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.

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The Foreign Exchange won't rest on Grammy laurels (via Creative Loafing Atlanta)

by +FE on February 10, 2010 at 7:32 AM · Comments
Sleep is a luxury Phonte and Nicolay still can't afford.
Say what you will about the commercial excess of the Grammy Awards, for an artist, there's nothing more validating than receiving a nomination. It means even more for independents with no major-label backing. So when Phonte Coleman's wife woke him up to tell him that his alt/soul group the Foreign Exchange had received a Best Urban/Alternative Performance nod for the song "Daykeeper," he reacted like any exuberant artist would - he fell back asleep.

"Honestly, I had been working so much, it didn't hit me until I completely woke up," he laughs.

His reaction was fitting, considering the life of an indie artist. Phonte and his partner, producer Nicolay (born Matthijs Rook), do everything themselves, from writing, producing and engineering, to fighting what Nicolay calls "David versus Goliath" business battles with iTunes. Add to that their tour schedule and extra projects like the recent formation of their label, the Foreign Exchange Music, and sleep has become a luxury.

"I have no personal life," Phonte says, adding that he and Nicolay are wrapping up soulstress Yahzarah's upcoming album, The Ballad of Ms. Purple St. James, due this spring. "There's no 'Phonte enjoys kayaking in his spare time.' It's nothing for [us] to work 24- to 36-hour stretches."

Being independent may not support a balanced lifestyle, but getting the Grammy phone call is its own reward. It's also an encouraging sign for unsigned artists who've come to view such recognition as a pipe dream.

"A lot of people still say the Grammys are a popularity contest," Nicolay says. "But in our category, it showed a bit of guts from the committee that we were in there."

Though they lost to India.Arie this year, the "Grammy-nominated" label is one that they'll be flashing when they return to perform in Atlanta at Shameless Plug's Hey Love show Feb. 12. And with new releases from affiliated artist Zo! and the Foreign Exchange scheduled to drop this year, they plan on riding the wave into the sunset. "I ain't no fool," Phonte laughs. "I know we have to stay on people's minds while we have their attention."

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