Nicolay/The Hot At Nights - Glaciers
Nicolay, The Hot At Nights

''If Glaciers signals a more musically adventurous direction for the North Carolina-based family, we’re here for it and more.'' - L. Michael Gipson for SoulTracks [Click here to read the full review]

''The melodies, including several typically spirit-lifting lines from Nicolay and an abundant quantity out of Douglas' sweet-toned saxophone, are as rich and affecting as they are on any earlier release from the Foreign Exchange family. For all the inspirations this applies, it connects the quartet to a global network of like-minded progressives that includes the likes of Terrace Martin, Logan Richardson, Slowly Rolling Camera, and Kamaal Williams.'' - Andy Kellman for AllMusic [Click here to read the full review]

''Much like the album's title, Glaciers is dynamic and full of movement making it the perfect soundtrack for a long, scenic drive; a flight overseas or a much-needed mental migration.'' - EatsBeatsNLife for SoulBounce [Click here to read the full review]

Phonte - No News Is Good News
No News Is Good News

''If CSAH was the champagne of his career, No News Is Good News is the barrel-aged cognac, spiced, smooth, warming, and right on time for this season of life. Highly Recommended. '' - L. Michael Gipson for SoulTracks [Click here to read the full review]

''No News Is Good News shows the evolution of Phonte, showing that a grown-ass man can be both boastful and vulnerable without compromising his art.'' - D-Money for SoulBounce [Click here to read the full review]

''Not one note or syllable is wasted.'' - Andy Kellman for AllMusic [Click here to read the full review]

Phonte and Eric Roberson - Tigallerro
Phonte and Eric Roberson

''Seemingly created without fuss, Tigallerro is made of relaxed yet moving grooves, supplied by a cast of over of a dozen, that often evoke sunny and carefree Saturday afternoons. The two occasionally play around with some commercial trends, but they remain themselves, as grown men who descriptively sing about everyday romantic highs and lows, whether they're recalling contentment or regretting transgressions.'' - Andy Kellman for AllMusic [Click here to read the full review]

The Foreign Exchange - Tales From The Land Of Milk And Honey
The Foreign Exchange
Tales From The Land Of Milk And Honey

'' This North Carolina-based outfit have gone from outliers to one of the most consistent acts in R&B'' - Michael J. Warren for Exclaim! [Click here to read the full review]

''What Milk And Honey and other gems off of Tales… proves is that there’s still plenty of milk in them there hills. Highly recommended.'' - L. Michael Gipson for SoulTracks [Click here to read the full review]

''Milk and Honey is a victory lap and a nice step forward in the group’s creative progress.'' - Marcus J. Moore for Pitchfork [Click here to read the full review]

''Tales from the Land of Milk and Honey is one of the funnest R&B albums in some time.'' - Andy Kellman for AllMusic [Click here to read the full review]

Nicolay - City Lights Vol. 3: Soweto
City Lights Vol. 3: Soweto

''Nicolay's ability to honor South African musical tradition without just copying its style gives the record as a whole a much appreciated sense of authenticity.'' - The Kommish for SoulBounce [Click here to read the full review]

''Nicolay is a most sophisticated sonic tourist, able to link the foreign to the domestic, the past to the present with a singular style.'' - Brandon Soderberg for IndyWeek [Click here to read the full review]

''As much as we love The Foreign Exchange, it's great to hear Nicolay stepping out on his own once in while, too, especially when the result is something as swoon-worthy as the soul-funk jam The Secret.'' - Ron Schepper for Textura [Click here to read the full review]

''Where Shibuya felt like a scenic stroll through Tokyo’s nightlife, Soweto is lush and vibrant, carried by a persistent thump that picks up steam as the album progresses. This isn't an album of singles; it’s a summery mix of breezy dance tunes, sequenced without pauses for a unified listening experience.'' - Marcus J. Moore for Pitchfork [Click here to read the full review]

''Radiant synthesizer melodies, jutting drums and probing basslines, and certain percussion accents are neatly woven through fusions of jazz-funk, house, broken beat, and downtempo electronic music'' - Andy Kellman for AllMusic [Click here to read the full review]

The Foreign Exchange - Love In Flying Colors
The Foreign Exchange
Love In Flying Colors

''Love In Flying Colors holds up as another solid and thoroughly enjoyable outing from the group; those acquainted with the group's previous output (2004's Connected, 2008's Leave It All Behind, 2010's Authenticity) will also note how much its music has matured into a style noteworthy for being so cohesive and fully integrated. And, finally, this latest collection from the community-minded collective is all the more welcome when one considers how few other groups currently operate within The Foreign Exchange's chosen stylistic zone.'' - Ron Schepper for Textura [Click here to read the full review]

''The production and heart found on the album makes for universal appeal, not just in tone and sentimentality, but as music easily embraced by fans of various genres. Not afraid to be positive and unapologetic, “Love in Flying Colors” is electronic infused R&B with soulful elegance that provides listeners something fresh. At the very least, it’s a sultry sounding lament to waking up anew, happy with a better outlook. At most, it’s smooth sounding delivery will result in constant rotation. One of the year’s best.'' - Brian Tucker for Star-News [Click here to read the full review]

