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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The Foreign Exchange: Authentic Souls (Part 1) (via The Well Versed)

by +FE on October 22, 2010 at 8:55 AM · Comments
TWV: It's been 6 years since Connected was released as two guys who just enjoyed each others music from two different continents. Honestly, did either of you ever think that this is where you would be at in your respective careers? Making this kind of music?

Phonte: I always thought we'd be making music together to some capacity. But in terms of Nic moving stateside and moving at the level we are now, I truly didn't see that coming. I kind of knew from our first record that it would be more than hip hop. We both had aspirations of doing something outside of the realm of hip hop. In terms of it turning into a full blown company and us producing for other people, I damn sure didn't see that happening. We've been blessed.

Nicolay: I agree with that. In a lot of ways it has grown to a lot more than what I envisioned in my wildest dreams in the best possible way. We've been able to do everything in a 360 degree way. We've been able to make our own decisions. That has really been an incredible experience and we definitely have gone further than I thought we'd be able to.

TWV: When was the moment that you said that you could do Foreign Exchange for a living?

P: It was after Connected came out. Every moment in our career is marked by a challenge. Once we get through that challenge, that's when things start falling into place. With Connected that record was "Nic's Groove." We knew there was something that was really there. After Connected there was a period where we lost touch. We weren't really talking. He was working on his project. We both knew we wanted to do another Foreign Exchange album but we had no idea what direction to take. Once we did "Daykeeper" it was like "Oh shit, we found it!" Beyond that, the live show came into play and we hooked up with Zo! and we built from there. It's been a series of moments and once we've conquered each of our challenges you move forward. That's how it has always been.

TWV: Nic, when was the moment that you realized that Phonte is a damn good vocalist and song writer?

N: There were a lot of moments on Connected where I knew there was a lot more than just an emcee in Phonte. When we started Leave It All Behind we never consciously said what songs were going to be sung. It just happened that way. The music really inspired Phonte to go that route. For me personally, "Daykeeper" was when I really knew that this was a completely different level. On "House of Cards" I knew the vocals and the writing was much more deep than what we ever attempted. With the new record we stepped further into that realm.

TWV: Authenticity is a decidedly different album than Leave It All Behind. It's a bit darker, devoid of humor and leans perhaps even more left than LIAB did. What attributes to the direction on the album?

P: One of the things me and Nic are driven by is not trying to repeat ourselves. We just don't want to be bored. We figure that if we're going to be bored with a record, chances are that the fans are going to be bored too. There were times on Leave It All Behind when I would be sending Nic hundreds of tracks that had the same feel. We pretty much figured that we took that sound to the hilt. I mean what the fuck else were we going to have. Bring on the harmonica? Bring on the harp? There's nothing else we could do. With Authnticity we began to strip songs down to the very basics and approaching the songs as if they could be performed like acoustic pieces. From a lyrical standpoint I wanted the lyrics to be able to stand alone. When you read the lyrics on paper they could read like poetry without any music. That's what drove the creative process.

TWV: The songwriting sounds like it came from a place where love is more difficult than life. I'm assuming that there are some personal experiences on the album.

P: *laughs* A lot of it is personal. I just always been a believe in writing what you know and what you live. That always rings more true than just making up some shit. There was somewhat of a conscious decision -- or maybe not so conscious -- that the lyrics came out way more masculine this time around. Whereas Leave It All Behind was a kind of lovey dovey album. This is a lot darker. The way I express myself is the way a man would make a song like "Fight For Love." In general terms, a woman is like "I have to fight for my relationship to make it work" and a guy is like "I'm not fighting for this shit. It either ain't or it is." That kind of thinking made it's way into the record.

TWV: Did you ever have a moment where you sat back and said "shit, they gonna hate us after this album" because of how different it is from your last two projects?

P: Oh yeah. You have that moment after every record that you make. When we first came out with Connected and then we came out with Leave It All Behind, some people were mad because it wasn't Connected. And now with Authenticity we have cats that are mad because it isn't Leave It All Behind. There's always going to be a contingent of listeners who are either want you to do the same thing over and over or they just aren't going to accept it. We just accept that as being part of the game. It's a bad idea to make artistic decisions based on that. If you don't stand for your art or not willing to defend it, what good are you? At this point I think that we have a base of fans who accept that each time around its going to be something different.

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