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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.''

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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The Foreign Exchange's indie success story (via Creative Loafing Atlanta)

by +FE on October 22, 2013 at 9:08 PM · Comments
Soulful hip-hop duo talks new album and DIY life
In the world of independent artists, North Carolina's soul/hip-hop duo the Foreign Exchange offers a rare case of DIY done right. Since hitting the scene in 2004 with its debut album Connected, singer/rapper and former Little Brother MC Phonte Coleman and Dutch producer Nicolay (born Matthijs Rook) have forged their own path without the support of an outside label.

Through their self-run FE Music imprint, the group has not only released its own critically acclaimed music (as well as DVDs, merchandise, and other products) over the last decade, but also projects by other artists, such as instrumentalist Zo!, singer Jeanne Jolly, and more. It'd be hard not to give props to such a well-oiled machine for churning out new sounds on the regular and steadily growing its fan base. With the Foreign Exchange's fourth album, Love in Flying Colors, the machine shows no signs of slowing down. This latest production presents a band that's at the next step of its organizational evolution. "We're fortunate enough that ... with [Love in Flying Colors] and other titles -- as a label, we've already set our own record in terms of our accomplishments," Nicolay says. "Being an independent artist is not for everybody. It takes a lot of dedication and a lot of time, but obviously you're working for yourself and there's nothing better than that."

Clearly a band in control of its destiny, FE puts its autonomy to good use on Love in Flying Colors, crafting an album that probably couldn't exist in the world of 21st century major label music: Electronic without being cold or vapid (on "Call It Home" and "If I Knew Then," featuring Atlanta-based singer Carmen Rodgers), and tinged with R&B, rap, and even pop sensibilities while still being poetic and thoughtful ("Better," "On A Day Like Today," and "Can't Turn Around," featuring vocals by Decatur's own Gwen Bunn).

The new album also represents a leap forward when it comes to Phonte and Nicolay's sonic approach as a whole, displaying a more defined version of the pristine-yet-funky sound they've become known for.

"With each record it's just been growing in terms of our grasp of writing songs and also from the production, mixing, and technical side," Phonte says. "Making the records sound the way we want them to sound, making them pop, making them jump out of the speakers."

Nicolay concurs. "Sonically we were looking to do something that was a little bit more of a brighter sound, but also a bigger sound, he says. "On our last album, Authenticity, we purposefully kept very sparse and even the production was very spare. On the new album, we wanted to do something that was heavier in terms of the low end -- warm ... and bigger than we ever have done."

Currently on tour supporting the new project, the team now faces the task of transforming Love in Flying Colors into a live show that's satisfying for its growing audience. "It's just so hard when you go out with a new record," Phonte says. "You don't know what's gonna hit with the crowd. There are certain songs that sound great on record, but live it's like: 'Eh. OK -- that's the scary part about it."

Fear aside, the group is promising a performance backed by an eight-deep band and background vocals from the previously mentioned Rodgers and Jolly, featuring -- along with the new tunes -- renditions of fan-favorite songs from the catalog of the last 10 years. "We wanna just maintain our show," he says. "Singing the songs to the best of our ability, being real interactive with the crowd, and just having fun."
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