''De ster van het album is zodoende de man die normaal gesproken op de achtergrond staat: de producer. De muziek is op Love in Flying Colors niet ondersteunend voor de zang, maar andersom; Phonte’s bijdrage staat in dienst van de beats van Nicolay. Dat is een compliment voor het werk van onze landgenoot, maar het roept ook de vraag op of hij na een samenwerking van bijna tien jaar de Amerikaan niet is ontgroeid. Met dit album vestigt Nicolay zich in ieder geval definitief aan de productionele top, nationaal en mondiaal.'' - Jasper Veenstra for State Magazine [Click here to read the full review]

''When Nicolay Rook's production opens up to multiple genres at once and Phonte Coleman opens his heart, Love in Flying Colors wins with a singular kind of sincerity.'' - Brandon Soderberg for Indy Week [Click here to read the full review]

''With Love In Flying Colors, the pair prove once again that they are in a class all their own.'' - Norman Mayers for Nu-Soul Magazine [Click here to read the full review]

''Love In Flying Colors is as consistently enjoyable as one should expect. If you’re already a fan, most likely you’re already bumping this album. If you’re not yet a fan, what are you waiting for?'' - MJ for Popblerd! [Click here to read the full review]

''This is all-out openness and clarity, which, for better or for worse, is just a little more grown-up.'' - Kyle Kramer for Pitchfork [Click here to read the full review]

''Love in Flying Colors is lyrically as insightful, reflective and unabashedly truthful as anything found on the collective’s increasingly enviable catalog. Musically, Nicolay has ensured the new project will be, for fans, like sliding your feet back into warm and comfortable house slippers.'' - L. Michael Gipson for SoulTracks [Click here to read the full review]

''This is aggressively sophisticated R&B that makes no apologies for its brains or its lost-in-love sincerity.'' - Brandon Soderberg for SPIN [Click here to read the full review]

''Layered overtop of Nicolay's ever-evolving yet signature electro-soul sound, Love in Flying Colors is steeped in an honest, vulnerable lyricism bolstered by dreamy, feel-good synth vibes regarding the complex emotion called love and all it represents.'' - Ryan B. Patrick for Exclaim! [Click here to read the full review]

''A series of successful, calculated musical risks push The Foreign Exchange to new heights on Love In Flying Colors.'' - Andrew Gretchko for HipHopDX [Click here to read the full review]

''Like each of their previous efforts, Love In Flying Colors is a melting pot of R&B and soul that transcends the manufactured dreck found in much of mainstream R&B.'' - D-Money for SoulBounce [Click here to read the full review]

''In 2013, it takes a certain level of bravery to make R&B this open-hearted, joyous, and musical. U.K. acts like 4hero, New Sector Movements, and Bugz in the Attic were doing it in the early 2000s, but none of them put it together quite like this, in one concentrated shot, with the songwriting on the same high level as the productions and arrangements. This crew is elite.'' - Andy Kellman for AllMusic [Click here to read the full review]

Zo! - ManMade

''ManMade is a complete work -- his best creation yet.'' - Andy Kellman for AllMusic [Click here to read the full review]

The Foreign Exchange presents +FE Music: The Reworks
Various Artists
+FE Music: The Reworks

''+FE Music: The Reworks provides a fabulous primer to the listener new to The Foreign Exchange's world. It's music of incredibly high quality and broad scope that also brings the outfit's family vibe into even clearer focus.'' - Ron Schepper for Textura [Click here to read the full review]

''More than a set of remixes, The Reworks is a showcase for Phonte and Nicolay's immediate and extended Foreign Exchange Music family -- the duo's like-named group, the artists supported by the label, and their affiliates and peers.'' - Andy Kellman for AllMusic [Click here to read the full review]

''The Reworks serves as both an affirmation for long time fans and a nice introductory overview of the +FE Music catalog for new listeners.'' - Chuck Nunley for Soul Train [Click here to read the full review]

''The remixes and the original songs make +FE Music: The Reworks more than your typical label compilation and/or collection of B-sides. It also doesn’t sound like a sloppily thrown together collection of remixes, a problem that arises more often than not on albums of this breed. There’s a clear sonic vision that’s defined on here as soon as “So What If It Is” pulses through your speakers, and it doesn’t fade until you hear the final kickdrum of “ACSlater”.'' - Andrew Martin for Potholes In My Blog [Click here to read the full review]

''The fifth F.E. release under the group’s lead moniker is a gorgeous retrospective of the major works and highlights of the last nine years of the entire F.E. family, past and present. Favorites get flipped and tracks that might have previously been throwaways now potentially become new favorites with this reworking of F.E. classics. '' - L. Michael Gipson for SoulTracks [Click here to read the full review]

Phonte - Charity Starts At Home
Charity Starts At Home

''Tastemakers may have rediscovered this former leader of backpack-rap heroes Little Brother thanks to his neo-soul project Foreign Exchange and frequent shout-outs from unabashed fan Drake. But Phonte Coleman never stopped making hearty, soulful hip-hop that sticks to your ribs. Rejoining estranged LB producer 9th Wonder, he builds with Big K.R.I.T. and Pharoahe Monch, addressing strained relationships ("Who Loves You More") and sympathizing with unemployed folks ("The Good Fight"). As he puts it on "Everything is Falling Down": "Don't need a new style / Being dope is always in fashion."'' - SPIN Staff for SPIN Magazine [Click here to read the full review]

