Upon returning home from last night's Foreign Exchange gig at the Paradiso (Amsterdam) I realized that what I had been witness to was not only a great performance, but also a family reunion of sorts. Mom and Dad Nicolay (as Phonte referred to them) were joined by friends and family to welcome home their multi-talented son Matthijs Rook (a.k.a. Nicolay) and his band of highly gifted musicians and vocalists. Also contributing to the intimate nature of last night's homecoming was the venue. Percentagewise I'd say the attendance was about 50%, which is a good thing as it gave the audience the room to freely move around and fully enjoy the performance. As opposed to the crowded and noisy sold-out concerts that are usually held there! All these circumstances gave the evening a warm and even emotional undertone that elevated the entire experience that much more. The Foreign Exchange show also happened to be my first concert in 2011, and I couldn't have hoped for a better way to start the New Year.
If you are not into The Foreign Exchange or you have not heard of them then fix up! Truthfully I cannot carry on in the same way that smokers who give up suddenly become the biggest patrons of abstinence. It was only an introduction to The Foreign Exchange by my sister Tochi that initially got me interested.
However once I had heard them I was hooked: once you go Foreign, you never go back. Over in the UK after a prolonged period away to promote their new album Leave It All Behind I got a chance to see them perform at Cargo. Comprising of the ultra charismatic emcee Phonte and the quietly brilliant producer Nicolay, The Foreign Exchange are totally sublime. Their sound is like some ultra expensive velvet as it caresses your senses to a brilliant level but live they take their sound to a whole new experience. Even though Phonte admitted they were absolutely bush wacked after five days of touring over Europe the energy, vibe and vigour with which they performed was off the hook. It was 90 minutes of pure niceness. The highlights had to be when they dropped what seemed like spontaneous digressing jams, that just fully exposed the talent of the whole ensemble in The Foreign Exchange. The group were professional, talented and a joy, it was a great night.
On paper, a night featuring heralded underground soul songstress N'Dambi and local DC cause celebre with national trending aspirations Zo! (government name Lorenzo Ferguson) sounds like a recipe for success. The two artists represent the twin hopes for traditional rhythm and blues style in the 21st century. N'Dambi, a former backup singer for Erykah Badu, carries forth the Nona Hendryx meets Nina Simone style artistry of her mentor, music as art, art as music, a funky melange of rock and soul. Zo!, alongside his Foreign Exchange Records supported "Sunstorm All Stars" supporting cast is a producer, composer and songwriter par excellence, a little bit of Isaac Hayes, a little bit of Smokey Robinson, with a spoonful of Ramsey Lewis tossed in for good measure, a feel good sultry blend of adult contemporary music. He's not concerned with popping bottles, he's concerned with getting deeper into the heart of the matter. However, on this night in Washington, DC, what was drawn up on paper, failed to materialize, as a night with the best of intentions fell short of their destination.
This is not to say that it was a night that was without spellbinding performances. Zo and his Sunstorm All Stars are the best live act in soul music today. Having witnessed their live show twice this year, it's easily the best ticket in the genre. It has everything you'd expect from the more mainstream side of R & B, just not wrapped in a broadcloth of tawdry behavior. This is classic music by extremely talented musicians who know what that means. Lead single from Zo's latest album Sunstorm, "This Could Be The Night" is a sensual jam with a George Benson swing, meaning that for more modern ears, it recalls Montell Jordan's "Get It On Tonight," in that it's grown and sexy without being debased. The set features the ever dapper Ferguson behind a dual decker keyboard and organ, a consummate band leader, leading his charges through a tightly produced set that highlights exquisite artistry. Though Monica Blaire was not present, Deborah Bond's take on the 11 minute suite "Make Love To Me" was absolutely magical. The song is a moody jazz winner, allowing for a virtuoso female vocalist to improvise and reach an orgasmic peak under the blanket of restrained elegance. If not aware, it is the year's finest soul performance, and absolutely worthy of consideration for achievement.
Authenticity is the third album from the Grammy nominated collaboration of Phonte and Nicolay, and shows a further maturation of The Foreign Exchange. If the leap from their first album Connected to second Leave It All Behind was a revolution, Authenticity is an evolution in the Foreign Exchange's sound.
Just as The Foreign Exchange's 2008 album Leave It All Behind stylistically departs from its predecessor Connected, so too does Authenticity shift away from Leave It All Behind. Connecting the dots between the three releases, one finds the Nicolay-and-Phonte-led outfit moving from hip-hop to exuberant soul-and-funk to, on the new release, mellow soul balladry and acoustic folk. Ironically, such a seemingly safe move turns out to be the most risky: rather than courting new listeners with in-your-face exuberance, the duo opt for something closer in spirit to...adult contemporary? Yes, it's true, and most of the time it works too.
The Foreign Exchange refuse to be boxed in. If you haven't figured that out already then you probably really aren't all that familiar with this outstanding project that pairs the production genius of Nicolay with the vocal talents of Phonte. On their third album Authenticity, TFE do not in any way try to duplicate the success of their previous album Leave It All Behind, but instead venture into new sonic territories. While Authenticity may be more downbeat and melancholy than previous albums, taken on its own merit it is a gorgeous and extremely layered piece of work that finds Nicolay and Phonte truly stretching themselves to their creative limits.
There has always been a touch of sadness within the Foreign Exchange's music but on Authenticity that aspect is brought to the forefront. Lost love, crumbling relationships and general love woes seem to take up most of the album's running time, but this sadness is also reflected in the sound. The album's first half takes on a downtempo vibe that perfectly reflects the melancholic lyrics. The best of these is the album open "The Last Fall", a dramatic and decidedly retro track in which Phonte declares "I'm never gonna love again." It is a severe departure from LIAB's more sunnier relationship outlook. Midway through the album delivers its highest points. The Darien Brockington assisted "Don't Wait" is a real stunner of a track that recalls the best of 80s R&B. Jesse Boykins III shows up on "Don't Make Me A Fool", which is the only time the album really goes for the hip-hop flavored soul that many have come to expect from this collective. But it is becoming increasingly evident that Nicolay and company have created a very unique space with the Foreign Exchange. With Authenticity they have further expanded their sound to include elements of blues, folk and country with equal amounts of love and respect. Their sound is a constant evolution of ideas from the classically trained and experimental Nicolay and the American R&B and hip-hop sensibilities of Phonte that never fails to surprise with its complexity and beauty.
When it comes to my music, there are few artists that affect me in a way that defines a whole portion of my life. In a sense, some artists become the soundtrack of my life because of how much their music lyrically and sonically means to me. At times the reason for the choice is simply because you enjoy the music. But at times there are songs and albums that not only become our favorites because of the sound but because of the parallels between life and song. When the meaning of the song has a connection to your life's experiences, it becomes a much deeper emotional experience. The Foreign Exchange and their band of merry musicians are certainly in that category for me.
After seeing FE perform at BB Kings back in 2009, my fiancée and I made sure that we would not miss their return to BB Kings on Oct. 23rd, 2010. Arriving early to the scene, we were greeted by the sounds of DJ Brainchild spinning an eclectic mix of hip hop and funk. Experiencing everything from Slum Village to Barry White, the crowd spilled into BB Kings anticipating yet another amazing performance for this year's CMJ Festival.
The new FE album "Authenticity" clocks in at a polished eleven tracks, with the memorable "Everything must go" starting off with a synthesizer melody that hypnotizes from start to finish. "This city ain't the same without you" utilizes fan favorite Yazarah's vocals. MTV picking up "The Ballad of Purple St. James'" first video for rotation is as just a much a testament to the FE+ label, as is the newest tight knit ZO! full length. Nicolay's solo catalog continues to develop over time, and "Don't Wait" provides the proof Darrien Brockington's eventual solo album is long deserved. I have no doubt we'll see a rise in notoriety of all of the artists in the collective in the not so distant future.
It takes courage to reinvent yourself as a silky soul crooner after developing a hard-earned reputation as one of the most insightful, funny, gifted rappers around, but former Little Brother frontman Phonte has never lacked chutzpah or ambition. The Grammy-nominated renaissance man's first collaborative album with producer Nicolay, Connected, joined the hip-hop boom-bap of Little Brother with shimmering electronic soul. Its follow-up, the aptly named Leave It All Behind, all but abandoned rap, as does the duo's assured new Authenticity, a warm, comforting security blanket of an album. It's a work of hushed intimacy and unabashed romanticism that uses synthesizers to create incongruously organic, natural-sounding grown-folks R&B. The disc sometimes feels like one long, hypnotic, deeply soothing groove separated into tracks, but the sprightly "Maybe She'll Dream of Me," which features Phonte's sole rap on Authenticity, feels like a hit single from an alternate universe where pop music is a meritocracy instead of a rigged game. Phonte exposes his soul in song after song; like a bona fide soulman, he's fearless about broadcasting his softness and vulnerability. Thankfully, he's now in a gentler R&B realm that, unlike hip-hop, sees those qualities as strengths rather than weaknesses.
It's one thing for musicians to change their sound gradually and still remain uniquely them. It's another thing altogether to jump ship from album to album and still maintain a sound that belongs to you. The Foreign Exchange (which consists of singer/rapper/songwriter Phonte and producer/musician/arranger Nicolay) has done exactly that. Starting with 2004's firmly rooted in hip-hop Connected, moving to 2008's modern-day classic R&B sound on Leave It All Behind and ending with their new release, Authenticity, the duo have once again changed their sound and created another successful work of art.
The Foreign Exchange, last year's surprise Grammy-nominees, return with their newest set, Authenticity. The team of Phonté Coleman and Nicolay continue on their foray of making beautiful soul music with a sound similar to their last album, the heralded Leave It All Behind. Nicolay's production shows more maturation, even more so when compared to Foreign Exchange's hip-hop heavy debut, Connected. Tracks like "All Roads", "Fight For Love" and "Don't Wait" all display Nic's lush and developed soundscapes. With YahZarah and Darien Brockington returning, Phonté continues his transformation from being one of hip-hop's most clever wordsmiths to soulful singer-songwriter extraordinaire, expertly penning songs about love, love lost, it's positives and, definitely, it's negatives. But that's what Authenticity is about: Love, and everything it entails, good and bad. If you dug LIAB, then Authenticity should not disappoint.
We always knew Phonte could sang. His career in North Carolina's Little Brother was peppered with turns as a vocalist, most memorably on The Minstrel Show's "Cheatin'", an uproarious send up of mainstream R&B's penchant for cartoonish melodrama. Still, though, when Tay went full on crooner for Leave It All Behind, his and Dutch producer Nicolay's second album as the Foreign Exchange, it was a bit of a curveball. Even so, Tay and Nic made it a smooth transition with an album full of Nicolay's stellar production and Phonte's smoothly sung loverman platitudes. This is a group that never hesitates to challenge its fanbase with each work, and Authenticity is no exception. Where Leave It All Behind was an ode to being in love, Authenticity trafficks in stories of exhaustion, resignation, and quiet, mannered desperation that find the group exploring new musical territories.
