After listening to The Foreign Exchange's debut album Connected NARAS may have to create a new category - Best Rap Album by a Duo or Group Whose Members Have Never Met Each Other.
That's right. Breaking the current barriers set up between music and geography, The Foreign Exchange conceptualized, conceived and completed Connected by means of instant messenger and the world wide web.
Never held a telephone conversation.
Never met face to face.
"It was all very surreal actually," says Phonte, half of the duo, about the albums "virtual" recording experience. "Nic would just send me tracks via Instant Messenger, and I would record to them and send the finished product back. I had no idea that our simple IM sessions would develop into the beautiful project that we have now."
Consisting of Phonte of Little Brother fame (vocals) and Nicolay (drums, bass, keys, guitars and samples), The Foreign Exchange came together via the online hip hop community where people of like minded music and artistry dwell -- Okayplayer.com. Phonte came across Nicolay's music and asked him if he could lay a rhyme over one of his tracks. Nicolay obliged. Once Phonte's partner in rhyme Big Pooh layed his verse the end result was "Light it Up" - the B-side single for Little Brother's critically acclaimed 2003 effort The Listening. Although Nicolay is based in the Netherlands and Phonte in Raleigh, NC they continued to trade music and discussed plans for a full length project.
Once the idea of a full length album became clear The Foreign Exchange came to life.
Drawing off his classical music training and his love for funk and soul/R&B bands, Nicolay arranged tracks and corresponded solely through email, IM and snail mail to his other half across the pond. Phonte, taking on what he likes to call his "Quincy Jones 'Back on the Block' role", spread his wings as an artist/producer by selecting tracks, writing lyrics and choosing talent for the project.
"Here I was blindly sending out beats to a guy who lived thousands of miles away from me," says Nicolay of the process. "When he sent the songs back to me though, the harmonies and melodies and concepts fit my tracks perfectly. It was like tossing somebody a few water colors and watching them come back with a beautiful canvas painting. I knew we were on to something special."
After more than a year and a half of "file swapping" Connected was completed. More melody than machinery, The Foreign Exchange composed a musical soundscape unifying all that is great about hip hop, R&B and electronic soul. The '80's soul/funk synthesized sound of "Come Around", churchy organ driven "Hustle Hustle" and street wise Raw Life, The Foreign Exchange blended all of their musical influences to come back to hip hop. Renewing their love affair for hip hop and music in general.
Connected also acts as a showcase for up and coming artists such as the soulful YahZarah, lyricist Critically Acclaimed and members from North Carolina's Justus League. And to ease all anxieties of Little Brother fans, "Let's Move" let's you know that the trio is still holding it down.
The Foreign Exchange's Connected is proof that the worlds of music and technology can not only co-exist, but can unite.
"The purpose of music is to bring people together," says Phonte. "I think it really says something about the power of music when two people who've never met can work together on blind faith. Music was the force that helped me and Nic make that connection."