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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City Arts Magazine interviews The Foreign Exchange

by +FE on July 6, 2011 at 4:40 PM · Comments
The Foreign Exchange's 2004 debut Connected surprised listeners with tight beats and sit-up-and-listen lyrical flow--even though North Carolina rapper Phonte and Dutch producer Nicolay had never met in person. (Props to the okayplayer.com message boards for initially bringing them together.) As demonstrated by last year's Authenticity, their music now extends into R&B and neo-soul while staying true to their real-life wordplay and hip-hop roots. City Arts caught up with the duo ahead of the West Coast leg of their tour.

City Arts: The Foreign Exchange sound has shifted on Authenticity, but listening to your first album you can hear that those elements of soul and R&B have always been there.

Phonte: It's really an extension of what we had already done. We want to always build on our sound every time, but we never want to repeat ourselves. So with songs like "Sincere" [from the first album], those were kind of a foreshadowing of what was to come. There's really nothing that we did on [second album] Leave It All Behind or Authenticity that you didn't hear coming on our first album Connected.

Production-wise how is this album different?

Nicolay: Sound-wise it's much more stripped down. For this record we were inspired by the singer-songwriters of the 70s and we wanted to do something that puts the songs central.

Any singer-songwriters in particular?

Phonte: James Taylor was definitely a big influence, being from North Carolina and all.

Nicolay: We never really discuss what we want a song to sound like, it kind of just seeps its way through. It's all about listening to a lot of different sounds. Growing up I was into albums like Sign o' the Times by Prince and the classics like Pet Sounds and the Beatles albums. So our sound is never something we plan, it just happens.

You've been performing some 90s hip hop classics at shows recently, like Mark Morrison's "Return of the Mack."

Phonte: That's been getting a really good reception! It's something that me and [Foreign Exchange keyboardist] Zo! just did for fun and it's something we enjoy. It's really just us wanting to have fun with the music.

Are there any other song surprises?

Phonte: Well then they wouldn't be surprises! [laughs] We're not giving anything away! We feed off what the crowd is doing.

Were you surprised that Connected is now being hailed as a hip hop classic or did you always know that it was going to be special?

Phonte: You never really know. You don't know until you know. We don't know until people tell you "This is great!" or "I love this album!" That's the only time that you know. Other than that you're just hoping really.

Recently you talked to Peter Rosenberg on [NYC hip hop and R&B radio station] Hot 97 about the evolution of the conscious hip-hop movement. Do you identify yourselves as being part of that movement or is that a label that you're keen to distance yourselves from?

Phonte: "Conscious" is an empty term. It's not like me and Nic sing songs about the war in Afghanistan. It's not like we're making protest music. We're just writing songs that deal with our everyday lives and we hope people can see the humanity in it. So in terms of conscious rappers, first of all me and Nic don't make rap music anymore. [laughs] But beyond that, in terms of conscious rap, I just don't know what that shit means.

Nicolay: I don't think anybody ever did! I think the way we look at it is that we make music for people to help them with their lives; to make their lives a little bit better.

Is that a North Carolina thing or a Dutch thing or is it just your own unique style?

Phonte: I personally think it's just me being myself. I definitely think that North Carolina has a lot to do with it because it's just a really chill environment here and it lends itself to reflection and being calm. If I lived in a big city, like a New York or a L.A., I'm sure that would play some kind of role in the art that I was making. Where I am now is the place that allows me to just be me, y'know? So I'm just happy being here.

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