Authenticity is a tightly crafted collection of atmospheric electro-soul and pop that could well see Nicolay and Phonte surpass their earlier Grammy nomination. It's a brave record, short and to the point, both lyrically and musically. I'm reminded of the writer's maxim: edit, edit and edit again! There's not an ounce of fat on Authenticity, each track is delivered succinctly, right from the heart of the matter. It's a welcome antidote to the usual bloated R&B from across the pond.
The album's overarching soundscape expands on the music Nicolay explored on his Shibuya release, marrying it exquistely to Phonte's songwriting to produce a soul album that defies the critic's usual sophistic genre classifications. For music lovers, that's certainly worth a round of applause.
Is Phonte Coleman depressed or something? It's not an unreasonable question to ask while listening to Authenticity, the third album from the rapper-turned-singer's alternative-R&B/soul group the Foreign Exchange. Picking up where they left off with their Grammy-nominated sophomore effort Leave It All Behind, Coleman and producer Nicolay have crafted an album in the age of the digi-single; a commendable feat that sets them apart from the rest of their "contemporaries" (though let's be honest, this is a group with no peers). As the lonesome leaf that adorns the album's cover might indicate, this is not a cheery affair.
The narratives surrounding the Foreign Exchange's albums often overshadowed the conversation around the music itself. On their debut, Connected, it was that rapper Phonte and producer Nicolay constructed their tracks through back-and-forth Internet correspondence, having never met by the time their album was released. With their follow-up, Leave It All Behind, it was that the group had committed a total about-face, Phonte having traded rapping for singing. In both cases, the results of such improbable experiments were astonishing. But unlike Connected, which seemed to lose steam with time, Leave It All Behind had a different trajectory. That album grew only richer and more impressive as the years passed, revealing itself to be a remarkably complex, mature R&B record.
In 2010, it's not terribly bizarre to learn that a musical act has created its latest track or album by sending tracks through e-mail or an instant-messaging service. But when singer-rapper Phonte Coleman and producer Nicolay joined forces via the infamous OkayPlayer boards in 2004, this method of creating music was basically unheard of. But because of the distance between them - Phonte resides in North Carolina and Nicolay in the Netherlands - these two basically had no other option. As such, they dubbed themselves The Foreign Exchange and crafted their widely heralded debut, Connected, with both names being a clear play on their situation. And on that record, the duo and their guests showcased an organic yet electronic take on soul-infused hip-hop. It was such a natural sound and pairing that Nicolay and Phonte realized they had something special on their hands.
Enter sophomore effort, Leave It All Behind, which dropped in late 2008 and slightly referred to how the producer himself left his life behind and moved to North Carolina. With the two of them living nearby, they could record together in the studio and allow for an even truer interaction. That led to their second album showing a greater feat of songwriting and production, both handled by Nicolay and Phonte. True collaboration might be important in any given recording session, but here it took on a new life because Phonte was ready to show the world his vocal chops. Across the entirety of Leave It All Behind he spit two verses. The rest he crooned with a sincere, honest tone, like an old-school R&B/soul-man with some help from full-time singers Yahzarah, Darien Brockington, and Muhsinah. Together, they made such a mark that even the Grammy's nomination panel took notice and put "Daykeeper" up for Best Urban/Alternative Performance in 2009. Sure, those awards might not mean much to some, but considering the Foreign Exchange's opponents - acts like India.Arie (who won) and others - it meant a lot. So much, in fact, that Phonte put recording his solo debut on hold to get back in the studio with Nicolay to create their third album, Authenticity.
· By huny
Phonte, Nicolay and their musically gifted collective known as The Foreign Exchange, including Zo!, Darien Brockington, and guest vocalist Chantae Cann, played BB Kings in New York City Saturday night and, as usual, did not disappoint. The show served as the official album release celebration for their third album, the excellent Authenticity.
As a Certified +FE Stan I looked forward to hearing live versions of their newest tracks, but remained curious in the days leading up to the show as to how the somber underbelly of Authenticity would merge with the happier Leave It All Behind and decidedly more hip-hop Connected material. It was made quickly evident, however, that there would be no palpable delineation between the songs they're most seasoned at performing (i.e. fan favorites "Take Off the Blues," "Come Around" and the GRAMMY-nominated "Daykeeper") and the future classics, which made for an organically cohesive show. The newest additions to their eclectic catalog merge extremely well with the older joints and pretty much solidify The Foreign Exchange "sound"--that achingly soulful, "grown folk relationship soundtrack" sound that resonate so deeply with those of us who've been through some real life shit.
Let's face it, The Foreign Exchange's Leave It All Behind is a tough act to follow. Released in October 2008, the album overshadowed everything released that year, wound up atop many "Best Of" lists (including being named Album of the Year by this music blog), was home to the GRAMMY-nominated single "Daykeeper" and quite literally caught everyone out there with how unbelievably awesome the whole package was from start to finish. How do you top that? Well, if you're The Foreign Exchange, the goal isn't to repeat what you've already done, which they've made quite clear throughout their career. Everyone thought that they had Nicolay and Phonte pegged after Connected dropped in 2004, but LIAB was a thematic and sonic evolution from their stellar debut. Focused on celebrating the highs and recognizing the lows of relationships, there was less hip hop, more soul and it was all good. So with the release of the group's third album, Authenticity, if there is one thing to be sure of, it's that another surprise is awaiting once you sit down and press play.
In 2002, American rapper/singer Phonte Coleman and Dutch producer Nicolay sat at their computers, more than 3,000 miles apart, while producing their first album Connected through the hip-hop and alternative website okayplayer.com. Before meeting face-to-face, the duo released their premier album as The Foreign Exchange, aptly named for their unique but magical musical composing situation.
The internet is real dope when you think about it. I actually have no idea what the world would look like without it. I can't imagine a day going by and not checking my email, reading the sports pages of newspapers across the US, tweeting and finding some unreleased music to download.(Don't act like I'm the only one) The internet is also responsible for one of the most innovative groups in music today, the Foreign Exchange.
If you're not up on the Exchange, Phonte (from Little Brother) and Nicolay met on the Root's website Okayplayer and began recording and sending music back and fourth before ever meeting. Something that would've been impossible 15+ years ago, in 2004 became a reality with the group's first album "Connected" and the two doubled down for their sophomore album "Leave It All Behind" which was nominated for a Grammy in 2009. So, how do follow up a Grammy nomination? Easy. Keep making great music. Which is exactly what the group does with their 3rd album "Authenticity".
By this point, the Internet and iTunes are a buzz with Authenticity, the 3rd full length album from the duo of Phonte and Nicolay. It's hard to follow up a Grammy nominated album as well as going from a relatively small group of fans to a more mainstream and widespread audience. So how does the group do and what do we get? Let's find out...
Continuing their R&B experiment, Phonte and Nicolay take their Grammy nominated project The Foreign Exchange to another level with their third release entitled Authenticity. Settling on an amazing sound they crafted on their sophomore album, FE is comfortable continuing their soul journey together.
With Phonte, an accomplished emcee formerly of the group Little Brother and Nicolay, a producer comfortable in the soul or hip hop production circle, FE (Foreign Exchange) has the potential to take a number of directions when they get together. Their debut album Connected exists as a genre smashing blend of hip hop and R&B which to date has kept their fans on their toes in anticipation of what direction new music will take. Filled with features as well as danceable numbers, it remains as a timeless classic that has a fresh take on the blend of hip hop and R&B with Nicolay's signature sound.
A Grammy nomination and an accessible new sound are good and all, but there isn't much that can truly comfort a relationship gone sour. With their third album, Authenticity, Foreign Exchange--the musical duo of vocalist Phonte Coleman and dutch producer Nicolay--lurk in post-breakup purgatory before finding their way out by remembering the good times and staying optimistic for the future.
Source: Soul UK
· By Soul UK
October 12th should have been a date marked on every soul music lovers diary, for that was the day that saw the release of Authenticity, the third album for the Grammy nominated duo, The Foreign Exchange. With two albums under their belt, both of which are hailed as modern classics, the group were always going to have a steep hill to climb if they were going to live up to the extreme hype off the back of 2004′s Connected and 2008′s Leave It All Behind. Well folks it looks like we can all breath a sigh of relief as Nicolay and Phonte have released another certified classic that will surely be regarded as one of, if not the, best release of 2010.
Their 2008 release, "Leave It All Behind," got them a Grammy nomination for the song "Daykeeper." Despite not winning (they should've won) , The Foreign Exchange is back with a vengeance in the form of "Authenticity."
Typically, when one thinks of The Foreign Exchange--thoughts run to humor, and hip-hop, however, these elements are not necessarily shown as much with this album. What "Authenticity" lacks from predecessors "Connected" (2004) and "Leave It All Behind" (2008) it gains with it's contemplative and dark honesty. This album features just four collaborations, two from longtime Foreign Exchange collaborators Yahzarah, and Darrien Brockington, as well as collaborations from Chantae Cann and Jesse Boykins III. The album is different from other Foreign Exchange music, however it's still a great album.
Gentlemen, raise your hands if you've been here: You meet "the one," that woman who you just know is the best thing you've ever encountered. Then, you embark on what promises to be an astonishing love affair of deep infatuation and refreshing spontaneity.
But soon you analyze the relationship and aren't thrilled with what's there, and you're forced to sever the bond. Or, maybe she's the one who leaves, pulling out the rug from under your feet. Then you stomp around with your favorite liquor and swear off love forever.
Being in love is like being underwater. All outside noise is dulled; all light is ethereal. But, when isolated, your lover's dulcet voice can be deceptive, and that shimmering light can be marred by pockets of shadows.
The Foreign Exchange's latest album, Authenticity, is a love letter, but one told in reverse, and one that sees no point in sparing feelings. That's no surprise. Phonte Coleman, one half of The Foreign Exchange and one third of the now-dissolved North Carolinian hip-hop group Little Brother, has always been about truth in verses. After all, his raps told of a broke college grad with a record deal who can only afford to take his date to Applebee's, not some typical (and typically untrue) blunts-n-broads braggadocio.
After a two year waiting period, those of us who appreciate good music, no longer have to twiddle our thumbs or subject ourselves to random that is being put out today. The Foreign Exchange is back, and has done it yet again with another gem for the masses. Authenticity is nothing short of its title: pure, beautiful, authentic, with a touch of real, and a hint of (dare I say it)...dark? This album is different, yet consistent with what FE is known for: good music.
