In the past six years Nicolay and Phonte have definitely put their stamp on black alternative music. I first heard Nicolay back in 2002 on Little Brother’s – ‘Whatever You Say’ (12″) on a track called “Light It Up”.
It was hip-hop but soulful made by this relatively unknown Dutch producer unless you were on Okayplayer. Phonte and Nicolay continued sending each other music back and forth over email (thus the name Foreign Exchange) while Nicolay was in the Netherlands. Two years later they released Connected.
Sonically Connected was an extension of what Little Brother had already achieved with The Listening hip-hop-wise combined with musicality of Nicolay. It had a bit of everything in terms of influences and genre; whether it was jazz, soul/R&B, electronic or hip-hop. It was such a cohesive piece of work I almost wish it hadn’t been released through BBE, but that’s another blog entry. Whether they knew it at the time, Phonte and Nicolay had a definite chemistry between artist and producer that translated into some quality music.
Individually they continued releasing other projects and then returned four years later with the follow up, Leave It All Behind. They went left field, which played into the title of the album. The new album saw Phonte singing over a good majority of the tracks, which didn’t resonate with me right away because I prefer Phonte rapping. But after letting the album breathe I began to appreciate the new direction they were going with this record. It was funkier, soulful, down tempo and dare I say adult contemporary R&B. It was a nice change of pace compared to the ‘thug in the club’ type R&B that gets regular radio airplay. You could definitely see and hear the progression from the first album to Leave It All Behind. Oddly enough, I find myself now playing the second album more than the debut.
After two solid but very different albums, I can comfortably say that Foreign Exchange has no limits. They’re making good music that doesn’t fit a label or genre. Creatively they’re pushing the boundaries of black alternative music. Where urban radio tries to profit on the formulaic, they’re creating a new sound scape for what it can be and that’s exciting as a listener. Not to mention, that they are doing this as independent artists, which makes the effort that much greater. Collectively they’ve become quite the music duo; with Phonte on songwriting and vocal arrangements and Nicolay on musical arrangements and production. I could definitely see them executive producing projects in the same vein as Questlove and James Poyser (The Randy Watson Experience) with Al Green’s last album, Lay It Down.
I can’t wait to hear the new City Lights Vol. 2: Shibuya dropping next month 9/15. The new compilation will feature Carlitta Durand, Zo! and Phonte. We featured the first single “Lose Your Way” from that project if you missed it. If it’s anything like their previous releases I won’t be disappointed because I know it’ll be some honest music. And that’s all you can ask for in this day and age. Nicolay is definitely for the children, and the adults, too!