Consisting of rapper/singer/songwriter Phonte and producer Nicolay, The Foreign Exchange came together via the online hip-hop community Okayplayer.com in 2002. After trading files through Instant Messenger for over a year, Nicolay (living in his native Holland at the time) and Phonte (a Raleigh, NC resident) completed their debut album before they ever met each other in person. The album, "Connected," was released in 2004 to positive reviews, and was praised by legendary DJ's such as Jazzy Jeff, King Britt, and DJ Spinna for its inventive mix of hip-hop, R&B, and electronica.
Their sophomore album, "Leave It All Behind" (2008) found The Foreign Exchange much closer in geography (Nicolay becoming a resident of Wilmington, NC), but located much further from their hip-hop origins. On the strength of their exhilarating live show and several nationally programmed music videos, "Leave It All Behind" became the group's most successful album to date, culminating in a Grammy-nomination for the album's first single, "Daykeeper".
Authenticity, to be released on October 12, 2010 on +FE Music, is The Foreign Exchange’s third album.
Phonte - Vocals
Nicolay - Producer
-Leave It All Behind (2008)
The Foreign Exchange is USA Today's Pick of the Week!
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Maybe She'll Dream of Me, a soulful contemplation on a guy's chances with a woman so beautiful that ...Maybe She'll Dream of Me, a soulful contemplation on a guy's chances with a woman so beautiful that she may have never "heard a no before," is from the new album Authenticity by the Foreign Exchange, the inventive duo of North Carolina rapper/singer/songwriter Phonte and Dutch producer Nicolay. It makes one wonder if the reality could ever live up to the fantasy.
The Foreign Exchange Reign Over The Empire City
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Phonte, Nicolay and their musically gifted collective known as The Foreign Exchange, including Zo!, ...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.
Introduced by Philadelphia radio personality and TV One's Dyana Williams, who congratulated the collective on their success as independent artists, the members of +FE poured into their respective places on stage, in front of anticipatory mics and behind eager instruments, dressed in Authenticity t-shirts--Phonte and Nicolay clad in white and the rest black. Chris Boerner on guitar, Kush El-Amin on bass, and Tim Scott on drums rounded out the aforementioned. The show opened as the new album does, with the wistfully resolute "The Last Fall." It was already clear within those first few moments that the tone of this show would be slightly different than the last I attended while they were still in full-throttle promotional mode for Leave It All Behind.
Despite being so somber a song, "The Last Fall" electrified the crowd, and although Authenticity only came out a couple weeks ago, the die hards (read: most of the audience, including myself) were prepared to sing along. After an exuberant and appreciative (and hilariously, earnestly goofy) hello by leadman Phonte, the "love gone wrong" theme continued with "House of Cards" and the song "Authenticity." New artist and +FE member for the evening Chantae Cann stepped in on the former for the absent YahZarah who was performing on the Capital Jazz Fest Cruise. And of the title track, Phonte described it as "that shit you may not wanna hear but you need to hear"--a sentiment that carried over to the battle-weary "Fight For Love."
Three songs about betrayal and heartbreak in and a rollcall was in order; Phonte asked the crowd how many were in love. A respectable smattering of claps and cheers served as a reply. "And how many here tonight have had their f*cking hearts ripped the f*ck out?" Cue: a full-bodied rumble of applause, for this was a likeminded crowd as eager for catharsis as the singer himself perhaps.
But it wasn't all furrowed brows and seriousness. +FE shows always have a generous measure of lightheartedness to them, and how can they not given the gleeful silliness that is Phonte? This show was the most toned down of any +FE show I've attended, but it didn't suffer for it, however. Although I dig the "Ooooh-wee! What's up with that? What's up with that?" skit from SNL that they often recreate, and their knack for making Gucci Mane and Drake covers palpable for the soul music heads, the stripped down and straight-forward, albeit still celebratory tone of the evening was an interesting juxtaposition to what I know of The Foreign Exchange live experience. "All Roads" and "I Wanna Know" received a winning acoustic treatment, for example. "We had to Jason Mraz that shit!" exclaimed the ever-comedic Phonte.
The special guests were also a treat. Of course the wild-maned Jesse Boykins III, dubbed "one of the leaders of the next generation of soul" by Phonte, was on hand to perform "If I Could Tell You No" from Zo!'s SunStorm and, of course, the brand new "Make Me a Fool," with a dab of "Tabloids" thrown in at the end for good measure. If you've ever seen Boykins perform it'll come as no surprise that the crowd ate it up. His energy is infectious. I can see why DJ Brainchild was so eager to put Phonte onto that man in the beginning of his career, a fact devulged during Jesse's intro. The hyphy, exuberant, and dimpled Big Pooh was also happily on hand to serve as surprise guest, joining his Little Brother mate on Zo!'s "This Could Be the Night" and "Nic's Groove," which got tricked out something serious with snippets of "Get Your Back Up Off the Wall" and "Rock the Boat." Yes, the Aaliyah song.