''Charity Starts at Home proves that none of Phonte’s talents are obsolete and he can merge all of them into one cohesive project that’s as much of a treat as any of his other endeavors, if not more. '' - Andre Barnes for AllMusic [Click here to read the full review]

''Though we hear Phonte say in the song's opening moments, “I'm a work-in-progress, tryin' to get better,” Charity Starts At Home clearly demonstrates that this “work-in-progress” is already very far along.'' - Ron Schepper for Textura [Click here to read the full review]

''Phontigallo’s charitable proverbs won’t impeach the current crop of glitzy media magnets, but then again, that Maturity fellow was never meant to be the life of the party. With a project that’s complete as four walls and a double layered roof, Charity Starts at Home is worth its market value and then some.'' - TC for The Smoking Section [Click here to read the full review]

''With his gloriously grown-up solo debut, one of the smartest, most incisive lyricists alive proves it’s possible to grow older in hip-hop while retaining your dignity. '' - Nathan Rabin for The A.V. Club [Click here to read the full review]

''Phonte reminds his listeners that while he’d rather carry a tune, he can still carry 16 bars a lot further than most rappers. Let that boy sauté.'' - Marcus Moore for Okayplayer [Click here to read the full review]

''With its substantial subject matter, solid production and tightly-woven sequencing, Charity Starts At Home does exactly what a solo debut should: showcases the artist’s skill set and personality all at once. Frankly, this disc solidifies Phonte’s place as one of the best emcees to ever emerge from below the Mason Dixon line—and with his consistent catalog, future releases are likely to only help the case.'' - William E. Ketchum III for HipHop DX [Click here to read the full review]

''Pulling out the crystal ball, one sees Charity Starts at Home on the year-end best of lists.'' - Ryan B. Patrick for Exclaim.ca [Click here to read the full review]

''Praised as a member of Little Brother and The Foreign Exchange, Phonte gets solo shine on Charity Starts At Home. 'Dance In The Reign' is a potent display of Tigallo's lyrical talents, and he also reveals sides of introspection ('Everything Is Falling Down') and storytelling ('Sendin My Love'). Sonically soulful thanks to a heavy 9th Wonder touch, CSAH is a reminder why Tay has been an underground darling for years.'' - Adam Fleischer for XXL Magazine [Click here to read the full review]

The Foreign Exchange - Authenticity
The Foreign Exchange

''The Foreign Exchange go from strength to strength, and this is one of my albums of the year.'' - for Oh Drat [Click here to read the full review]

''Authenticity documents The Foreign Exchange's still-continuing drive towards defining itself, and one expects that the next chapter might very well find the group inhabiting a vastly different place from the one captured on Authenticity. '' - Ron Schepper for Textura [Click here to read the full review]

''With Authenticity, they have further expanded their sound to include elements of blues, folk and country with equal amounts of love and respect. Their sound is a constant evolution of ideas from the classically trained and experimental Nicolay and the American R&B and hip-hop sensibilities of Phonte that never fails to surprise with its complexity and beauty.'' - Norman Mayers for Nu-Soul Magazine [Click here to read the full review]

''The Netherlands to North Carolina never felt so close together.'' - Scotty Pippen for URB [Click here to read the full review]

''A work of hushed intimacy and unabashed romanticism that uses synthesizers to create incongruously organic, natural-sounding grown-folks R&B.'' - Nathan Rabin for The A.V. Club [Click here to read the full review]

''Clocking in at 38 minutes, Phonte and Nicolay (aka the 21st Century indie version of The System) have created an album that many have tried their entire careers to make. By questioning the genuineness of romantic relationships (some may call it cynicism), Phonte and Nicolay have made the personal universal. Quite an accomplishment.'' - Stephen Johnson for New York Amsterdam News [Click here to read the full review]

''The team of Phonté Coleman and Nicolay continue on their foray of making beautiful soul music with a sound similar to their last album, the heralded Leave It All Behind.'' - for The Napster Blog [Click here to read the full review]

''Where Leave It All Behind was an ode to being in love, Authenticity trafficks in stories of exhaustion, resignation, and quiet, mannered desperation that find the group exploring new musical territories.'' - Craig Jenkins for Potholes In My Blog [Click here to read the full review]

''Authenticity amply lives up to the high expectations created by previous Foreign Exchange releases. It’s easy to forget that it’s only the group’s third release, given how highly revered they are on the indie soul scene. When you consider how much Nic and Phonte’s music has developed over the course of those three albums, Authenticity is nothing short of outstanding.'' - for SoulCuts [Click here to read the full review]

''The Foreign Exchange have made yet another formidable entry into their catalog, seemingly impervious to outside forces in a genre of music that’s got a hard-on for conformity. '' - Sean Kantrowitz for Okayplayer [Click here to read the full review]

''An adult contemporary record that is actually musically and emotionally sophisticated in the vein of Van Morrison, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, and Everything But the Girl (...), cementing the Foreign Exchange as one of the artists at the forefront of contemporary R&B's avant-garde.'' - Tal Rosenberg for Pitchfork [Click here to read the full review]