The Foreign Exchange family's third 2010 release, following YahZarah's The Ballad of Purple St. James and Zo!'s SunStorm, Authenticity is the third proper album from the flagship act helmed by Nicolay and Phonte. It's somehow more lush and downcast than 2008's Leave It All Behind, frequently dipping into an alluring type of despondent heartache that is improbably soothing. Opening with an eerie intro similar to that of the Grammy-nominated "Daykeeper," Authenticity promptly gets to the black heart of the matter: "Loved you good, and you wrote our heartbreak in the sky." Phonte, whose singing voice is equally resigned and penetrating, lets loose a torrent of Hear, My Dear-worthy bombs, like "Love is at worst an excuse/At best it's a truce/So what is the use?" The song's tremulous, synthesizer-laced production would have fit on Nicolay's City Lights, Vol. 2: Shibuya, had Nicolay experienced a crippling loss during the trip that inspired that album. The following slow-motion title track, rhythmically resembling warped Purple Rain-era Prince, furthers the album's theme of pouring everything into a relationship despite being aware of the futility. Here, Phonte is in full soul-baring confession mode: "She's all that I could dream, but she tears me apart." A couple significant songs detour from bad-lover territory, though they could be re-sequenced to seem more like chronological scenes from a relationship in gradual decay. "Maybe She'll Dream of Me," sweet and percolating, is a light song in the best sense, but in the context of all the heartache, one gets the overriding notion that it's more about pursuing something that could only be too good to be true. "Make Me a Fool," as in "I'm not asking you to be an angel/Just don't ever make me a fool," seems to sense the inevitable in spite of its guard dropping. More moody, modern R&B that sounds like nothing else and reveals remarkable depth (there's even a little well-placed twang and some violin), Authenticity is neither an everyday nor an every-day album, unless playing it is necessary for the sake of convalescence.
The very first review of The Foreign Exchange's new album, Authenticity!
Wistful, contemplative, and darkly honest, what Authenticity loses in the humor and haunting refrains of its predecessor it gains in...well...authenticity! Leave It All Behind, one of the best albums of any generation, was always going to be a tough act for the North Carolina meets The Netherlands collective to follow. The good news is that The Foreign Exchange production quality, feel, and signature sound of LIAB bleeds over into Authenticity with enough residue that ensures the two are undeniably in relationship with one another, if not always peers. Nonetheless, Authenticity has an attractive DNA all its own, one greatly benefiting from the evolving and constantly surprising talents of its frontman, Phonte. No longer obviously couched by the proven vocal talents of vets Yahzarah, Musinah, and Darien Brockington, Phonte's more assured vocals fly solo through this project's misty skies considerably more than on previous FE offerings. His songwriting also bears greater distinction. Lyrically bare and just shy of the blues, Phonte's philosophical pen goes to the heart of men, pulling the covers off male bravado to reveal a cavernous sensitivity and their often masked insecurities. Authenticity's uniquely autumn atmosphere, matter-of-fact vocals, and august, love weary lyricism invites travellers into yet another magical world orbiting in FE's ever-expanding electro-soul universe.
Listening to Zo!'s SunStorm is much like taking a bite out of a Proustian madelaine. After just a few minutes of exposure, a veritable floodgate of memories and associations appears: Songs in the Key of Life, Atlantic Starr, Soul Train, Breezin', Deodato, '70s Philly Soul, Donny Hathaway--you get the idea. All such associations might suggest that SunStorm is thus a retrograde or 'old-school' recording, but I'd prefer to call it timeless. Music of such quietly celebratory sincerity and soulfulness never goes out of style and if anything we could do with a whole lot more of it. Hip-hop is part of SunStorm's stylistic mix but the album's primary focus is soul music of the delectably funky and sexy kind (sometimes directly so, as in the love jam "Make Love 2 Me," which--consistent with its make-out vibe--unspools for ten oh-so-amorous minutes).
There's a moment near the end of the martial-arts film The Last Dragon in which the protagonist Bruce Leroy realizes he has "the power," an unmistakable, self-actualizing glow that enables him to conquer obstacles (and catch a bullet in his teeth). Lorenzo Ferguson, a Silver Spring-based producer, is basking in his own Leroy-style aura. Here's a man who has already enjoyed a respectable career as a multifaceted artist with a handful of enjoyable projects to his credit. With SunStorm, however, Zo! successfully marries his aesthetic to The Foreign Exchange's for a project that is as seamless as it is timeless. It might even teach you some moves.
The Foreign Exchange Music is at it again with the release of producer and multi-instrumentalist Zo!'s Sunstorm. After contributing to a number of Foreign Exchange projects such as Yahzarah's The Ballad Of Purple St. James and Little Brother's curtain call album Leftback, Zo! has delivered a palette of uplifting and passionate soul offerings that are sure to please. Channeling his inner Quincy Jones, Zo! has crafted an impressive album of his own sonic vision with the help of amazing vocalists such as Sy Smith, Lady Alma, Darien Brockington, Yahzarah, Carlitta Durand, Phonte, Rapper Big Pooh, Jesse Boykins III, Chantae Cann, Monica Blaire, and Eric Roberson. Sunstorm is truly the Back On The Block of 2010.
If you need further proof that anyone affiliated with The Foreign Exchange is changing the shape of contemporary soul, look no further than the latest release from extended +FE member Zo! Enlisting the aid of fellow touring Foreign Exchange members Yahzarah, Phonte, and Darien Brockington as well as extended Nicolay alumni like Sy Smith and Carlitta Durand and progressive soul standouts like Eric Roberson, Monica Blaire, and Lady Alma, Zo! has crafted a true masterwork of epic proportions with Sunstorm.
If you're a passionate music lover like I am, then you already know that there's nothing worse than waiting patiently for an album to drop, only to realize that it was nowhere near as good as you'd hoped it'd be. Well, that is so not the case with Zo!'s highly-anticipated album, SunStorm. We've seem glimmers of his greatness on his 12 previous releases, namely 2009's tantalizing just visiting too EP, but on his first full-length project on The Foreign Exchange's homegrown imprint, he proves what we had all hoped: that he's one of the most exciting things to happen to music in a minute.
SunStorm is Lorenzo Ferguson's follow-up to 2009's Overdue Process -- a full-length collaboration with MC Asylum 7 -- and payback from several sessions beside the Foreign Exchange and its affiliates. It's also the natural extension of the Just Visiting EPs, in which the multi-instrumentalist/producer and a rotating array of vocalists reinterpreted soft soul of the mid-'70s through the early '90s -- hits and cult classics like Minnie Riperton's "Perfect Angel," the Jones Girls' "Nights Over Egypt," and Mary J. Blige's "Love No Limit." Ferguson's keyboards and beats have always been flexible enough to accommodate vocalists and MCs with equal ease. Here, they are especially geared toward the former, though Phonte pulls double duty on the uplifting tone setter "Greater Than the Sun" and Rapper Big Pooh briefly drops in on the loose-collared "This Could Be the Night." True to its title, SunStorm emits a constant flow of radiant, positive energy, even when the love songs convey turbulence. Ferguson gracefully switches between lively pianos and darting synthesizers over beats that gently bounce and flutter, and drafts in some occasional woodwinds and brass. This places the album as much in line with the most musical strain of broken beat (à la 4hero, Mark de Clive-Lowe, and Kaidi Tatham) as adult contemporary R&B. If the wide-scoped progressive jazz and R&B station WJZZ -- a fixture in Ferguson's native Detroit -- still existed, it would no doubt wear this album out. Given the number of featured vocalists, the station would not run the risk of losing any ears in doing so.
Well folks the wait is over. It is now July 27th and you can all get your hands on one of the most anticipated albums of the year, Zo!'s Sunstorm.
The Detroit producer / multi-instrumentalist has been honing his craft for years releasing EP's along the way, however it was hooking up with Phonte (and the rest of the Foreign Exchange crew) that really saw the tables turn and saw Zo! gain some much deserved attention. After working with FE on their Grammy nominated Leave It All Behind album, and releasing the free EP ...just visiting too, all was on course for him to become a member of the +FE Music label and release his full-length debut.
Welcome to the land of Purple Saint James. During the day the grass feels like silk, the air smells of lavender and vanilla, and the sun talks to you when you're alone. At night, the mountains glow, the ground pulsates to earthly beats, and the oceans crash against beaches of diamond laced white sand. The Ballad of Purple Saint James truly takes you to a place you have never been. This outstanding album confidently and creatively rests singularly in its own category. You don't listen to this album; you experience it. The word 'original' doesn't do this album justice. The boundary blurring spirit of this album is reminiscent of the genius of Prince. Every song is different yet every song is moving. Jazz, blues, soul, electronica, rock, pop and r&b all mesh resulting in thirteen tracks that have Grammy written all over them. YahZarah's dynamic and versatile voice in tandem with The Foreign Exchange's flawless production is a screaming example that good music isn't dead. Other notable contributors to this musical smorgasbord are The Real Focus (Marsha Ambrosius, Raphael Saadiq), Nate Smith (Michael Jackson), and Steve McKie (Jill Scott, Bilal).
Atlanta was ready for The Foreign Exchange. On a warm Friday night in late May, their show at Midtown's Masquerade was filled with the grown and sexy people of what the music industry calls "urban alternative." The mostly coupled-up coterie was formed by women in colorful dresses and sandals and men in button-downs and jeans or graphic T-shirts bearing images of rock and hip-hop icons. If you didn't get close to the front, you could bob and weave your way to a better view through the afroed and loc-ed up folks that made of up the majority of the standing room only area. And the numbers didn't lie; the capacity crowd of the venue showed that a performance from the North Carolina via the Netherlands collective was well worth the wait.
The Foreign Exchange was working especially hard, commencing their loaded weekend schedule in Philadelphia, performing during The Roots Picnic. A short but sweet set was just enough to whet the appetite of the New Yorkers who traveled down for the day. Nonetheless, on Sunday night, it was all about New York City. The energy was palpable. And with Jesse Boykins III opening, the audience was in for a solid night of comedy, grooves and entertainment the only way FE knows how to deliver.
Yahzarah began her dazzling music career as a backing vocalist for Erykah Badu, and has wowed the independent soul music scene since her debut album, Hear Me, dropped in October 2002 via the Pony Canyon label. Yahzarah calls it her 'love album' and her corresponding image was pure neo-soul. Yahzarah released her sophomore album Blackstar in September 2003 on independent label Three-Keys. This album took songs from Hear Me and added a few more new songs, making it almost a re-release of Hear Me, with Yah looking beautiful as usual on the front cover. October 2008 saw Yahzarah release her third record entitled The Prelude, which featured collaborations with neo-soul star Raheem DeVaughn. If you're a devoted neo-soul fan you will know that Yahzarah and her career progression, as well as her imagery, has changed and developed, turning her into a full-fledged independent soul artist. And in these times when image is just as important as music, she has gone from neo-soul goddess to blaxploitation superwoman. With three previous albums under her sexy belt, Yahzarah is ready to conquer the world with her brand new thirteen-song album, The Ballad of Purple St. James . And her superstar visual accompanies it.
