Foreign Exchange Connected

Foreign Exchange Connected
Helmed by Phonte from North Carolina’s Little Brother and Netherlands-based producer Nicolay, this record was entirely conceived and produced online, with the duo sending files back and forth from their respective home bases and never meeting in person until the record was completed. Of course, this wouldn’t mean anything if the finished product was lacking, but nothing could be further from the truth. Nicolay, the lesser known of the duo, proves himself to be a major talent, balancing his beefy bass lines and crisp drums with meticulously sequenced idyllic interludes that blend each of the songs, ensuring the project literally lives up to its name. Executive producer Phonte’s lyrics and that of the various vocalists and MCs from North Carolina’s Justus League crew from which Little Brother emerged, thematically centres on rising above sobering everyday struggles. The invigorating horn sections on "Hustle Hustle,” the nod to Minneapolis funk drum claps on "Sincere” and the Troutman-style vocoder on "Brave New World” make the musings on life and love positively soar. Phonte’s performance on this latter track is perhaps his strongest, applying his song concept to conspiracy theories and the value of friendship and cheekily name-checking Toronto’s SARS crisis. But Phonte’s not just dropping taut, head-turning rhymes here and he gets to step outside of his Little Brother role and flex his latent and evidently justified urge to sing over Nicolay’s diverse palette, which draws equally from hip-hop, R&B, electronica and neo-soul vibes. It’s fitting that Connected officially ends with "All That You Are,” where an all-consuming obsession with music is discussed, as this is the reason Phonte and Nicolay have been able to fashion such an accomplished project despite its seemingly disparate premise. (BBE)