''Authenticity is a concise, cohesive effort that finds The Foreign Exchange again successfully pushing the boundaries of R&B, soul, electronic music, and hip-hop.'' - Andrew Martin for Prefix Magazine [Click here to read the full review]

''The third chapter in The Foreign Exchange's saga does what any good page-turning novel does--it engrosses you in a tale, then just when you think you have everything figured out and know what's going to happen next, the plot twists, throwing you for a loop. Authenticity is the latest twist for The Foreign Exchange, and their musical story is only getting juicier. '' - Butta for SoulBounce [Click here to read the full review]

''Authenticity is a must-buy for R&B fans, not to mention one of the most musically pleasing examples of international relations.'' - Kelsey Miller for Live Music Guide [Click here to read the full review]

''During the entire set Nicolay provides Phonte the perfect platform for him to talk about the ups and downs of love which allows “Authenticity” to serve as another reminder of how well these two work together. '' - Kil for The Couch Sessions [Click here to read the full review]

''If you’ve loved or even been deep in like, this album will resonate with you beyond some comparison of albums or desire for the familiar. Experiences like this album are why The Foreign Exchange Music group is my currently my favorite musical brand right now and for the foreseeable future. In a time where folks aren’t talking musical chances because the dollar has trumped expression, and being hot is more important than being good, Authenticity stands out just like the leaf on the album cover.'' - Saule Wright for Soulections.com [Click here to read the full review]

''With their third album and second full soul offering continues to show Phonte’s harmonic prowess and Nicolay’s versatility.'' - Bunneh3000 for Blogcritics Music [Click here to read the full review]

''Breakups are the worst; but whether you’re fresh out of a split or still living in a relationship that ended months or years ago, being authentic to yourself can help get you through it. With their combo of lucid lyrics and matching instrumentals, Foreign Exchange can show you how.'' - William Ketchum for The Well Versed [Click here to read the full review]

''Nicolay and Phonte have released another certified classic that will surely be regarded as one of, if not the, best release of 2010.'' - Soul UK for Soul UK [Click here to read the full review]

''Authenticity is the music that represents the love of our generation, and we have plenty of love to give, despite what previous generations may think.'' - for Rawemag [Click here to read the full review]

''Ultimately, Authenticity showcases the individual and collective growth of The Foreign Exchange. Dutch producer Nicolay is known for his dense and sleek recordings, but here he strips his sound, leaving room for Phonte’s burgeoning abilities as a songwriter and composer. The duo’s new album won’t help you find love, but it could help you stay in it.'' - Marcus J. Moore for Washington City Paper [Click here to read the full review]

''Authenticity, is a love letter, but one told in reverse, and one that sees no point in sparing feelings.'' - Rebecca Haithcoat for LA Weekly [Click here to read the full review]

''Authenticity is unadulterated truth, innocent candor and sheer genius.'' - Nekeya O'Connor for ThisIsRealMusic [Click here to read the full review]

''More moody, modern R&B that sounds like nothing else and reveals remarkable depth, Authenticity is neither an everyday nor an every-day album, unless playing it is necessary for the sake of convalescence. '' - Andy Kellman for allmusic [Click here to read the full review]

''Authenticity's uniquely autumn atmosphere, matter-of-fact vocals, and august, love weary lyricism invites travellers into yet another magical world orbiting in FE's ever-expanding electro-soul universe.'' - L. Michael Gipson for SoulTracks [Click here to read the full review]

Zo! - SunStorm

''Much praise to Zo! and The Foreign Exchange crew for giving us another positive and community-spirited recording refreshingly free of misogyny and hate. '' - Ron Schepper for Textura [Click here to read the full review]

''With SunStorm, Zo! successfully marries his aesthetic to The Foreign Exchange's for a project that is as seamless as it is timeless.'' - Marcus J. Moore for Washington City Paper [Click here to read the full review]

''With a wide range of energies, moods, and tempos, Zo! has delivered a home run of soul that should be celebrated. Highly recommended.'' - B.J. Bunneh Brown for SoulTracks [Click here to read the full review]

''This is true music, and Zo! has revealed himself as a musician of the highest order.'' - Norman Mayers for Nu-Soul Magazine [Click here to read the full review]

''Though it's clear that his musical influences are vast, Zo! manages to craft a sound that is distinctly his own. So sit back, relax and prepare to be taken on the best musical ride your ears will take all year. '' - Ivory for SoulBounce [Click here to read the full review]

''True to its title, SunStorm emits a constant flow of radiant, positive energy'' - Andy Kellman for allmusic [Click here to read the full review]

''I do not doubt that this album will make it to the top of many a year-end list come December, and rightfully so. I’d even go as far as to whisper the words ‘Grammy worthy’ … after all the Foreign Exchange have already made their mark there. I guess only time will tell, but if Sunstorm is anything to go by, then we have MUCH more to look forward too from Zo! and friends in the future.'' - for Soul UK [Click here to read the full review]

Nicolay - City Lights Vol. 2: Shibuya
City Lights Vol. 2: Shibuya

''Relaxed, contemplative, and cucumber cool in its approach to nouveau -80s electronica, Nicolay's Shibuya demonstrates why the Great Dutch is in demand as an indie soul and hip hop producer.'' - L. Michael Gipson for Soul Tracks [Click here to read the full review]