Arriving at B.B. Kings Sunday, June 6th armed with camera, pen and pad, I was ready with high expectations for The Foreign Exchange. The multi-faceted identity of FE is represented by YahZarah, Phonte and Darien Brockington, together combining an ecclecic recipe of hip-hop, blues, funk, reggae with a complete "feel good" gospel experience.
Nicolay's genius production sets the tone of the show with the witty lyricism of Phonte; smooth serenading of Darien Brockington, topped off with the sultry vocals of Yahzarah St. James. It only takes one live show to see that this union's very existence, which can only produce the kind of music that is timeless. The Foreign Exchange show was very entertaining, but do not take that description loosely. The experience of being at a Foreign Exchange concert is nothing short of musical genius.
First things first; I'd be remiss if I didn't admit that I judge music by how it makes me feel. Maybe it's because I'm a woman. Or because I'm a Cancer. Or maybe both. But just know that I listen with a highly emotional ear. That said, The Ballad of Purple Saint James, the third full-length solo album by YahZarah managed to perfectly appeal to every emotion, especially the highs and lows of love found, only to be lost later.
YahZarah and fellow Foreign Exchange cohort Darien Brockington wax poetic about love's finer points on the sensual "All My Days." You know from the first line that this ain't no ordinary love, when she croons, "Bury me up to my neck in your love." Even if you've never experienced a love so intense, you definitely will want to by the time these two finish sweet-talking each other.
Since 2001's Hear Me, R&B soul singer and early Badu background vocalist Yahzarah has been bubbling just underneath stardom. With a siren image and a mezzo-soprano that reaches Nirvana, for eight-plus years Yahzarah seemed to be ready- made for "big lights" fame, each year seeming to get closer to her destiny than the last. Throughout, Yahzarah's gone through some exciting visual changes, refining it with the times, chipping away at her early neo-soul imaging from her debut until she became a '70s blaxploitation goddess, with cropped outfits, a tiny natural, and plenty of 'tude. Today, Yahzarah's image is iconographic, every marketing photo, every image captured screams star. It is a well-marketed identity that now has more prominence and immediacy in public recognition than her sound. To be memorable, a signature sound is every bit as important as a signature look; ask Jill, Tina, Lalah, Erykah, Natalie, Patti, Gladys, Maysa, Chrisette, Anita Baker or even Janelle Monae-you immediately know them when you hear them, regardless of song or producer. Four projects deep, with a different Yahzarah sound appearing on every one, The Ballad of Purple Saint James begs the question for some: who is Yahzarah, the artist? Given just how stunningly strong most of this 13-song set is most newcomers to her music won't care, at least, not yet.
Could it be that with the Foreign Exchange collective, hip-hop and soul have found the new-wave Soulquarians? The comparisons are striking, but in the interest of time, we'll save that for another conversation. What is important, is that the +FE camp has just unleashed another smashing album, this time by way of songstress YahZarah. The Ballad Of Purple Saint James is a progressive neo-soul album that is, quite frankly, far ahead of its time (and somewhat extraterrestrial).
The most striking feature of The Ballad is its musicality. Drawing from new jack swing, and 80s pop/rock/funk, the production on Yah's album is not what one would immediately expect from a traditional neo-soul project. However, given Nicolay and Phonte's penchant for pushing musical boundaries, perhaps this should come as no surprise. Numerous tracks recall the funkier side of r&b, with a futuristic makeover. "Cry Over You" features a guest appearance from Phonte and is a prime example of the spacey electro-soul evoked on The Ballad. The 80s funk meter gets turned up to high for "Change Your Mind", which, if not for YahZarah, would sound every bit like it was plucked right off the Dirty Dancing soundtrack.
Who is this girl? Maybe you know her or don't. After hearing this particular 'ballad', you will be familiarized with who she is and what hand of cards she's playing. And it's a good hand.
A year ago, Yahzarah was quite the mystery, to me at least, even though she isn't a stranger to the music scene as she's been in the game now for almost a decade. So a hop skip and a catch up into the future, with the conscience aware of Blackstar and The Prelude, two of the native's earlier recordings, it's clear that Yahzarah is one to watch, and with producing family, The Foreign Exchange in tow, the sounds of Soul shift gears for those that want something to really gnaw on.
If you listen to indie soul, chances are you've heard of Yahzarah. She is one of the hardest working women in the business and next to Sy Smith is one of indie soul's most recognizable figures, touring constantly with the Foreign Exchange and as a solo artist. She is also one of the scene's most dynamic performers, consistently delivering assured vocals and a mesmerizing stage show. It's no surprise that Yahzarah's latest offering, the compellingly diverse The Ballad of Purple St. James, reflects the singer's relentless work ethic and professionalism. Overseen by Nicolay and Phonte of the Foreign Exchange, the album hits all the right notes, showcasing Yahzarah's considerable artistry with a set of tracks that stands above and beyond the pack.
There is a vintage feel to The Ballad of Purple St. James yet somehow the album sounds fresh and new. Yahzarah was obviously inspired by the depth of R&B from the 80s and 90s but nothing on the album feels dated. First single "Why Dontcha Call Me No More" is proof enough of this; the pop/soul kiss-off is a surprisingly potent track that is as fresh and bubbly as it is unexpected. The 80s synthesized vibe is all over tracks like "Cry Over You" featuring Phonte and the seductive "Change Your Mind", but Nicolay's talent as a producer prevents things from sounding cheesy. Instead the music soars, mirroring Yahzarah's effervescent energy. But the slower songs are the true standouts here as they both shine light on Yahzarah's ability to emote and display her incredible range. A duet with fellow FE member Darien Brockington will immediately appeal to fans yet it's "Last To Leave", a lengthy emotional saga of a ballad, that truly casts a spell. The track encaspulates everything we've come to love about the talented diva. This sexy gal can SANG with the best of them and delivers a truth through her music that very few artists can attest to. With The Ballad of Purple St. James it appears that Yahzarah is ready to take things to the next level and we anxiously watch as she soars to higher heights.
I don't even know where to begin.
It's taking everything in me to keep my composure long enough to channel my feelings about The Ballad of Purple St. James into cohesive statements. This highly anticipated album -- from the uber talented Yahzarah -- has been released into the universe today and it is definitely a game changing body of work that galvanizes her voice into soul music excellence. The constellation of musicianship, heart-wrenching life stories and impeccable vocal execution makes this LP one of the most tantalizing releases of 2010.
Source: Soul UK
· By Soul UK
Anyone who stops by this site with any sort of regularity will know that I have been anticipating the release of The Ballad Of Purple St James for a little over a year now. There have been a few setbacks along the way, but YahZarah and her new label, +FE Music, have finally blessed us with her 4th project.
A few weeks back the first single, 'Why Don't You Call Me No More' was released for free as a digital download and gave us a taste of what was in store. The 80′s influenced, new-wave/soul sound wasn't what I was expecting but is a pretty good indicator of what to expect on BPSJ. There are more 80s-inspired tunes, in particular 'Have A Heart' and the synth-heavy 'Change Your Mind', however as long-time YahZarah fans will know she is no one-trick pony.
I usually don't take up valuable album review space with my own personal declarative statements, but in this instance I believe that it's important for two reasons: context and (hopefully) a call to action.
First, this may be one of the easiest reviews that I've had to do(more on the reasons why, later). Secondly, I may represent(or I used to)a vast majority of lover's of great music in this country who are still(I was until about a year ago)stuck on channel zero(more on that in the conclusion). Finally, this album has made me realize(along with so many other epiphanies over this past year)that it's time to stop talking and really do something so that what we know as mainstream music now, can become a bad memory.
The first official review of The Ballad Of Purple Saint James!
YahZarah's fourth album could be heard as the third part of a trilogy that began with the Foreign Exchange's Leave It All Behind (2008) and continued with Nicolay's City Lights, Vol. 2 (2009). Like those earlier albums, The Ballad of Purple St. James is driven by Nicolay and Phonte and involves input from members of the extended FE family, as well as the Real Focus. YahZarah had worked on and off with the duo for several years, but never in a concentrated burst like this. The album allows the singer and songwriter to flash her vocal and thematic flexibility in ways her previous albums did not. Most salient is "Why Dontcha Call Me No More," a gracefully hurtling kiss-off. It could be covered by No Doubt and taken to the Top Ten, but it's probable that the song would lose some of its bite. YahZarah, whose voice here resembles that of Gwen Stefani, albeit with none of the cutesiness, delivers one of the most commanding scorned-lover performances in recent memory. At the point where an ad-lib or something innocuous is expected, just as handclaps and "whoa-oh"s enter, she slips in an additional verse that begins with "I hope you have a little girl, and she's the apple of your eye" -- uh-oh -- and ends with "I hope somebody makes her cry" and a vaguely brainsick laugh. There are other moments when the singer's magnetic forthrightness is on display, as on the pulsing and intense "The Lie" ("If you gotta go through hell with somebody, why won't you do it with me?") and the prime Neptunes/Kelis-like "Change Your Mind" ("I can turn your world around in a heartbeat, and bring you to your knees again"). The more sensitive songs, including a gliding duet with Darien Brockington, a devotional ballad resembling a Teena Marie session in Memphis, and a gleaming Afrofuturist anthem, are just as affecting.
There's no questioning how rich in soul music history we are in the state of Ohio. 20 years ago, an Ohioan would never need to go far to find some live soul music goin' down nearby. In 2010, it's a different story. Cleveland gets theirs, no question...but to see a surge of R&B artists making their way down the road to Akron the last couple of years has been bliss.
Saturday night, the city was blessed with it's first appearance by the Grammy-nominated Foreign Exchange. Having not seen them before live, I had no idea what a treat we were all in for.
Relaxed, contemplative, and cucumber cool in its approach to nouveau -80s electronica, Nicolay's Shibuya demonstrates why the Great Dutch is in demand as an indie soul and hip hop producer, but not necessarily why the multi-instrumentalist is a compelling enough solo talent. Gratefully, the music here is not aggressive or obnoxious enough to be considered commercial synth pop, but nor is it languid or atmospheric enough to fully earn chillout or lounge cred. On his genre-free instrumentals, Nicolay only intermittently creates a soundscape that stands up without a vocal or instrumental solo riding over his electro-soul beats. When it does rise above a hot track for someone else's spotlight, as on elaborate thought pieces like "Meji Shrine" or the compellingly rhythmic "Crossing" and "Shibuya Station," Shibuya delivers the addictive dopamine of Nicolay's previous two City Lights offerings. Flashes of unique composition and arrangement are heard scattered on various bars within songs, as on "Rain in Ueno Park ," but the Shibuya standouts are those that include vocals from his rapidly expanding Foreign Exchange camp. On the musical perfection, "Saturday Night," and on the stunningly kaleidoscopic "Wake Up In Another Life," artists like the feather-voiced Carlitta Durand and an uncredited Phonte bring a frivolity and attractive brightness to nocturnal Nicolay's Neptunes-lite compositions. Rather than bringing undue attention to themselves on these tracks, the singers actually draw you into appreciating Nicolay's quietly cerebral musicianship. Like jazz pianist Billy Strayhorn before him, Nicolay's best work seems to be that done for others to shine, in turn giving this understated artist his most blinding moments.