Putting a new spin on the already familiar and already brilliant in that way is what makes an +FE live show so epic an experience, afterall. They have that in common with The Roots. There are moments that you can only witness during a live show, like Zo!'s extended Roger Troutman-esque vocoder denoument during "Don't Wait," the harmonial scatting between Phonte, Chantae and Darien at the end of "Take off the Blues." Or "Maybe She'll Dream of Me" turned full-out gospel extravaganza following Phonte's "When she's sitting in church, fallin asleep! Maybe she'll dream of me!" adlib. That song, for the record, is one of my favorites and such a jovial standout on the new album. It actually could've been right at home on Leave It All Behind, but it's a welcome break from the angst of Authenticity. The heads were definitely nodding to this one, the first single off the album we were celebrating.
I'll confess I spent a good majority of the show missing YahZarah. Yahz is such a standout with her flirtaciousness and her epic platform heels. But Chantae's sweet voice and fiery red afro had a presence as well. In fact, that "Laughing at Your Plans" was the last song performed only made us wait that much longer to hear how incredibly beautiful her voice is. She was clearly in her comfort zone here finally singing her own material to Nicolay's acoustic guitar assisted backdrop. I look forward to hearing more from this backup singer for India.Arie turned lead vocalist.
Phonte took a moment prior to the denoument to explain he and Nic's thought process during the creation of Authenticity, and it resonates enough to properly wrap up my review--that a good song can stand on it's own with just one instrument. Authentic, quality music doesn't need elaborate sampling, Auto-Tune "and kazoos an shit".
"I just hope our music has made y'all's lives better." Mission accomplished.
Pitchfork reviews Authenticity
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The narratives surrounding the Foreign Exchange's albums often overshadowed the conversation around ...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.
Now there's a third Foreign Exchange album, Authenticity-- but this time, there's no gimmick. What's more, it is about as far from "cool" or "edgy" as any music can be: It's an adult contemporary record that is actually musically and emotionally sophisticated in the vein of Van Morrison, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, and Everything But the Girl. If there's anything yoking these artists to one another, it's adulthood-- not just in the aural placidity but also a lyrical fixation on the politics of relationships. As with Leave It All Behind, this topical concern is very much intact. But musically, this is a much more refined album. Leave It All Behind insinuated a break-up-- if not one that's already happened, then one that's just on the horizon; Authenticity is undoubtedly the aftermath.
Nicolay has successfully synthesized the polished, straightforward constructs of Connected with the labyrinthine soul arrangements of Leave It All Behind. The music on Authenticity may initially sound remedial and elemental, even saccharine, but further listens reveal new intricacies. What kept pulling me back in was the album's final track, the somehow elliptical and conclusive "This City Ain't the Same Without You". Over a trickling keyboard pattern and a breezy guitar strum, Phonte and guest YahZarah echo the song's title into the ether with a lingering hook. It urged me to keep revisiting the album, and each time around, another song would stand out, until I soon began to admire all of them. But as with all albums possessing this level of depth and detail, that's how this kind of thing works. At a brisk 40 minutes, Authenticity reaffirms that sense of accomplishment, cementing the Foreign Exchange as one of the artists at the forefront of contemporary R&B's avant-garde.
The A.V. Club reviews Authenticity
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It takes courage to reinvent yourself as a silky soul crooner after developing a hard-earned reputat...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.
Okayplayer reviews Authenticity
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Is Phonte Coleman depressed or something? It's not an unreasonable question to ask while listening t...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 sparse synthesizer and cold kick drum on the album's opener "The Last Fall" might recall the moody textures of another album by a certain hip hop icon's left-field "singing" debut. Coleman is certainly not an artist dependent on auto-tune, or any other musical gimmick for that matter. By the time the music builds through the first verse and erupts into the icy chorus, it's clear that this is going to be a serious and heartfelt ride, as Coleman vows, "I'm never gonna love again/no, I never wanna love again."
Die-hard fans of the hip hop/neo-soul sound on FE's 2004 debut Connected may very well be scratching their heads at this point, as it's evident that the group has all but abandoned the style that first brought them attention. Instead, Authenticity finds them embracing a sparse, often-maudlin pop that has more in common with the work of '80s artists such as Prince and the Cure. Perhaps more than, say, Tanya Morgan or DJ Shadow. In other words, despite the impressive resumes of the two head chefs in this group, one would be remiss to expect any servings of hip hop on the menu.
And that's not a bad thing at all. Coleman is writing and singing stronger than he ever has, and Nicolay is definitely carving out a signature sound that sheds the resemblance of his early influences. This is a sound that truly comes across as "authentic" throughout the record, as the group weaves through scenes of love-inspired torment, regret, and loss. While the first half of the record may swing a little too gloomy, things take a turn for the better starting with the playful stomp of "Maybe She'll Dream of Me." The songs don't necessarily take a positive turn lyrically, but they benefit from the dichotomy of Coleman's resigned, weary words and Nicolay's brighter grooves (see the country-tinged "Laughing at your Plans," the super catchy "Don't Wait," and excellent album closer "This City Ain't the Same Without You").
Ultimately, it's really nobody's business if Coleman is depressed or not. What matters is that the Foreign Exchange have made yet another formidable entry into their catalog, seemingly impervious to outside forces in a genre of music that's got a hard-on for conformity. Authenticity succeeds in upholding what its name promises, even at the risk of alienating the listener.
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