''Another unassuming gem from one of the most creative and increasingly chameleonic producers around.'' - Andy Kellman for allmusic [Click here to read the full review]

''Nicolay's Shibuya: City Lights Vol. 2 exudes the kind of effervescent joy one experiences when visiting an exotic new land for the first time.'' - Ron Schepper for Textura [Click here to read the full review]

''Nicolay captures the excitement of this faraway land like a child chasing a butterfly as it floats away on a gentle breeze. (...) No matter where you are, the intricate layers of Shibuya transport you to another place.'' - Candace L. for Okayplayer [Click here to read the full review]

''Nicolay's new found vision is a refreshing journey of live instrumentation and programmed drum beats.'' - Landon A. for URB Magazine [Click here to read the full review]

''I encourage you to listen to City Lights Vol. 2: Shibuya and allow Nicolay to transport you into another level of collective creativity.'' - Fave for SoulBounce [Click here to read the full review]

''The 15-track LP showcases a highly finessed producer who continues to grow.'' - Eric Tullis for Independent Weekly [Click here to read the full review]

''A well conceptualized project for mature ears that is indicative of Phonte's song-writing prowess as well as Nicolay's dexterity on the boards.'' - Eldorado Red for Redlightdistrikt [Click here to read the full review]

''We hear a new and even more musical side of Nicolay. Or maybe he's just letting us get to know him better with each subsequent release. Either way, we recommend buying City Lights Volume 2 right away, and visiting Nicolay's Shibuya as soon as you can.'' - Zane for Leisure Lab [Click here to read the full review]

The Foreign Exchange - Leave It All Behind
The Foreign Exchange
Leave It All Behind

''The Foreign Exchange may have just earned an unexpected promotion.'' - Ian Cohen for Pitchfork [Click here to read the full review]

''Leave It All Behind can't be recommended highly enough and deserves to be considered one of the year's best releases, regardless of genre.'' - Ron Schepper for Textura [Click here to read the full review]

''It's rare that an emcee is so capable as a songwriter and it's equally as rare, today especially, that a duo with an excellent debut can follow that album up with something completely new and fantastic.'' - Andrew Martin for PopMatters [Click here to read the full review]

''With electronic and live sounds, emotional production and excellent vocals from some of the underground scene’s best, Leave It All Behind is an open and experimental take on hip-hop and soul, highly successful, at that.'' - Norman Mayers for Prefix Magazine [Click here to read the full review]

''Once the album’s final note has faded out, you’ll want to listen again, because in the presence of such impeccable chemistry, it’s hard to Leave It All Behind.'' - Jeff Harvey for Okayplayer [Click here to read the full review]

''Leave It All Behind is a concise and complete set of songs that brings out the best of both producer Nicolay and Phonte.'' - Andy Kellman for allmusic [Click here to read the full review]

Nicolay - Here

''Nicolay has tastefully managed to convey his love through (and, quite aptly, of) music by combining swirling instrumentation and inherent emotion in every track on the album.'' - Steven J. Horowitz for PopMatters [Click here to read the full review]

The Foreign Exchange - Connected
The Foreign Exchange

''The Foreign Exchange's LP is a successful blend of artistry.'' - Dominic Umile for PopMatters [Click here to read the full review]

''Connected is a sweltering, improbable 14-track symphony teeming with potent lyricism and subtle, lustrous rhythmatics.'' - Jamin Warren for Pitchfork [Click here to read the full review]

''Through a potent mix of battle-ready lyricism, falsetto crooning and European ambient grooves, [The Foreign Exchange] create Hip-Hop music from outside the box.'' - Jerry L. Barrow for The Source [Click here to read the full review]

''Bubbling with soulful, mellow warmth, Connected is both an exemplary program of neo-Soulquarian groovology and a rewarding conceptual piece about people getting along in the face of adversity.'' - Chairman Mao for XXL [Click here to read the full review]

You are here: HOME » PUBLICITY

Brave Soul Collective Artist Feature: The Foreign Exchange

by +FE on January 20, 2011 at 10:15 AM · Comments
Our Brave Soul Artist feature for this month are a pair of brilliant musicians/artists whose musical union has yielded some seriously powerful, memorable, soulful music. Consisting of rapper/singer/songwriter Phonte and producer Nicolay, The Foreign Exchange came together via the online hip-hop community Okayplayer.com in 2002. After trading files through Instant Messenger for over a year, Nicolay (living in his native Holland at the time) and Phonte (a Raleigh, NC resident) completed their debut album before they ever met each other in person. The album, "Connected," was released in 2004 to positive reviews, and was praised by legendary DJ's such as Jazzy Jeff, King Britt, and DJ Spinna for its inventive mix of hip-hop, R&B, and electronica. Their sophomore album, "Leave It All Behind" (2008) found The Foreign Exchange much closer in geography (Nicolay becoming a resident of Wilmington, NC), but located much further from their hip-hop origins. On the strength of their exhilarating live show and several nationally programmed music videos, "Leave It All Behind" became the group's most successful album to date, culminating in a Grammy-nomination for the album's first single, "Daykeeper". Authenticity, which was released on October 12, 2010 on +FE Music, is The Foreign Exchange's third album.
Late last year, I had the privilege of speaking to these two men about their work as artists, their influences, and their formula for creating such amazing material. I'm honored to kick off 2011's Brave Soul Artist features with an in-depth interview with Nicolay & Phonte of The Foreign Exchange. Read on, get informed, inspired, and ENJOY.