The second volume of Nicolay's City Lights series is a travelogue that, through the eyes of an amazed and slightly dazed visitor, reflects the character of Tokyo's Shibuya ward -- getting lost in its nightlife, basking in its spirituality, and several points in-between. In the wake of the producer's work on the Foreign Exchange's Leave It All Behind, a lack of progression would have been excusable, but Nicolay manages (remarkably enough) to expand his range both stylistically and conceptually. Mostly instrumental, Nicolay plays everything with the exception of a couple piano solos (provided by Zo!), while FE partner Phonte wrote and arranged for the four songs with vocals, all of which feature Carlitta Durand's whispery, sweetly uplifting voice. Faultlessly sequenced, just about every track is a set-up for what follows, and though the whole set is bathed in a unifying luster, the shifts in sound are not insignificant. Ranging beyond Nicolay's past output, Shibuya delves deeper into the boundless energy and complexities of late-'70s jazz fusion, steps into lush deep house, and otherwise moves smoothly on mellow downtempo pieces that are too stimulating to be regarded as mere mood music. What puts it over the top is not necessarily its central track or overall highlight but its two biggest surprises: the crisp, sleek, and discreetly dubby "Saturday Night," a four/four-rooted club track that could be a soundclash with the Force Tracks label circa Hypercity, and the beaming and almost frantic "Wake Up in Another Life," a dead ringer for an imagined West London broken beat interpretation of late-'70s George Duke (like "Yeah, We Going" or "Up from the Sea It Arose"). Nicolay's sense of wonderment shines through all of this, another unassuming gem from one of the most creative and increasingly chameleonic producers around.
Ambient tones, soulful echoes and electro sounds are few of the many ingredients created in this audio collage. Nicolay clocks in with a sequel to "City Lights v1″ , in which "City Lights v2″ bears a mature and seasoned sound. The many moods that are captured on this album takes the listener on an audio canvas as a painter searching for a visual climax. "Bullet Train" reigns in a euphoric yet busy atmosphere, while dwelling in a dark and promise future. "Omotesando" has a loose and open feeling while leaning on a heavy Jazz Fusion groove, this is my personal favorite under the "City Lights". "Meiji Shrine" gives a pinch of the Nicolay signature sound found in previous works, while serving as a reminder that the funk is still in control. The "buzz" cut is "Wake Up In Another Life" featuring vocalist Carlitta Durand, this lively piece is another highlight on the album worth checking out. This release sets a fresh and redefinitive approach in additon to exploring new ground, "City Lights v2″ is the sure shot!
The Foreign Exchange, the North Carolina based duo of Little Brother's Phonte and Dutch producer Nicolay is steeped in legend. Meeting online via the hip-hop site Okayplayer, they exchanged beats and rhymes over the Internet, creating a friendship and leading to the group we now know today. Over the years, The Foreign Exchange has grown and matured, flipping its sound from its roots of hip-hop to the laid back almost Radiohead-like soul of their latest project Leave It All Behind, which received Album of the Year Honors from The Couch Sessions in 2008.
Earlier this week, The Foreign Exchange graced DC for the second time this year, spreading their magic on yet another capacity crowd at Black Cat.
Very few things have the capacity to keep me waiting in line for an hour on a cold rainy New York City Friday night. Very few. One of those things, apparently, is the opportunity to see The Foreign Exchange perform live. The duo plus special guests and their band performed at BB King's on Friday October 23rd as part of CMJ Week. With tickets purchased way in advance, I was elated to see the team up close and personal. I've evolved into quite The FE fan over the past year - their latest album Leave It All Behind reeled me in with its relatable and well-written song lyrics penned and sang by Phonte, smooth and ear-pleasing beats produced by Nicolay, and soulful crooning from guest singers like Darien Brockington, YahZarah, and Muhsinah. So, I stood in the rain, waiting to be engaged and musically stimulated, along with a long line of other people. Was it worth it?
Nicolay's Shibuya: City Lights Vol. 2 exudes the kind of effervescent joy one experiences when visiting an exotic new land for the first time. Specifically, its fifteen tracks collectively convey the excitement the typical Westerner might feel when first exposed to downtown Tokyo in all its night-time metropolitan glory. The idea for the project came about when Nicolay's first visit to the city in November 2006 proved to be life-changing and invigorating. Returning stateside, he laid down basic tracks for not one but three albums, the previously-issued Time:Line and Leave It All Behind recordings as well as the latest, a sequel to Where City Lights Volume 1. Just as the soulful emphasis of The Foreign Exchange's Leave It All Behind differentiated itself from the hip-hop stylings of Time:Line, so too does Shibuya: City Lights Vol. 2 distance itself from the others by embracing an instrumental style that uses current electronic music and production technologies to produce music with strong roots in '70s jazz fusion. That bridging of musical eras serves as a metaphor for the commingling of ancient and modern traditions that exists within the city as a whole.
Though the album is largely instrumental in make-up, Durham, North Carolina vocalist Carlitta Durand adds her honey-dipped voice to four tracks, with two strategically placed at the beginning and end. Shibuya: City Lights Vol. 2 plays like a travelogue, with Durand acting as tour guide for the lush opener "Lose Your Way" ("We'll take a walk through the city tonight") before a visit to "Shibuya Station" sets us off on a dizzying dash through the city. Electric piano and synthesizers add splashes of saturated colour to the song's broken beat soundtrack, after which we make our way through the equally hectic "Crossing." Subsequent stops include visits to a "Meiji Shrine" and "The Inner Garden" before the "Bullet Train" eventually brings about "Departure" (whose laid-back, quasi-hip-hop swagger could perhaps intimate a return of sorts for Nicolay too).
They say if you can make in NYC, then you can make it anywhere. Well, Music ADDIKTS made their way to NYC last weekend to get "Connected" with The Foreign Exchange. The excitement about this show had been building for months. On Friday, October 23rd, with show tickets in hand and flight schedules confirmed, 3 of your Music ADDIKTS - soulHIGH, LoverofSoul and 4daLove hit the Big Apple.Since we were all there, you get to hear all of our opinions about the show, from beginning, middle and end.
And so it begins....
After a quick dinner in the city, we headed to B.B. Kings at 10:45pm with every intention of getting a front-row spot for the 11:30 show. Wrong! The line was off the proverbial chain. Who knew that Foreign Exchange had such a fan base in NYC?? Like true fans we took our place in line and waited and waited.
The Foreign Exchange is the Postal Service of soul music: an up-and-coming producer joins a lead vocalist on a side project that is completed in true 21st century fashion, without sitting down in a studio to collaborate. Both projects have spawned albums that are modern classics. Both even chose tongue-in-cheek monikers that allude to the manner of their genesis. But while Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello are on hiatus, the pairing of Phonte and Nicolay is going strong.
Last Sunday, the Foreign Exchange family brought their transcontinental soul sound to a packed house at the Black Cat. Many live performers, especially in support of albums with a host of guests, suffer when they try to recreate the record, sans featured players. The Foreign Exchange is having none of it, bringing vocalists YahZarah, Darien Brockington, and Carlita Durand and backing three-piece Zo! and the Els along for the ride. And not just any ride, but a singular experience: part concert, part musical therapy, part church revival, all designed to make the audience - as the album instructs - leave it all behind.
As long as The Foreign Exchange is performing, no one can ever even think about showmanship being dead. The eight-piece band that took the stage of B.B. King's Blues Club & Grille on Friday night moved the crowd in a way that few acts are capable. And it all started at 1 a.m. As such, you would think a show starting that late would lend itself to a somewhat less-than-energetic audience. But that was simply not the case--this is New York City we're talking about.
The quartet started up that distinct musical intro that kicks off both Foreign Exchange albums, Connected and Leave It All Behind. But the track they would begin playing was actually off producer-mastermind Nicolay's latest, City Lights Vol. 2: Shibuya. And, on cue, out came songstress Carlitta Durand to sing the album's gorgeous opener, "Lose Your Way."
Shibuya - never heard of it, but it's kind of fun to say. A section of Tokyo as infamous for Gwen Stefani's Harajuku minstrels as its overcrowding, Nicolay draws a parallel vision that removes Japan from the outer space category it may hold in Western imagination and places it skillfully back on Earth. Nicolay captures the excitement of this faraway land like a child chasing a butterfly as it floats away on a gentle breeze. The sounds and moods Nicolay constructs from inspiration are at once mellow and erratic, raindrops and technological blips. Yet, no matter what town he decides to inhabit, the sound is vintage Nicolay, smooth, organic and experimental.
The first suite of the album, "Shibuya Station" through "Satellite," immerses the listener in the environment of Shibuya ward, the hectic whirlwind of the train station, its busy intersections and rain falling in the park. The second suite takes you on a tour of ancient and modern day landmarks from "Meiji Shrine," a mystic instrumental reflecting the shrine dedicated to Tokyo's Emperor Meiji and his wife, to "Omotesando," a breezy track named after the ritzy shopping district. Throughout the journey, Shibuya is given the "New York, New York" treatment with the bombast of an electronic Broadway musical mixing with the whimsy of touching down in the big city for the first time. Along with Foreign Exchange band member Zo! on keys, Carlitta Durand's seductive vocals add perfect accents to the airy compositions.
Part video game, part jazz rock fantasyland, if Nicolay's sonic travelogue is to be believed, Shibuya is a land steeped in rich history as it seizes firm hold of an unbounded future. No matter where you are, the intricate layers of Shibuya transport you to another place.
Somewhere in between producing for both Phonte and Big Pooh of Little Brother and doing a full album with Texas MC, Kay, the Netherlands smoothest producer Nicolay found the time to make an electro-pop record. Following up his timeless City Lights Vol. 1 and Vol. 1.5 is City Lights Vol. 2: Shibuya.
First things first, this LP has Nicolay venturing far from the soulful bounce that can be found on the first one and a half installments of the City Lights series . It's evident that along with he and Phonte's critically acclaimed second installment as Foreign Exchange, Nicolay began to change his style from space age bounce to disco-dance groove. But it's all to the good, Nicolay's new found vision is a refreshing journey of live instrumentation and programmed drum beats. Tranquil beats like "Rain In Ueno Park" and "Omotesando" are reasons I believe Nicolay's a master of his craft.
