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 2) (via The Well Versed)

by +FE on October 30, 2010 at 9:36 AM · Comments
TWV: You said that this album is more catered towards a man than a woman. Can you elaborate on that?

Phonte: Most R&B is pretty much men singing what they think women want to hear. Guys kind of get left out in the cold. There's a misconception that guys don't like R&B. Guys like to hear male singers but it has to be something that speaks to them on some level. No disrespect to Trey Songz, because he has songs that I like but I can't ride with four other dudes listening to Trey Songz. That's just not going to happen because most of his songs are tailored to women. My homeboys can't be singing "My Neighbors Know My Name." I'm sorry.

Even songwriters like Bill Withers were able to express themselves from a man's perspective. They really were just saying what was on their minds, no matter how hard it sounded. It was uncompromising, it was the truth. I just took every conversation me and my boys had regarding problems within the marriage or relationship. All those frustrations we just put into song.

TWV: Nic, do you feel that songwriting is a lost art in soul music today?

Nicolay: It is a lost art. It is something that is missing in the balance. There's a place for what you hear on the radio which is catered towards women. I definitely think our generation lacks the voices like a Bill Withers or Marvin Gaye or Stevie Wonder to where there is a deeper layer than "ooh baby you are so fine." I'd like to see what people have to say about the music today in 20 years. How much of it has eternal value like the way we look at records from the 60's and 70's. It does seem like gradually less and less profound. However you want to define profound.

TWV: What do both of your wives think about the album?

P: My wife loves the record. There's definitely things from my marriage that are in there. She just knows that whatever we are going through will make its way into the art. She's a writer as well so it's double that on her side. It's inevitable. She's always looked at the music as whether or not it is a good song.

TWV: What about you Nic? Because there are a lot of lyrics on the album that will make men throw up the fist in front of their wife...

P: Like preach nigga! Hell yeah!

TWV: Did she appreciate the album?

N: Oh yeah. Obviously for her, she's in it in a different way (Ed. Note: Aimee Flint is Nicolay's wife and manager of Foreign Exchange). She's very much entangled in the whole project. She loves the records. This record kind of hits the spot because it reminds her of the music that she is into.

TWV: "Laughing At Your Plans" is a beautifully put together song that has a very distinct feel. It's very mature and can be considered adult contemporary like Norah Jones could have slid into the role. Was there any thought of Norah when making that song?

P: With that song in particular, that was a record that was created by my love of country music and love of James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and others. That really folk acoustic sound from the 70s. That was one I really took the time in writing. When Nic sent me the track it definitely had a country influence. We brought in other elements to round it out. We just feel that whenever you play in a different field you want to make sure that it comes across real and not on some culture vulture shit. You just don't want to feel like you're making a mockery of someone else's music. We just want to do this the right way.

TWV: Have you been surprised by fans of your music?

N: We've been hearing it more and more as time goes on. The Grammy nomination has really opened us up to people. With the releases that come from the label, more and more people are starting to follow us and notice what we are doing. Part of what our goal is with Foreign Exchange is to be a production unit for other artists.

TWV: I just ran into Big Pooh, Away Team and many of the other Justice League cohorts. It's interesting to see that everyone has moved in a different direction. Obviously with FE being the most dramatic shift of all of the artists that jumped this movement off. Phonte, is there anything you miss about the beginning?

P: The only thing I can say that I miss is the friendship aspect. Musically, I always had it in my head to do more than hip hop. I've always known that we had other stuff that we wanted to do. I can remember back in 2000 when Radiohead's Kid A came out. I was just blown away. 9th Wonder was over that day and he said "This is the kind of music you want to do one day isn't it?" And I said "Yeah."

It's just so funny how everything turned out. Everyone pretty much went where they were headed. I went into an alternative soul direction. 9th's passion was always teaching. Big Pooh's passion has always been sports and he has found inroads into that. The only thing is that it didn't have to go down how it did. Everyone could have made their own moves and maintained some level of camaraderie. I understand people grow in different directions, but the foundation of the brotherhood we had is what I miss more than anything.

TWV: Is there any chance for FE to go back to its soulful hip hop roots with an album similar to Connected or has that time passed and fans of that era just need to move on?

N: Let me ask you a question to answer that question. Would you ask Abbey Road era Beatles to do "Love Me Do?"

TWV: Hell no.

N: Exactly. We're not the same people we were eight years ago. Our music reflects our growth and experience over the years. Asking for a rehash of something we have already done would be naïve. At the same time, there's always a lot that the albums have in common. You could have seen it coming. How one element comes from a previous album and builds on it. People should have an open mind when it comes to the Foreign Exchange.

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