For those unfamiliar with the specifics of how you two started working together can you share the story?

Phonte: We first met on Okayplayer and we used to discuss music a lot and I noticed we both had a lot of the same kind of tastes and stuff. So that was pretty much it. That was how we first started making music together. It just kinda made sense. We just had a real kind of chemistry and we started making records over the internet before we met each other in person.

How did the process of creating, & recording "Authenticity" differ from that of "LIAB"-[Leave It All Behind] & "Connected"?

Nicolay: We didn't so much have a formula but we do have a tried and true way of working which is I have my own space and Phonte has his and we work on each of our respective crafts separately. I think that one of the bigger differences at least for me personally, but also for us a group was this was kind of the first time that we had a self imposed deadline because we really wanted to follow up "LIAB" as quickly as we could mainly because of the Grammy nomination and the success that the album had in general. So this was the first time that we had a deadline and that we really were forced to keep that and it was interesting to see how that turned out.

Quality vs. Quantity. Can you share your thoughts on this concept & which one is more important to you as artists?

Phonte: I think that particularly now, in an era when people are just bombarded with music, I think that we're truly living in a 'less is more' kind of era. I really think it's more important to hit people with the best rather than just bombarding people with music all the time if it's just kinda like people are getting hit with content like several times a day-everyday. You can be more effective by putting out your best like that.

After having interviewed both Yahzarah & Zo! last year, both of them spoke to a degree about how important the element of family is within the FE music camp & how important the component of originality is to you both as producers, writers and artists. Can you share your feelings about the importance of preserving your sound and being selective in terms of who you work & collaborate with?

Phonte: I think with every person we collaborate with (for me) as I'm generally the producer on the songwriting/lyrical end & the recording vocals part of it...I just look for something fresh. Every artist throughout history they kind of have different people in their careers who act as a muse of some sort. For every record it's been someone different. That's just what keeps me going. It's not really a special quality that I look for. I don't have a checklist of like: "CRITERIA to work with the Foreign Exchange " it's just something that you hear and a certain thing that an artist might have that makes you feel like if we work together we're gonna be something special and that's really it.

Nicolay: I think even especially in terms of originality, I think that The Foreign Exchange is by default a group that kind of always chooses the more adventurous road and I think that we express that in our music, we express that in the people that we work with, our album art, for us its really a kind a of bigger picture and originality is actually the main thing that makes us successful is the fact that we're doing something different than a lot of the people that are out doing "trends" or something like that.

Phonte: considering that you started out as a rapper, has singing/writing & producing been something that you've always were interested in doing or did it come about over time?

Phonte: It all just kind of came about...it was just really a natural progression. R&B/Soul music and gospel music that was really the first music that I was introduced to just from singing in church and like hearing the stuff and my mom would play around the house when I was little. That was really my first introduction to music. I didn't really get into hip-hop until I was around like 8 years old. That was when hip-hop really just hit kinda hit me and I was like "Oh shit..." But all during the time I was in hip-hop, I was still singin in church. Soul music was always a part of it. When I started making hip-hop, it just felt natural to me, to just include a lot of elements of soul into the rap I was making just because that was just a natural extension of me. That was really it. You know, I wish I could tell you I was just this genius that had this master plan, but that just wasn't the case. I just always tried to incorporate as much of myself into my music, and that was just the way things turned out.

As producers, is there a generally a specific way the creative process works for you when crafting tracks?

Nicolay: In general, I think that as the years have progressed and we've started making more and more within the concept of the Foreign Exchange and we've released our second and third albums, I think that for me my priority has shifted. Especially after we started the label side of the operation, it just feels more comfortable to work with the people we have been workin with all this time and so I send most of the ideas that I put down...most of the tracks I send them to Phonte to begin with. Whether or not we are working on a specific project. I normally just send most of the ideas to him just to hear his opinion about it because I know that he is just a great outside set of ears to something that I'm doing within the confines of my own surroundings. I think that at this point, my process is that I just kind of 'go with the flow' to use a cliche and really kind of put every idea that comes to me, I just record it, I arrange it and I send it to Phonte.

Phonte: Much like Nic, my process is also kind of go with the flow kind of thing. To me in terms of songwriting and writing lyrics, I've just found that the simplest idea is normally the best idea. It is hard to write simple. There's a million different ways to say "I love you", but there's probably no better way to say it than "I love you". A lot of times from a lyrical standpoint, it's about stripping away all the floral shit and getting to the heart of what you're saying. So in writing songs for this album, I was really just going by how I felt and what the music brought out of me. From a production standpoint and a musical standpoint, a lot of the musical ideas for this project were really just muted and weren't as colorful as we did on our previous records and I just felt like the lyrics should compliment that and when I hear certain moods and chords it just evokes a certain mood. So I just draw on that. I feel like songwriting is a two-part process. The chords are telling a story and the words are also telling a story and you just have to make sure they are both telling the same story. That was my approach to it, and it really was not too much different than my approach with other projects.

Can you both speak briefly about your feelings regarding social networking sites like twitter as it pertains to the promotion & discussion of your work?

