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Album Review

Bathed in a warm glow not unlike the one projected on its cover, Connected is an intimate-sounding album despite contributions from well over a dozen voices. Dutch producer Nicolay provides almost all the instrumentation, as well as sampling and programming. Partner Phonte of Little Brother mostly raps and occasionally sings while providing vocal arrangements. The duo lassos appearances from the likes of MC Joe Scudda and the duo Critically Acclaimed, and vocalists YahZarah and Darien Brockington. The other two-thirds of Little Brother — Big Pooh and 9th Wonder — also appear, respectively, with a guest verse and some of the mixing and recording duties. The album’s united feel is merely enhanced by its beginning and end themes; Nicolay’s wistful mode is present all the way through, even when the MCs are dishing out cold rhymes, led by Phonte’s typically sly “Thought ass kissing was in my blood type? Oh, negative.” Nicolay’s work is an ideal match for the everyman themes that dominate, from confronting fears (“Be Alright”) to the struggle that comes with pursuing your passion while supporting your family (“All That You Are”). The album’s lone song to lack an MC, “Come Around,” is its most disarming moment, when Brockington consoles his lover over a form of thoroughly modern “grown folks’ R&B” that is all too rare in the 2000s. It gracefully segues into the Phonte showcase “Happiness,” displaying how the Foreign Exchange do not merely paste hooks onto rap tracks or slap a guest verse onto a song for the sake of maximizing appeal. For them, rap and R&B are indivisible. [The expanded 2011 reissue adds the instrumentals and several additional remixes.]


Formed: 2002 in Raleigh, NC

Genre: R&B/Soul

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Representative of how the Internet can aid in creating music, the Foreign Exchange started when Little Brother rapper Phonte heard a beat on by Dutch producer Nicolay and asked if he could lay some vocals over it. Nicolay agreed, and the song "Light It Up" appeared shortly thereafter as the B-side to Little Brother's 2002 single "Whatever You Say." Relying mainly on instant messaging and email, the duo continued to work together, with Nicolay sending beats to Phonte, who would add...
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Connected, The Foreign Exchange
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