomination (via Star News)

by +FE on December 9, 2009 at 3:51 PM · Comments
Nicolay (Photo by Paul Stephen) A modest home in a neighborhood near where College Road turns into Interstate 40 isn't where you might expect a Grammy nominee to live.

But that's exactly where Nicolay - the independent Dutch producer and musician who helps create the sound for R&B/hip-hop group The Foreign Exchange - received the news last week that he and vocalist Phonte, of Raleigh, had been nominated for a Best Urban/Alternative Performance Grammy for their song "Daykeeper."

"We've just been going nuts for the last week, man," Nicolay said, sitting in his living room with his wife, Aimee Flint, who serves as The Foreign Exchange's "director of operations," handling business dealings, promotion and a million other things.

For a do-it-yourself artist with little industry backing, the nomination was unexpected, to be sure. Still, from here on out he will be, at the very least, Grammy-nominated producer Nicolay, a designation that could have a deep impact on his career in terms of exposure, projects he's offered and artists he gets to work with.

"That's what we're really looking forward to," said Nicolay, 35. "I've done this long enough that I know it's not necessarily going to be a financial boost or anything like that. But that's never what we've really been interested in anyway. We've always reached our niche fairly successfully, but outside of that, man, it's just hard to get outside of that glass ceiling."

A trained musician who lived in Utrecht, The Netherlands, before moving to Wilmington in 2006 to be with Flint, Nicolay (born Matthijs Rook) is a well-respected producer known for compelling beats and a dynamic, genre-mixing production style. His home studio, decked out with a huge Beatles poster (a Neil Young DVD sits nearby), shows off his musical dedication. During a photo shoot, the tall, thin Nicolay, who sports a pair of small hoop earrings, a plaid shirt, cool jeans and orange-striped Pumas, fiddles around on bass while surrounded by an acoustic guitar, keyboards, a mixing board and loads of musical equipment.

The song "Daykeeper," from the Foreign Exchange's 2008 album "Leave It All Behind" (distributed by the indie label Hard Boiled Records), is a trippy, swirly, sexy masterpiece, featuring the male-female dynamic of Phonte and guest vocalist Muhsinah, as well as spine-tingling production by Nicolay.

To take home a Grammy, The Foreign Exchange will have to prevail over bigger names - like India.Arie and her song "Pearls" with Dobet Gnahore - and those with industry backing, like Robert Glasper and Bilal (Nicolay calls them "cats that I personally admire"), whose song "All Matter" was done for the famed Blue Note label.

The other nominees in the Best Urban/Alternative Performance category are "Blend" by Tonex and another indie collaboration, "A Tale Of Two," by Nicolay's friends Eric Roberson, Ben O'Neill and Michelle Thompson.

Aside from his work with The Foreign Exchange - which played three dozen or so shows around the country this year, including gigs at The Roxy in Hollywood, which their cult status helped sell out - Nicolay is a prolific solo artist. His most recent album, the expansive, mostly instrumental "City Lights Vol. 2: Shibuya," inspired by a mind-blowing trip to Japan, has earned positive reviews, notably on the Web site AllMusic.com.

Nicolay, Flint and Phonte will fly out to Los Angeles next month, where the Grammys are set to be held Jan. 31, and they're invited to all the official parties and dinners. They even get a nominee medal.

"If we win, it's nothing short of a revolution. It's a victory for all independent artists. It means you can't just put money on the table (and win)," Nicolay said. "But we have a saying in Holland, 'Don't sell the hide before you shoot the bear.' "

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