However, it's tracks like "Satellite" and "Saturday Night," which features Carlitta Durand, that secure this record a spot in Express for Men and crowded techno club's rotation's. But, aside from a few hiccups, Nicolay does a stellar job leading listeners off the trail of breadcrumbs he's scattered over the past few. Shibuya certainly breathes a breath of fresh air into the world of sped up soul samples and boom-bap drum breaks.
A few months ago I was casually perusing my twitter feed when a few buzzwords flashed upon my screen: Prince, ?uestlove, Purple, to say the least I was intrigued. Upon further investigation I was pleasantly surprised to hear (and download for free on nicolaymusic.com) an incredible take on the Prince classic "Take Me With U". "Purple Flip" is a collaborative effort between the aforementioned
?uestlove, Nicolay, ZO!, Phonte and Carlitta Durand it was my first and brief introduction to The Foreign Exchange family. I filed a card in my mental rolodex and made sure to follow the tweeters in question. Fast Forward a few months and I have now added a new buzzword to my musical vocabulary: SHIBUYA.
City Lights Vol. 2: SHIBUYA is the latest offering from Nicolay, the multi-instrumentalist/producer/DJ and one half of The Foreign Exchange with rapper/singer/songwriter Phonte. This marks the fourth solo outing for Nicolay and is the third recording in a series of projects (Time: Line and Leave It All Behind) influenced by his first visit to Tokyo in 2006.
Nicolay's second record with Little Brother MC Phonte (2008's Leave It All Behind) was an underheralded work of alternative R&B; Nicolay's solo project, a tribute to a trip he made to Toyko's Shibuya district, follows this understatedly smooth vibe, all rough edges of genre-recombination sanded down like a 2000s recap of a late-1970s fusion record. It doesn't quite live up to the excellence of the former project, though; meandering instrumentals that soundtrack memories aren't always easily translateable, with an unfortunately low "songs" to "album interludes" ratio. But on "Saturday Night", Nicolay and vocalist Carlitta Durand get the balance about right, veering just on the correct side of the divide that separates conservatively bland from evocatively sophisticated.
A six-minute celebration of everybody's favorite night of the week, it's simply structured into two halves, an aerodynamically smooth build and a propulsive release supported by a gravelly bass engine. It's glossily atmospheric, a soundtrack to city lights rolling rapidly over car winshields. It's also unabashedly cosmopolitan and feminine, its streamlined sheen all the more enveloping when Nicolay drops a more compulsively jacking rhythm for the last minute, a whirring rush of tastefully restrained, classy hedonism.
Sometimes bleak, sometimes abundant, Nicolay's signature mode is to paint an emotional landscape through beautiful groupings of sounds, making the listener feel as though you are inside of his journey. In the case of City Lights Vol. 2, the journey is one to Shibuya, Japan, where the absence of lyrics and the emphasis on layered instrumentation serves the purpose of bringing you to his place of intent.
Nicolay's keyboard sampler melodies are opulent, profound, and sometimes melancholic. On songs like "Rain in Ueno Park", a feeling of entranced nostalgia is created from the sounds of rapid rainfall, giving off the visual of being alone in the city where the rain dissipates just as it approaches dusk. The more upbeat songs like "Saturday Night" and "Wake Up In Another Life" are paired with house beats and vocals from Carlitta Durand, whose gentle and airy vocals are dreamlike and familiar.
Nicolay is one busy man. The prolific producer behind the Foreign Exchange releases his third project in just over a year, moving away from the hip-hop/soul vibe that he is mainly known for. On City Lights Vol. 2: Shibuya, the Dutch beat master crafts a love letter to Tokyo's Shibuya district and the result is a gorgeous, layered mostly instrumental piece that plays like a soundtrack for city life.
On this eclectic release, Nicolay is free to indulge his free-wheeling love of electronica, which occasionally has popped up on previous release and collaborations. On City Lights Vol. 2 he goes full force displaying a swirl of house grooves, nu-jazz, and downtempo electronica that is as musically complex and emotionally rich as any of the all-vocal albums he has produced. But never fear, there are vocals to be found, with vocalist Carlitta Durand popping up on four tracks spread out throughout the album. The first single "Lose Your Way" drips with urban melancholy with lyrics that speak of finding one's place in the big city. Yet the album will be most remembered for the sexy house cut "Saturday Night", a finger-snapping groove that should be getting spins from the world's best jocks for its catchy lyrics and funky breakdown. On the instrumental tip, the future funk of "Mieji Shrine" is sure to get heads nodding.
For fans of the Foreign Exchange this album may take getting used to, but for fans of Nicolay, this album, with its varied assortment of experimental beats, will be a welcome addition to their collection.
Daytime TV (as usual) plays its hand of predictability. While mainstream radio follows the same path once those 20 tracks begin their recycling phase. You try to find a classic to help pass the time but even Illmatic doesn't quite cut it because this day, doesn't feel like a Hip Hop day. So.. Shibuya.
Proof that Nicolay, truly is a beatsmith who can fill many voids. A Jack of all trades who for once can profess to be a master of all of them. 99% of Instrumental albums, whatever the genre, are simply a collection of beats that may or may not have been picked up by one artist or another if their producer had so chosen. Volume 1.5, as good as it is, falls under this beat collection mantra thanks to its Hip Hop backbone. Shibuya is one of the few that are created with a purpose from the outset. The key to this albums appeal is its constantly changing landscape. There's a hint of everything from Electro to Nu Jazz and almost everything in between.
Seriously, who wouldn't want to be there right now?
Imagine, the sounds of people bustling, the sight of the lights, the smell of...awwwww Japanese food flowing up the nostrils..that tingly sensation that makes you feel all warm inside.
That is what I feel, when I listen to Nicolay's Citys Lights Vol.2 Shibuya.
Its absolutely amazing what music can do to the soul. It only works if you open up. Corny and weird as it is. It will work every time.
Inspired by a consciousness-awakening trip to Tokyo, soulful producer Nicolay presents his latest album, City Lights Volume 2 - Shibuya. Similar to City Lights Volume 1 from years ago, this Volume is mostly made up of instrumental compositions. Listening to the project, there is a unique balance of intricate beats woven together to create the sensation of warm vibrations traveling through space and time.
Harmonious vocals from Nicolay's newest prodigy Carlitta Durand, compliment a few of the tracks and give the album a beautiful melodic balance. Even though most fans may be familiar with his soul and hip hop productions (The Foreign Exchange, Dutch Masters, Little Brother, etc.), Nicolay is not afraid to step outside the box and explore new possibilities of sound. City Lights Volume 2 - Shibuya is just that distinct, refreshing and exceptional.
· By Fave
The Foreign Exchange is a musical reflection of the global glue adhering our spirits together. What started as two musicians swapping files over the internet, Nicolay and Phonte have transformed their passion for music into an international movement, while bringing other like-minded souls along for the ride.
It began with Connected, their 2004 inaugural offering of Hip Hop lyricism and vibrant beats mixed with soulful crooning. In 2008, the critically-acclaimed Leave it All Behind increased their momentum and crystallized their style into the world of the grown and sexy. With enhancements from Darien Brockington, Muhsinah, Yahzarah, Zo! and the Els, Nic and Tay leaped from the laptop to the stage before appreciative audiences around the world.
Three years ago, a German rap artist invited Dutch producer Nicolay Rook to deejay his set in Tokyo. Upon returning to Wilmington, N.C., where Nicolay has lived since 2006, Nicolay immediately began recording music inspired by his five-day stay in the city's Shibuya district. The project was put on hold, though, as LPs with Houston emcee Kay, of the Foundation, and with Durham's Phonte Coleman, Nicolay's partner in the svelte soul jam The Foreign Exchange, were priorities. After the completion of Leave It All Behind, last year's second Foreign Exchange album, Rook put the finishing touches on Shibuya: City Lights, Vol.2, his instrumentals-based project. Coleman came on board to write four songs for Durham darling Carlitta Durand to sing. The 15-track LP showcases a highly finessed producer who continues to grow but never overwhelms.
Recent history suggests that any Coleman project comes with at least one of three gifted female vocalists--Yahzarah, Muhsinah or his newest singer-fling, Carlitta Durand. Which vocalist comes along shouldn't be much of a worry for two reasons. First, Coleman--a gifted, gabbing rapper and sentimental soul man--provides mandarin lines aplenty: "Even when the nights are quiet and the moon is rising/ Every face has some glory to sell," Durand sings on the lead single, "Lose Yourself." What's more, Nicolay is often at his strongest without any vocal company. He relies on gradual builds to drag listeners in, pushing their guards down, charging through slow storms of emotion. "The Inner Garden" may not be Vangelis' "Chariots of Fire," but if you follow its pulse close enough, it leads to its own ecstatic nirvana with beautiful chord repetition that whisks the close listener to a plush spiritual escape. "Saturday Night" salutes the house music gods as it works to become the life of the party, while "Meiji Shrine" hides its reference to another deity--the late hip-hop idol Dilla--beneath its ethnic title. And despite only one vocal appearance by Phonte Coleman, the other half of The Foreign Exchange, you're hard-pressed not to hear Shibuya as an extension of Leave it all Behind's often melancholy approach. That is, it doesn't fight back with attitude.
I remember back in 1991 hearing Seal's first LP and how I was so memorized with that sound I couldn't stop playing it and especially the track "Voliet". I didn't know if I could feel that way about another LP...until now. The new LP from Nicolay, "City Lights: Volume 2. Two things I loved what Nicolay does, how he "bleeds" one song into another and how he using different sounds to weave into many of the tracks. I'm truly digging this LP because for me it feels like a new beginning.
The track, "Lose Your Way" gives me the feeling of that when looking out the city at night it gives me that utopia feeling.
I certainly hope you have your bags packed before popping this disc into your stereo or loading it onto your mp3 player. If not, that's fine. I guess. But don't be surprised if playing Nicolay's latest, City Lights Vol. 2: Shibuya, has you craving a trip to the Japanese city of the same name. And it's not that his soundscapes are oozing with traditional sounds from the country or anything like that. It's just such an engrossing and gorgeous piece that you will want to experience everything he did for yourself. For you see, the Dutch producer was inspired during his trip to Shibuya a few years ago - you can read about that here. He was so inspired that he wanted to lay down his thoughts for all to hear. And it's safe to say we're thankful he did just that, because even with its imperfections, his second volume in the City Lights series is a fantastic example of artistic growth and expression.
In fact, perhaps the most appealing feature of this record is its clear display of artistic growth. Many of the experimental sounds on here should come as no surprised to seasoned fans of Nicolay's work. Leave It All Behind, his last effort as part of the Foreign Exchange with Phonte, featured plenty of subtle nuances showing off just where Nic was headed. It was not thrust into your eardrums like on here, though, so it's possible those intricacies were missed by some listeners. Although, one could argue that the dubstep-esque "If This Is Love" was a fine foreshadowing of Nic's left-field tendencies. But other than that, they were more interwoven into his production.