Nicolay: I think at this point it's one of the biggest tools that we have whether it's our albums or our shows or anything else that we have going on. We use twitter and facebook very integrally in our campaigns because ultimately, the thing for us that is key we only want to limit our promotion to what we call 'organic promotion' which is not so much that we promote the record, but that our fans or other listeners promote the record. If somebody hears about the record and they like it and they feel even more passionate about it, they'll ultimately spread the word within their social circles and that will hopefully lead to a wider appeal. That's really the key thing for us is that it allows for us to provide people with the tools to engage their friends or their family and to really let them know about our stuff which in my opinion is much more valuable than an ad in a magazine or even a review. I think that people trust their friends and their family members a lot and I think if they hear about this great new artist, they're probably inclined to check it out and that's what we're out for.

Since you two have been working together, can you share what the pros & cons have been to releasing your music as independent artists as opposed to being signed to a major label?

Phonte: Well the cons obviously, is that it's no seed money or advances or like you don't get an allowance from Daddy every week for cutting the grass or taking out the trash. Ain't none of that shit...You're working off your own capital. You're funding all of your moves. We truly are a self-funded organization. That does have its limitations. It's only but so much you can do when you're working with your own funds. Your reach is not gonna be as long as it would be if you had a lot of money to put in a lot of other places. We really just have to take a slower approach to what we do. It's all on us. Then I think in terms of the old media, the major labels still do have a foothold over things when it comes to that. A truly independent artist getting into the New York Times, or Entertainment Weekly, or whatever...it's just gonna be hard. Those are some of the cons. But much more importantly on the pro side, is that you have freedom. With freedom does come a lot of responsibility but you have freedom to make the music that you want, you have freedom to put your vision out to the world as you see it, and you really just have freedom over your destiny and freedom over your life. Artists are losing that more and more. Having to give up a piece of your show money and your merch money, and your record money, its fuckin insane. So there are some cons to doing it independently. But as someone who has done it on all levels-both major, indie (small indie/big indie), I would not do it any other way than the way I'm doing it now.

Influences: Can you each name at least 2-3 artists (living/deceased) whose work has influenced you & who you'd love to work with if given the opportunity?

Nicolay: For me personally, I would have to say if I had to name three, in order of chronological appearance, I would say The Beatles, Prince, and Dilla.

Phonte: Trent Reznor is a big influence, I really like the way he's been taking songs into digital terrain with Nine Inch Nails and all his other side projects. It's really admirable. I'm probably gonna name Marc Mac from 4Hero. He's a real big musical influence and he has been for some time. But he just continues to inspire me with the stuff he puts out and the stuff he creates is really great.

How important is it for you to maintain humility as artists? Conversely, how do you each handle criticism of your work?

Nicolay: [Laughs] I handle criticism I think more poorly than Phonte does. I do like reading review because in general, I think it's always good to know where you're at even though you don't always have to necessarily agree with certain reviews. The same as there's good and bad music, there's good and bad reviews. There's definitely been times in the past where I've really kind of taken something badly if it was really something that I felt was unjust. But I've just really learned to deal with it and take what is I guess constructive out of it and really honestly learn from that and truly kind of see if there's a point to it. Ultimately the moment that you think that you've learned everything, I think it's a wrap. I know for myself if I look back over the years, I might have thought I was really really dope when I did "Connected" but looking back I know that I didn't even know half of what I know now. I think in a lot of ways similarly to how our approach to music kind of shifts over the years, it goes for everything. Obviously when you grow and mature, different things start to matter to you.

Phonte: I feel it's important for artists to remain humble. All artists, but particularly independent artists, just because your talent at the end of the day is a gift and like any gift it can be taken away. That's why I think it's really important as artists we're really in a lot of ways just vessels for a higher power. Not even speakin on anything religious but just from a spiritual aspect, there are a lot of things that come out of us and even we don't know where it comes from...we can't comprehend it. I really think that's evidence of a higher power at work and just us being vessels for a higher creation. In terms of keeping that humility, I feel it's important because you know, who's to say that God might try to give that hit record to somebody else. Nothing is promised in this game and people come and in a matter of days, so whenever we are blessed to see any kind of success, it is important remain humble and stay in touch with yourself because you have no idea how it's gonna last. People can wake up one morning and decide "I fuckin hate that guy, I don't even like him anymore"...and that's just how it is. So in handling criticism and all that, it's just a part of the game. You can't say I want to put my music out to be heard by as many people as possible and be mad when you get a bunch of opinions about it. Everyone's not gonna like you, everybody's not gonna enjoy what you bring to the table. That's just a part of the game. You just gotta take your hits. You get knocked down, you get your battle scars, and that's what makes you a man. That's what really builds you up as an artist--being able to take those hits. You keep gettin knocked down, but you keep comin back up. That's what builds your character. That's why with the criticism, I don't really take it too much to heart. I take it into account, and if there's something that's valid in there, I will take it into account for my next record or my next project. But you can't really just like get too caught up in that shit or else you'll just be paralyzed by fear and that's just not a good place to be.

How important is it for each of you to connect with your fans & those who support your music? (both at your live shows as well as online).

