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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.''

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''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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Phonte Coleman figures out how to be on his own (via News & Observer)

by +FE on June 8, 2012 at 10:36 AM · Comments
It's been quite a year for Phonte Coleman.

Raleigh's resident MC/soul singer extraordinaire (who usually just goes by his first name) - the same man who has been front-and-center for such outfits as the now-defunct hip-hop trio Little Brother and the Grammy-nominated, indie-R&B collaboration known as the Foreign Exchange - has spent most of these past months onstage, mainly by his lonesome.

"Everything I've done up to this point was from Little Brother or Foreign Exchange or whatever," says Coleman, 33, getting comfortable in his Raleigh home after just getting off a plane.

"But now, it's the first time I've really been able to step out - for me."

This one-man show he's been doing comes after the release of his long-awaited solo effort, "Charity Starts at Home," which came out last September.

Since then, he's been touring on his own, getting awestruck when he plays spots like New York City's B.B. King Blues Club & Grill and sees his name on the marquee.

"Like, that was the first time I'd ever seen my personal name in lights ... That was kind of wild," he says.

Technically, he's been touring the country with another performer, producer/DJ 9th Wonder, also known as his former, estranged partner in Little Brother.

For a while, the two weren't on speaking terms after Wonder left the group in 2007. (Coleman and fellow MC Rapper Big Pooh kept the boat afloat before calling it quits in 2010.)

However, early last year, the pair patched things up, even working on each other's solo albums. (9th's latest, "The Wonder Years," was released on the same day "Charity" came out.)

Coleman says he and the Wonder man are now at a point in their relationship where they should've been 10 years ago.

"But," he explains, "as things go, you have to grow up. So we needed to go through what we needed to go through. So, we can have the relationship that we have today. So, it's all good."

Coleman says what keeps their friendship secure now is that they respect each other's space.

"I mean, 9th, you know, he does his thing. I do my thing, and we accept each other in that circle. I mean, in the past, we always kind of made a thing of trying to change each other ... Now, we're just at a point where it's just like we accept each other on our own terms and as our own men."

While he and 9th's relationship has gotten smoother, Coleman's personal life has been the opposite. Recently divorced, Coleman's marital woes were a contributing factor to the subject matter of "Charity."

"Looking back on it, I definitely think it was a record that" - he chuckles as he finds the right words - "it definitely describes where I'm at right now, or where I was at that time, I guess. It was kind of like the perfect snapshot of my life at that time, you know." While Coleman insists it wasn't his intention to get really real on "Charity," it certainly helped him work things out in his personal life.

"I think if you listen to it, you can hear a person that is definitely conflicted with a lot of things, and I'm just trying to figure it out just like anybody else. So maybe the next album won't be as distraught as 'Charity,' now that I kind of got that out."

As always, Coleman is concentrating on other things. Sadly, one of those things isn't his hilarious "Gordon Gartrell Radio" podcast. Since early last year, the show has been on an indefinite hiatus since DJ Brainchild, who provides the show's music, has taken time off from spinning records.

He and his Foreign Exchange co-conspirator Nicolay Rook are currently mapping out the next album.

"We really just want to take our time with the next go-round," he says.

"You know, just kind of put out something on our time, and not on a label distributor's time or whatever."

Nevertheless, Coleman will always be around if artists want to work with him. The kind of performer who can spit a verse or two on tunes from progressive soulsters Eric Roberson and Anthony David, then go back and forth with hip-hop oddity Lil B "The Based God" on a rap track, Coleman is always ready to perform, whether he's alone or with friends.

"I feel it's a blessing to be able to have persevered as long as I have, you know, and still be here and still be prosperous - still be happy, younowhamsayin."
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