The Foreign Exchange Are Hip-Hop Chameleons
Proper fusion can be a messy and tricky plane for an artist to conquer. Mixing and matching different styles of music can make a final product come across like a random mish-mash of sounds. Experiment too much and you risk losing much of your audience. Experiment too little and you risk losing critical support and not achieving the perfect hybrid you were in search of. Despite the possible pitfalls and the risks involved with making something that synthesizes multiple, disparate sounds, R&B/soul fusionist duo The Foreign Exchange has seemingly hit a sweet spot between all possible positive outcomes.
Dutch producer Nicolay and North Carolina rapper/vocalist Phonte spent the better part of the past twelve years perfecting their premium blend of soul, R&B, pop and similar stylings. Tastemakers such as Pitchfork have lauded the pair for their organic take on the aforementioned genres.
"It's just a melting pot," producer Nicolay says of his act's sound. "It's hard to give it a name or give it a genre or find a box for it. It's like a chameleon: it can be one thing one moment and something completely different the next, but both would be Foreign Exchange. It's an eclectic mix, for sure."
"If you can't be put in a box, that means you got options," Phonte says. "You're never cornered, so I like the idea that people hear our stuff and when they're trying to describe it they're like 'how do I describe it? Who can I compare it to?' and a lot of fans are just like 'You got to just listen, you have to hear it.' I find comfort in that, because that to me is truly freedom."
Nicolay and Phonte started working under the Foreign Exchange moniker in 2002, honing that "eclectic mix," which includes everything from neo-soul to alternative hip-hop. A continental divide - Phonte being based in the US and Nicolay initially residing in the Netherlands at the time - meant that the two didn't even meet in-person until April of 2004. Finally, Phonte came to Nicolay's home country to perform a show as part of the acclaimed hip-hop duo Little Brother.
"For me, it wasn't really anything different. It wasn't like a Catfish situation or some shit," Phonte says, describing their first meeting. "We had been talking online and pretty much created an album together and pretty much knew each other."