The South's one big family. It doesn't matter if you've never met Millie, your fifth-cousin-twice-removed-on-your-daddy's-sister's-husband's-side before. When you see her at the Fourth of July reunion, you know she's fam'ly.
So it was with The Foreign Exchange Monday night at The Roxy. From MC/singer Phonte's jaunty bowtie and feather-adorned fedora to Dutch producer Nicolay's cool-breeze beats, the pair set a tone that this Southern girl immediately recognized as "home." The show moved from languid summer picnic to lively juke joint in transitions as smooth as Phonte's silky croon.
A grown and sophisticated crowd was on hand last night to greet the Foreign Exchange, the R&B outfit headed by producer Nicolay and vocalist Phonte, for their very first Seattle appearance. With two synths and a powerhouse collection of singers, the Foreign Exchange jammed out for over two hours, managing to blend the sensuality of R&B and the liveliness of hip-hop to produce an impressive night of music and a very entertaining platform for the enigmatic, bow-tied Phonte. While Phonte's better known project, rap duo Little Brother, often attracts a younger and more self-consciously underground audience, last night's crowd was mature, attentive, and filled with couples who responded enthusiastically to the Foreign Exchange's smooth and unabashedly soulful sound. "This isn't just music, this is a ministry," said Phonte after one of his many tangents on the art of love, and judging by the hands in the air, he was preaching to the choir.
Opening was local hip-hop group the Physics; performing for the first time with a live band, the live instrumentation brought out the melodic personality and thoughtful, intricate composition exhibited by their latest project, the High Society EP. With producer Justo behind the turntables and sometimes popping out to rap along, MC Thig Natural capably led a collective of two backup vocalists and a very talented trio of musicians, resulting in perhaps the Physics' strongest performance to date. The major disappointment was the absence of Monk Wordsmith, the Physics' second MC who was unable to perform due to an out-of-town work conflict. While Thig valiantly rapped his brother's lines and sustained the energy of the band, Monk's laid-back confidence would only have enriched and enlivened their performance, missed most on songs like "Callin' Out" and "Back Track." The crowd was won over by the playful ditties of "I Just Wanna Beat" and "I Heart Beer," and had a great response to the closing and ridiculously catchy "Ready For We" off their debut FutureTalk. I overheard one audience member, who was hearing the group for the first time, excitedly refer to the Physics as "Outkasty." With a live band, the Physics distinguish themselves even more as a group with consistent and quality musicality as well as lyricism, a standard to which other local hip-hop groups should aspire.
City Lights Vol. 2: Shibuya is the newest venture between Little Brother's, Tiggalo (Phonte) and Dutch producer, Nicolay; collectively known as The Foreign Exchange. Though it [City Lights Vol. 2: Shibuya] does not contain any lyrics as in rapping or crooning from Phonte, it does however feature vocals he wrote. The album's title comes from one of Tokyo's twenty-three wards, Shibuya. While Shibuya is a hub for young people (trendy fashion outlets and nightlife), the city also includes monuments or historic areas that are suggestive of Japan's storied past. After visiting Japan, Nicolay rejuvenated by the sights and sounds of this busy metropolis, aimed to capture this feeling through his music; the outcome is nothing short of exquisite. Nicolay is successful at juxtaposing if you will sounds that are reflective of the moods garnered from different settings; take for example the somber sounds of Meiji Shrine versus the hectic bustle of Shibuya Station. Similarly the Carlitta Durand assisted (one of the newest additions to The Foreign Exchange Music imprint) house influenced Saturday Night is sure to gear listeners for the club....Cést Noir anyone?
Not only is City Lights Vol. 2 loaded with winning instrumentals, it is also a well conceptualized project for mature ears that is indicative of Phonte's song-writing prowess as well as Nicolay's dexterity on the boards.
Let me tell you, from jump this show was ROCKING. They started off with "Lose Your Way" then proceeded to run the gamut of hits from their first album, Connected, all the way to their latest album Leave It All Behind.
What really made the show pop was the addition of the soulful voices of sultry soul singer with the powerful vox out this world, Yahzahrah; power tenor & underrated singer & often-featured FE vocalist Darien Brockington; and the lovely, big voiced yet sweet toned Carlitta Durand. These three + Phonte' holding the vocals down gave the show LIFE. Made it more than a hip-hop show actually -- it became a musical journey ranging from hip-hop freestyles, church chat, chords and interludes, to outright jams from Nicolay and the heat that was the band.
Nicolay's City Lights Volume 2 has arrived, and the record is truly something to behold. Much like the preceding City Lights, this volume is primarily instrumental; however Shibuya includes vocal pieces written by Phonte and performed by Carlitta Durand. The album also features guest appearances by keyboard virtuoso and Foreign Exchange live band-mate, Zo!.
Shibuya takes its inspiration from the Tokyo neighborhood that Nicolay visited in 2006. Nic says, "When I came back to the States, I immediately locked myself up in the studio and came out with several new tracks that all felt different, but fresh. At that point, it really hit me. If I wanted to begin unlocking my true potential, I had to open myself up completely to whatever ideas would present themselves to me."
I first heard of The Foreign Exchange from Garth Trinidad's show on KCRW. He was playing a track from a Mushroom Jazz CD called "Nic's Groove." I was drawn to the groovy blend of hip-hop, R&B, with a touch of house, and wanted to hear more. So I picked up not one but two copies of their debut album Connected -- the original CD and the equally impressive instrumental-only version -- and became a fan.
These discs and the band's recent follow-up, Leave It All Behind, deftly blend so many sounds that I had no idea what their live show would look or feel like.
The line at the world famous Roxy Theater on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood went down two blocks the night of Sunday, June 14th. I've been to at least ten shows at the Roxy in the past and only once for a John Legend show has the line extended down similar to what I saw on Sunday. To be honest, initially, I was annoyed. Maybe I'm just a snob, but I hate waiting in lines and while I knew that the Foreign Exchange would bring in an audience, I didn't think it would be like this. Nevermind the fact that this would mark FE's first performance in LA. Nevermind that their latest album Leave It All Behind was one of my favorite albums last year and was my candidate for Album of the Year when it came out. I hate waiting in line. HATE it. To my surprise the line moved quickly enough and by the time I got in, the room was almost full. And you could feel the energy and anticipation.
More props for Nicolay's version of the Bob James classic!
Along with James Brown's "Funky Drummer," Melvin Blisss's "Synthetic Substitution" and the Honeydrippers' "Impeach the President," "Nautilus" by Bob James qualifies as one of the most important and most sampled records in hip-hop history. James may be best known for "Angela," which became the theme song for the TV show Taxi, but many of his tracks have been cribbed for hip-hop tracks, with "Nautilus" turning up on Run DMC's "Beats to the Rhyme" and Ghostface Killah's "Daytona 500" among countless others.
Remaking "Nautilus" isn't a task that one would take on lightly, but Nicolay, the producer comprising one-half of eclectic soul outfit Foreign Exchange has just decided to let his version out of the vault for free downloading. Apparently, back in 2006, the Dutch-born producer was approached to work on a project called "Sampling Bob James: The Nautilus Project" and he delivered a total re-working of the track from scratch sans samples, for a project that has yet to see the light of day.
When an MC hits the stage wearing a bow-tie, it's a good sign that an interesting show is about to take place. For the Foreign Exchange's sold-out date at the Black Cat on Friday, singer/rapper Phonte broke out what he called his "finest haberdashery," but even though he was wearing a suit and tie, he assured the crowd that "this is a [expletive] party!"
In keeping with that promise, the Foreign Exchange -- a duo consisting of Phonte, from the North Carolina hip-hop outfit Little Brother, and Dutch producer Nicolay -- delivered an incredible night of dreamy R&B/hip-hop.<
2009 looks to be a great start for Foreign Exchange. Individually Phonte and
Nicolay already had a loyal fan base. But as a duo, the unlikely
collaboration of these 2 brothers from another mother managed to
capture lightning in a bottle twice. Last year their sophomore LP Leave it all behind
rave reviews from both fans and critics (including 4DaSoul), making it
one of the best album releases of 2008. The band recently performed a
sold out show in Washington DC and 4DaSoul had the privilege of returning to the Highline Ballroom NYC to cover their follow-up performance. Our previous coverage at the venue was for a Little Brother performance around the time their Get Back
album was released.
The Foreign Exchange live experience is nothing like that of Little
Brother's. While they share 1 obvious similarity and the same revolving
door of guest collaborators, the 2 bands exist as completely separate
A Little Brother show can be described as a
high energy, throw your backpack in the air hip-hop celebration.
Foreign Exchange shows on the other hand, aim toward the grown and sexy
crowd. One could call Foreign Exchange the mature older brother who
maintains some hip-hop sensibilities.
Yes, I was privileged enough to be on the media team that was backstage during
Foreign Exchange's performance at the Double Door in Chicago on Friday night. It
was amazing, people. And, it was an honor. There were so many more FE followers
than I expected when I first arrived just a bit after 9pm. I know they are an
amazing ensemble all together (YahZarah, Zo!, ELS, Darien Brockington were
featured, Nicolay and Phonte as Foreign Exchange proper), but I think I just
expected a more concentrated group of fans. I greatly underestimated the Chicago
fanbase... and it felt SO refreshing to have done so. I love when a group as
musically inclined as this gets the credit and support that they deserve.
I also learned that it really is about who you know. I originally just wanted to attend the concert as a spectator but after speaking with my good friend Raphael Nash, President of Endangered Peace
somehow he cooked up a situation that allowed me free entry into the concert, a
VIP pass backstage, and a chance to meet with all of the artists. It was awesome
in the literal sense of the word, not in that Keanu Reeves in Bill and Ted's
Excellent Adventure/Bogus Journey
kind of way.
The 2004 album Connected
by the Foreign Exchange (North Carolina rapper Phonte and Dutch producer Nicolay) was a record of unusual warmth and vibrancy. And yet, one bum line from Phonte still threatens to derail it with every listen-- "Applied for the job of rap nigga/ But I was overqualified." For better or (mostly) worse, this sort of mindset has boxed in just about everything he's done since with Little Brother, his project with rapper Big Pooh. Though obviously in pursuit of commercial adulation and positioning himself as a vanguard of thinking man's hip-hop, Phonte too often casts those who are more successful in simple and condescending terms while offering a one-step solution to all hip-hop's ills-- increased sales of Little Brother records. A slew of missed opportunities and disillusion with the game have resulted in a whole lot of disappointing Phonte projects. But knowing this can't prepare you for just how closely Leave It All Behind
hews to its title, as Phonte opts out of hip-hop with a nearly full-on R&B record with exactly two rapped verses. And there's really no way of preparing for how good it actually turned out.
