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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.

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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.

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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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Nicolay Shows Off His Jazzy Side on North American Tour, Talks New Foreign Exchange Album (via Exclaim.ca)

by +FE on July 5, 2012 at 9:18 AM · Comments
As noted hip-hop/soul producer Nicolay kicks off a 13-stop North American tour with exploratory jazz trio the Hot at Nights this week, the Grammy-nominated Dutch performer tells Exclaim! that he's in a good place right now.

The tour, which makes its lone Canadian stop in Toronto on Thursday (July 5), is something that's been a long time coming, the Foreign Exchange member notes. The show will see Nicolay and the Hot at Nights perform jazzy interpretations and arrangements of his instrumental compositions from his City Lights Vol. 2: Shibuya project.

"Toronto has always been great. When we were doing the tour and I knew we were going up north, I really wanted to include Toronto in the plans," the North Carolina-based Nicolay says. "I feel like Toronto is a very open-minded city and people are definitely ready for something that is a little bit off the beaten path."

The live tour will see Nicolay playing synth and keyboards, along with the the Hot at Nights trio (Chris Boerner on eight-string guitar, Matt Douglas on sax/woodwinds, and Nick Baglio on drums).

"These guys are doing something that, while different, [contains] a lot of overlap in the best possible way," Nicolay says. "The idea for the Shibuya EP was borne of the idea to finally play with some jazz guys and get my ass kicked because they're all incredible virtuosos. It was a great way to better myself and get my own chops up. That's what this all represents."

Practically dripping with underground hip-hop/R&B/electronica cred, the soft-spoken Nicolay has quietly amassed a remarkable body of work -- from an acclaimed collaboration with North Carolina rapper/singer Phonte Coleman (the Foreign Exchange), to his solo jazz and electronica projects on his indie label +FE Music, which he runs in partnership with Coleman.

"You have to define success in this industry. Success in our case is being completely independent and depending on what we do as a team," he says. "We really can do whatever we want. We're very unfortunate that we've built up a loyal fan base that really supports us."

Nicolay notes that more solo projects from both Phonte and himself are on the way shortly, along with a planned new artist showcase project on the Foreign Exchange label. Nicolay also reveals that the so-far-untitled follow-up to the Foreign Exchange's Grammy-nominated Authenticity should be out sometime in 2013, stating that it will be a lot different from that previous 2010 outing.

"It will definitely be a departure from our last record," he explains. "Authenticity was almost like a concept album from the sound of it and the subject matter. The content was very much connected to the emotions that we were into at the time. It was a less optimistic record, to put it lightly. The new album will have a lot more colour, a lot more complexity and bundles all of the influences that we've taken in over the years.

"I'm not going to put a date on it because we want to leave no stone unturned. We're taking our time but we'll definitely have it out within the next year."
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