Phonte: You never take it lightly. I think that it's important to let people know...you really have to let your fans know that y'all are in it together. The whole entertainment in a lotta ways is just always built on a "you're the artist, just kinda sittin up in your ivory tower just lookin down all the minions and shit..." but those days are no more. You really have to let your fans know that you are in it together because the fact of the matter is you ARE. It's really like the [Andre3000] verse from "Elevators"...that shit is like the realest shit ever. He wrote it..it's years old but he wrote it years ago, but that shit more applies to now than ever before..."True- I got more fans than the average man, but not enough loot to last me to the end of the week." Thas some hard ass shit. It's like just cause I got more followers than you, it don't mean...you know...That shit is still real and EVERY VOTE COUNTS so to speak. So whenever you have people that support you, as much as you can, I feel its important just to let them know I really appreciate it, I really appreciate the support. Even if they hate it, even if they hated the record, even if they downloaded the record for free & just took it, they still paid with their time and as fast as the world moves now, people's time is their most valuable possession. So if cats took the time to check for you whether they loved it or hated it, I think that warrants a "Thank You" at the very least.

How important is maintaining and/or fostering a sense of identity as an artist?

Nicolay: It's vital because life is too short. That really says it all. I think the only thing you can be is yourself. Not necessarily what anybody else wants you to be or what you think people want you to be...but as I get older, I've noticed that staying true to yourself will kind of protect you against a lot of things in life that come at you whether it's people that may have the wrong intentions in the business settings or whether it's personal things. Just for me I've found that I'm most strong or most successful, even with music just by being myself and not trying to be all these other people that might be doing great things. I think it's critical in life to really look for that thing that makes you YOU. Not to make the crosslink, but "Authenticity" really is exactly about that. It is very much about finding that thing in you that makes me uniquely you that sets you apart from everybody else. We're all the same at the end of the day. On the one hand there are not really a whole lot of differences between all of us, but each and every one of us...it's like a fingerprint or like the veins in a leaf. There are hundreds of millions of them and each of them are different and I think that people don't celebrate that enough. People are used to kind of participating in mainstream culture whether it's music, or sports or movies. I think that people traditionally have gotten their content through mainstream channels and in my opinion only seen one side of the spectrum. I think the good thing about today is that where people just rely on more things than their newspaper or their favorite TV station, the internet has really made the world so much smaller and it's easier to get a tap on what's out there. As a result people are starting to really see that they can buy that new Michael Jackson song featuring Akon and that's because that's what the whole rest of the world listens to, but they can also download something ELSE that is not downloaded by millions of people. More and more people are starting to see that. I think that as the internet invades our lives more and more I think it becomes more and more important and also how true you are to your identity. There's a lot of fakers in this game. If there's one thing that we can get from all of this turmoil in music is if it really shakes the fakers out then I think I'm ready to make a whole lot less money. If that's a bi-product, then I'm good with it.

How do you feel about having fans of your music who happen to be members of the LGBT community? What are your feelings about the way that homosexuality is addressed (or not) addressed in the entertainment industry?

Nicolay: Truthfully, where I come from... for me it really kind of a non-issue. Coming from Europe to the states, I guess I had to learn that the issue was in fact still an issue here. In Holland where I'm from, gays have been able to get married for as long as I can remember, at least for like 10-15, maybe 20 years. I think in our society, I won't say that there's not any discrimination because that would probably be naive but I think there's a much greater level of A.) acceptance of gay and lesbian people and B.) the realization that in a lot of ways, if you look at it strictly economically it makes a lot of sense---if you wanna talk about gay marriage which for a lot of Americans, is still a hot topic. I think that any two people that wanna get married are a benefit to society because they're gonna pay taxes, more likely to have a house, etc...In all reality, however you look at it's probably a productive element of society. think every single society should be down with that, but I realize I don't speak for the majority of people here necessarily. I come from where I come from and ironically, it's just a whole 'nother picture.

What is your response to fans & critics alike who suggest that "Authenticity" is 'TOO DARK' and/or a departure from your 'signature' sound?

Nicolay: Well it's a really interesting question because I actually had a twitter convo with a fan about this and I don't really normally get into those because in all reality, that's really the beginning of the end...but there was something about this one that kind of triggered me. She said "Well I was just listening to the album and what a downer and now I'm depressed...and next time I'd like some more upbeat songs" and I had to tell her ..."Well look--life is not just all upbeat. In all reality there are no highs without lows...and if there's no lows how would you know what a high is?" I think that people are used to an exuberant sound normally, and I think even on "Authenticity" there are times when you can really hear that but in all reality the mood of the album is definitely a couple of tones darker than what we've done before. But I think that every great artist at some point in their career really kind of tried to handle something like that and that is ultimately how you balance your catalog out. If the Foreign Exchange just did nothing but like 4 or 5 albums of happy shit, at the end of the day that wouldn't be authentic. I really think in general the album has been well received and I'm happy with what people hear in it. Overall people kind of understood what we put in it and it's a moment in time of The Foreign Exchange and our next album will be another moment as the previous album was. At this point we just don't really have any kind of preconceived notions of what needs to be part of a Foreign Exchange album. It's kinda all on the table and when we're done with what we're doin, we normally look back and that's when we kinda make up the balance and release the stuff.

Copyright (c) 2008-2018 Foreign Exchange Music, LLC. All rights reserved.