Forget AutoTune. Forget singing over rap beats (with apologies to Mary
J. and Nate Dogg). Forget where modern day pop R&B is going, and we
can talk about The Foreign Exchange.
Long story short, rapper/sanger Phonte of the then-group Little Brother collaborated with Nicolay, a producer located in the Netherlands, in 2002 over IM and email
and created an album. Connected was a testament to not only the
universality of music, but also how the digital world is letting people meet and
collaborate, even when separated by an ocean. The album introduced Phonte
singing in long form, something that he'd only hinted at in the Little Brother
The words "old school" come to mind when listening to The Foreign Exchange's sophomore effort Leave It All Behind but, in truth, there's nothing old about it. If it at all seems that way, it's because there's such a regrettable dearth of its blissfully soulful sound being produced these days. In short, there's nothing retrograde about the material--how could there be when the music's so fresh? For those unfamiliar with the project, The Foreign Exchange is a collaboration involving producer Nicolay (who already issued one of the year's better albums in the splendid Timeline) and singer-songwriter and vocalist Phonte. The two hooked up in 2002 via the hip-hop community site Okayplayer.com and thereafter traded files for a year (Nicolay residing in his native Holland at the time and Phonte in Raleigh, North Carolina), leading up to 2004's Connected release. Though Nicolay (now ensconced in Wilmington, North Carolina ) has bridged the geographical gap, the new release distances itself from the debut's hip-hop focus for a more pronounced "lover's rock" brand of soul. Don't get the wrong idea: traces of hip-hop are clearly evident, and so too are elements of funk (even echoes of drum'n'bass in "If This Is Love"), but the new music's rooted in soul of a thoroughly warm and emotive vintage.
Phonte and Nicolay, the respective emcee and producer behind the Foreign Exchange, have done just what their sophomore album, Leave It All Behind, alludes to. They have left it all behind, and by "it", I mean their debut, Connected, which was fresh, stylish, and absolutely fantastic. Although there are musical similarities to that album, the duo has jumped head first into more mature territory on Leave It All Behind. The playfulness that has characterized Phonte throughout his career is mostly gone in this more focused, grown-up songwriter. And yes, he does sing on every song. But don't think he decided to randomly up and try his hand at some Love Below-esque joints. Anyone who knows Phonte is well aware that he has sung plenty of hooks, and even some full tracks, both as part of Little Brother and the Foreign Exchange.
Even though Phonte isn't going to win any awards for his vocal performances here, not recognizing his talents as a singer would be a sin. Few rappers can match his chops, both as an emcee and a singer. It's for that reason that Phonte gets a slight pass for not having the range of his vocalist contemporaries, like John Legend and others. But Phonte knows that. He doesn't try to hit any notes outside of his range or overextend himself. Instead, he uses his charming, sometimes smooth voice to lure you in. And some of his duets are absolutely breathtaking, particularly those with Muhsinah. Her breathy voice meshes with his so well that it's impossible to not get sucked into tracks like "Daykeeper" and "House of Cards", which are a one-two punch that R&B has not seen yet this year.
Netherlands producer Nicolay, and MC, Phonte one half of Little Brother have come together for their second Foreign Exchange effort entitled Leave it All Behind. With Nicolay moving to North Carolina where Phonte is from and still resides, one would think studio sessions as opposed to the Internet and file sharing that occurred while Nicolay was stationed in the Netherlands would be more frequent. Wrong, the combo figured if it worked, why fix it? As well, with our current economic state where gas is $4.00 per/gallon even though they're in the same state, money is money.
Chemistry is an elusive phenomenon. It's what ignites white hot romantic sparks between two otherwise nondescript individuals. It's also what marks certain rarified creative collaborations as truly magical. In both cases, chemistry elevates the whole above the sum of the parts. Fittingly enough, it is chemistry that propels the sophomore release from The Foreign Exchange, both conceptually and sonically, culminating in one of the more rewarding listening experiences of the year.
Leave It All Behind is the rare concept album that doesn't feel forced. Like the relationship that is chronicled throughout, the album ebbs and flows in the key of life. "Daykeeper" is an understated opener, a quiet celebration of mutual love and dependancy driven by atmospheric keys and ethereal background vocals. As Phonte and Muhsinah trade plaintive vocals of laying together, watching over one another, the song takes on an almost voyeuristic quality, like we shouldn't be sharing such an intimate moment with the two lovers. The song sets the tone perfectly, establishing not only the chemistry between lyrics, vocals and production, but also within the romantic narrative that drives the album. The perfect counterpoint to "Day Keeper" is "House of Cards". Over a drum and bass groove and urgent keys, 'Te and Muhsinah again trade mirroring verses, but this time the words are filled with distrust and deception. It is precisely such nuances in which the beauty of LIAB lies. This isn't an album about falling in love, nor it's demise. It's about all of the ups and downs and detours along the way. The fickle way of the romantic pendulum is best exemplified at the project's mid point, when he jazzy jubilance of "Sweeter Than You" transitions into the remorseful melancholy of "Valediction" so seamlessly that before the listener even realizes the former has given way to the latter, sweet has apparently gone sour.
The second Foreign Exchange album reverses the rapping/singing split of the first. Not only is Leave It All Behind much more an R&B album than 2004's Connected -- it's more an R&B album than a lot of modern releases filed in that section, given that Phonte slips into MC mode only twice while otherwise putting his sensitive singing voice to full use. Even more nuanced and textured, and therefore more musical than Connected, Leave It All Behind is a concise and complete set of songs that brings out the best of both producer Nicolay and Phonte. More than ever, Nicolay's mellow but moving productions have that lingering, memory-triggering effect mastered by the late J Dilla, and a multitude of shades is cast: dreamy folk-soul that ranks with the Beauty Room and latter-day 4hero, lean and contemporary constructions that would fit within any adult-oriented R&B station's playlist, deceptively frictional backdrops that bridge hip-hop to West London broken beat, and even the intermittent unclassifiable moment, with several styles thrown into swirls of crescendo-enhanced dramatics. Joined by Connected accomplices Darien Brockington and YahZarah (her lead turn on "If She Breaks Your Heart" sounds even more like a lost Stevie/Minnie collaboration than the Jungle Fever soundtrack original), as well as Muhsinah (an earthbound Georgia Anne Muldrow), Phonte does not deliver knockouts, yet he is not out of his depth and never reaches beyond his grasp, exuding warmth and sincerity as effectively as anyone praised for inhuman range. Even when his lyrics deal in the less complicated aspects of relationships, his voice provides a gently bittersweet tint, as a man with his guard down whose articulations are neither reactionary nor based on some false posture. And with love as its core rather than impulsive lust, as well as its unified feel, the album is not just a unique and exceptional R&B album but also a soundtrack or means of communication -- when heat-of-the-moment resentment, a lump in the throat, or anxious longing get in the way -- for a real-life adult relationship.
on October 5, 2006 at 12:00 AM ·
In 2004, The Foreign Exchange, consisting of North Carolina emcee Phonte and Dutch producer Nicolay, delivered the highly sensual Connected, an album that matched introspective lyricism with beats that defied simplicity. Fashioned through an Internet medium, Connected was based on more than just a solid idea; the tracks represented a true chemistry, as the album moved with the sweeping emotions of a '70s soul record re-contextualized into a modern hip-hop sound. Phonte, then known for his work with Little Brother, was ideally categorized as the backpacking type: wholly expressive and witty, yet accessible and jaunty. His beatmaking counterpart possessed what was needed to smooth the record into a gorgeous plane: musical emotiveness and vulnerability. As a result, Connected was an injection of non-portentous hip-hop whose freshness emanated through the clouds of forgettable underground nothings.
on January 6, 2005 at 12:00 AM ·
Where does the Foreign Exchange take place? In a fantasy cyberworld, where fantastical ideas are laid on an imaginary table and then agreed upon and carried out in perfect harmony. They don't let any negative energy in where the Foreign Exchange transacts its business, and anyone pushing bling emphasis or Napoleonic aggression gets a pink slip. Stability and job security o'er at the Foreign Exchange's zone are a bit undermined, however, by the many lingering miles between the collaborating members.
on September 14, 2004 at 8:06 PM ·
Until early this year, North Carolina emcee Phonte (Little Brother) and Dutch beatmaking sensation Nicolay had never met, or even spoke on the phone. Making their acquaintance on the webboards at Okayplayer, the two took The Postal Service's album-by-correspondence technique to heart: Nicolay instant messaged beats to Phonte, who dropped verses, and then the Holland native mastered the product. The result, Connected, is a sweltering, improbable 14-track symphony teeming with potent lyricism and subtle, lustrous rhythmatics.
on August 1, 2004 at 12:00 AM ·
[...] Engaged in a far more healthy relationship are Little Brother's Phonte and Netherlands-based producer/instrumentalist Nicolay. Together, the unlikely duo is The Foreign Exchange, a partnership initiated a few years back when Phonte heard Nic's instro tracks posted on okaplayer.com and passed the Dutch (beat)master an email asking if he could spit over them. Bubbling with soulful, mellow warmth, the resulting album, Connected (BBE), is both an exemplary program of neo-Soulquarian groovology (the Big Pooh-assisted "Nic's Groove"), and a rewarding conceptual piece about people getting along in the face of adversity ("Be Alright", "Brave New World"). The inspired "All That You Are" in particular typifies the latter steez, with Phonte candidly discussing stress with wifey (("Before we had a kid/We should have had a clue") before resolving to show and self-improve ("I'm trying to be a better man, please believe me/Ready and God willing if you're ready to teach me"). Given its organic sound, however, Connected earns ultimate props for how well these hip-hop pen pals transcended cultural gaps and technological limitations (they recorded the entire album via emailed and IM-ed sound files without ever meeting face to face). You ain't never heard computer love like this.
Image if Black Thought could sing like D'Angelo and did an album produced by Ali Shaheed Muhammad and DJ Spinna. That's the unlikely union that makes [The] Foreign Exchange's Connected
so special. Little Brother's Phonte and Dutch producer Nicolay connected via the Internet, and through a potent mix of battle-ready lyricism, falsetto crooning and European ambient grooves, they create Hip-Hop music from outside the box. Playing double duty as MC and singer, Phonte transcends flaccid R&B while reconnecting Hip-Hop with its exorcised soul. The poetic pendulum swings from the chest-thumping of "Raw Life" and "Let's Move" to the passionate confessions of "Sincere" and "Be Alright", where Phonte laments: "I scream, 'Fuck the world' but Mother Nature is taking Ortho now/Tryin' to regulate our stress and pain also now." Unfortunately though, you'll probably have to fly to Nicolay's home country to hear this inspired record on the radio.