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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MY Lifestyle Magazine interviews The Foreign Exchange

by +FE on October 6, 2013 at 5:31 PM · Comments
This international duo's new album "Love In Flying Colors" brings soulful beats, honest lyrics and inspiring grooves. The group spoke to MY Lifestyle Magazine about the evolution of their sound.
After three successful studio releases, a remix album and a live record, the musical duo known as The Foreign Exchange introduces us to their latest effort, "Love In Flying Colors," which was released on Sept. 24. True to their familiar blend of eclectic R&B, fused with hip-hop, electronic, house, a little bit of acoustics, and an array of other influences, the album is giving music lovers something to celebrate.

It's the kind of music that reaches into your soul and makes you want to momentarily disconnect from everything else. The beats will make your head nod back and forth. The lyrics will raise your spirits.

The Foreign Exchange actually began a decade ago on separate sides of the Atlantic Ocean, when North Carolina-based rapper Phonte began interacting with music producer Nicolay through an online hip-hop forum. Soon afterward, Nicolay was sending beats to Phonte from his home country of the Netherlands and together, they created a hit album before ever meeting in person. That debut release, "Connected," laid the foundation for what fans consider a sound that rises above some of the stale, recycled songs that are typically played on the radio.

The debut single on their current release, "Call It Home," taps into your emotions and takes you to a place that many of us can relate to - being separated from someone we love by long distance. And it's the music video for the single that really has people talking. It's is a stunning compilation of visually stimulating scenes from all over the globe, produced and edited so that the footage is choreographed to play on the music.

"It's around the world in three minutes," says Phonte of the concept. "It's a guy leaving home and you see his vantage point. He goes all these places, then he comes back home. If you have the someone that means the most to you, then home is wherever that person is."

The group's loyal fans have gotten used to not knowing what to expect from one album to the next as Nicolay and Phonte experiment with different sounds and styles, while collaborating with a number of underground R&B singers like Sy Smith, Muhsinah, Eric Roberson, YahZarah and Darien Brockington, to name a few. So what do they tell people who want to categorize their music?

"In a lot of ways, part of my style is that I have a lot of styles," Nicolay says. "On one album, you can have a house track on one end, then downtempo or acoustic on another end, and everything in between. For "Love In Flying Colors," the consensus is that it's an R&B album. I can get behind that if you have to make a choice. I understand why genres exist, but I like that grey area where different genres meet."

Phonte has climbed over an invisible wall with his artistic expression. After emerging as a rapper in the early 2000s as part of the hip-hop trio Little Brother and later on "Connected" in 2004, he dramatically switched things up when he started singing more and rapping less, beginning with the group's sophomore album "Leave It All Behind" in 2008. The artist admits that he didn't initially realize that his singing would cause so much discussion and debate among fans.

"I understand what a big risk it was now," Phonte says. "Back then I didn't see it that way. Singing felt like a natural extension for me. It was still me, and to me, it didn't seem like that radical of a jump. Had I known it was going to be, I don't know if I would have taken the chance."

But it was a chance that brought big rewards. "Leave It All Behind" still had a lot of the familiar elements of R&B and hip-hop, but added acoustics and slower rhythms to the overall feel. The album featured the soul-penetrating songs like "House Of Cards," "I Wanna Know" and the single "Daykeeper," which earned Phonte and Nicolay a GRAMMY nomination for Best Urban/Alternative Performance.

On their following album "Authenticity," the pair continued where they left off, further evolving their sound. With each album, Phonte puts himself in more vulnerable positions as a singer with honest, transparent songwriting. Although many artists stick to the one thing that initially made them popular, he says it's possible to be successful as both a rapper and singer, even if some listeners who followed his rap career with Little Brother questioned it.

"You just have to not give a f-- about what people are saying," says Phonte, who made the switch long before rap artists like Drake started doing the same. "This separates the men and the boys. You have to just not care; at least not let it get in the way of your vision."

Both Phonte and Nicolay are both planning more solo projects and will continue to tour together. They've successfully build a movement of fans from around the globe that look to them for hope that original musical artistry won't fall by the wayside, as record companies continue to sign artists that can be easily labeled and packaged into a popular genre.

"We do shows and people thank us for making this music and we thank them for buying it," Phonte says. "Our music helps them get through the day. That gives us inspiration to keep going and we know that we're not doing it all for nothing."

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