The school bell has rung and the lesson for today is Music 101 and its not just your ordinary Top 40 heard on the radio. But, rather a duo whose eclectic and eccentric sound which fuses R&B, Hip-Hop and electronica, earning them a rave reviews and the much garnered Grammy nomination. The Foreign Exchange consisting of Phonte of North Carolina and Nicolay from Holland, is more than a group with a funky name but the group to watch.
With a new album on the way,
AllHipHop.com: Your last CD was in 2008, are you planning to release any new music?
Nicolay: Yazarah (a fellow collaborator) has been touring with us and has been featured on all of our albums. She is actually one of the first artists that we are coming out with on our imprint. We are working on a new album for The Foreign Exchange for the fall. We definitely have a lot of music coming out this year.
Phonte: Yazarah her album is coming out in May with Purple St. James and then Zo! the keyboardist in the band he will be putting out his album in the summer.
AllHipHop.com: Artists are now taking the more expressive route and releasing mixtapes, is that something that you guys are considering?
Phonte: Not personally, for me. I really dont see the purpose in releasing a mixtape, unless there is some concept behind it. If you are stuck on a major label and you cant legally release music for retail then it makes sense. If you have a project that has samples that havent been cleared then it makes sense then but other than that I just see it as a waste of time. The time you spend rapping over someone elses beat you can put that same energy creating something original for yourself. So to me, the mixtape thing has never interest to me that degree.
AllHipHop.com: Some feel music is becoming very formulaic, you guys manage to stay true without compromising your art, how have you guys done so and still appeal to music lovers?
Nicolay: I think we just honestly, followed our hearts, our instinct, speaking for the both of usI think there is one reason why we make music and that is we love making music. We think from the perspective of the music first and foremost no matter what we do, no matter what opportunity that comes along. I think we always try to make decisions that come from our gut, our heart and our instinct. I think people pick on up on that, people see that and love that out about us.
Phonte: I agree with all of what Nic said. I think a lot of has to do with the fact that we think as fans. We are first and foremost fans of music before we are musicians. I bought records before I made records. We just really think what a fan would want and I think about what would appeal to me as a listener and a consumer, that has been the guiding light.
AllHipHop.com: Independent labels are now becoming the trend with up and coming artists. How do you explain the success with your label from your perspective?
Phonte: I just think it goes back to just thinking of what a fan would, that is on the business side. On the creative side its also from what a fan would want to some degree. We make music first and foremost for ourselves. But for me a lot of it comes from a selfish place it comes from me making music that I want to hear and putting out the music that is missing. So that is what I think why we have been successful. First and foremost keeping the fans in mind and creatively doing whats in our heart.
AllHipHop.com: The group name is unique, who came up with the name The Foreign Exchange?
Nicolay: That was Big Pooh, right?!
Phonte: Yeah, it was Big Pooh–my partner from Little Brother. He was in the studio working on the first album Connected. I cant remember, I think we were working on Nics groove and he was like yeah man its like a Foreign Exchange and I was like damn, it is like a foreign exchange and the name just stuck.
AllHipHop.com: When did you guys meet on the website okayplayer.com?
Nicolay: Early 02
Phonte: Yeah 02
Nicolay: It has been eight years at this point. It was early 02.
AllHipHop.com: When did you guys meet face to face? ?
Phonte: I would say 04.
Nicolay: Yeah, I would say 04.
AllHipHop.com: Wow! What an unorthodox approach to make music using the Internet to produce music. Your first album was put together over the web without ever meeting each other would you recommend that to someone coming up?
Phonte: I dont even have to recommend it I know cats who are doing it already. Its just funny how a paradigm can change, when we first started you know doing records via email was something radical. You doing this record with this cat and you never met each other. It was seen as something so out of the norm. Back in the in day it was unorthodox, but now it is the norm.
AllHipHop.com: Were there any difficulties or complications putting together the first album?? ?
Phonte: Other than the time difference that was probably the biggest obstacle. Really!? then it wasnt an obstacle because I am night person and Nic is a day person. So when he is getting ready to go to bed I would still be up and we catch each other online. I would work in the studio; go to sleep and Nic would work. He would go into the studio; work, go to sleep and I would check on what he didthat is pretty much what it is like now. Other than the time difference that was the only big problem I could think of.
AllHipHop.com: We talked extensively about the first album; tell me about Leave It All Behind and that album?
Phonte: Leave it all behind just a new beginning, I guess. Just leaving the pass behind, move forward and not letting any of your worries or doubts hold you back. That was pretty much the meat of it. You can read into it and interpret different ways.
AllHipHop.com: What is going on with Little Brother and is there a future album coming out?
Phonte: There is an album coming out April 20 and that will be our last album, there is nothing coming after that. Me and Pooh are the best of friends; we have taken the Little Brother brand as far as it can go.
AllHipHop.com: After this release, (Phonte) will all of your attention if not a good chunk will be directed to the Foreign Exchange and future projects?
Phonte: Yeah, me and Nic are just really focusing more on building the Foreign Exchange brand and getting ourselves out there as a songwriting and production team. We will be more focus on that, of course the new The Foreign Exchange album and then sometime next year I will do a solo album one thing I have yet to do. So, um that is the plan. The Foreign Exchange album will be in the fall, sometime around October.
AllHipHop.com: How will your solo album differ from The Foreign Exchange brand?
Phonte: I am only three songs in so, I cant call it. It will be more rhyming.
AllHipHop.com: When you said you plan on developing The Foreign Exchange brand, what other avenues are you looking at other than songwriting, producing and rapping?
Nicolay: That pretty much covers it, I know that our first priority is to get those releases out and get em heard by as many people and build our brand as producers. We do stuff all over the place and that keeps us on toes, we are busy with new shows and musicthat pretty much covers it.
AllHipHop.com: Tour dates! When are you guys touring?
Phonte: Check out our website theforeignexchangemusic.com, we have dates in April, May and the summer.
AllHipHop.com: It just dawned on me, are you guys working with Darien Brockington on his up coming release? ?
Phonte: We are working on something it probably wont come until next year. He is on the projects we are releasing. He is on Yazarahs album, hes on Zo!s album and he will be on the next Foreign Exchange album. Ladies will definitely get their sharetheir fix of Dbrock.
AllHipHop.com: Is there anything else you want to add?
Phonte: No, Look for Yazarah coming out in Maywe are so proud of it. Zo!, look for that in the summer and The Foreign Exchange in the fall. Everyone just spread the word!