Why Nicolay? The Dutchmaster can best be described as a humble dude with a gigantic presence. His music is timeless and his production is progressive and soulful. He has surrounded himself with the likes of Phonte, YahZarah, Zo! and D Brock. This is only a glimpse of his influence, a notable career that has continued gracefully.
The Foreign Exchange group was formed via long distance music collaborations. Their story is now popularly familiar, so I won’t recount it here. What I like about Nicolay is that he is real and by that I mean that he is accessible and not arrogant. I have contacted him by email before and he shared his opinions with me about music tastes. I asked him about why he had not worked with specific artists and quite frankly said that he wasn’t a fan. The artist in question is irrelevant. The important thing here is that Nicolay is genuine and it shows in his music.
I had the honor of meeting him in Baltimore at the 8×10 club this summer. He was great after the show and talked briefly with me and my guys. I didn’t press him on anything in particular, since I made a point to compliment him and the crew and keep it moving. He was gracious for my comments and we shared a group picture. It was a great night and he even signed the set list. HA!
The music is quite unique for several reasons. First they are largely an independent group making music that sounds good minus the fame and fortune. I still find it ironic that a vast majority seems to prefer the simplistic pop scene in rap and R&B. A group like The Foreign Exchange that constantly makes great music that should be considered appealing to a wide variety of people. I remember that night in Baltimore wondering why the 8×10 was not crowded. Sad… but in every way possible selfishly great for me.
Wheels asked me what I thought of the FE discography. I actually believe they peaked with Leave it All Behind. I really enjoy the total album. It was timeless its production and signaled a very important shift in the music scene. You have Phonte a rapper/singer actually pulling his own in his command as a vocalist. Now don’t get me wrong since the bruh is no prince, or Luther, however his range is appropriate for the genre and the accompaniment that Nicolay puts together. I like Phonte’s delivery and the dude is mad funny. The lyrics are applicable to all types of situations related to fun, relationships or the ironies of life.
Nicolay is fly as hell because of his vision. The dude can play several instruments and he has the voracity to put together people that vibe well together as a group. I get the sense that his musical ear is really in tune with the fresh dynamic of attitudes in The Foreign Exchange. Niclay’s vision is clear and he has assembled folks that are free-spirited yet quite talented. The work on Connected and Leave it All Behind are albums that you can play for any audience, but more importantly play from beginning to end and. Each has a very pleasant vibe and cut with a level of production that one would expect from a top label.
-+ City Lights Vol. 3: Soweto (2015)
+ Love In Flying Colors (The Foreign Exchange) (2013)
+ Shibuya Session EP (with The Hot At Nights) (2011)
+ Dear Friends: An Evening With The Foreign Exchange (The Foreign Exchange) (2011)
+ Authenticity (The Foreign Exchange) (2010)
+ City Lights Vol. 2: Shibuya (2009)
+ Leave It All Behind (The Foreign Exchange) (2008)
+ Time:Line (Nicolay & Kay) (2008)
+ Here (2006)
+ The Dutch Masters Vol. 1 (2005)
+ City Lights Vol. 1.5 (2005)
+ Connected (The Foreign Exchange) (2004)
Nicolay’s influence is clear. His approach in international. Most artists dominate the subculture of which they roam. Nicolay has arrived from the Netherlands to infuse current culture with a variety of artists and a fresh music sound that soothes the soul. The best thing about having Nicolay and The Foreign Exchange create music is that each and every moment they grace us with a collaboration, EP or concert it is like opening presents at Christmas. You know that it will be fly and fun to witness.
I can’t say enough about Nicolay and the genius of his production. Everything he seems to touch is gold. I often thought that J Dilla was the greatest and that even 9th Wonder was in that mix. Nicolay, 9th and Dill all in the same breath right? Well that was in the 90’s and early 2000’s. The tide has shifted to Nicolay and Dilla, though posthumously and the likes of Producers like Premier, Onra, Black Spade, Young RJ, J Period, . Yeah Dre and others have their market but these other cats are making music. Dre makes beats. Anyway, I digress… the tide is a good one that’s certainly changing (even if slowly) and on that is certainly promising.
Yessir! The Better man from the Netherlands! Like Lunchbox Tha Narcoleptic announces in the opening track of the City Lights 1.5 instrumental suite, Nicolay represents “that shit you just feel in your chest that make you wanna turn that shit up.” Amen to that. Nic’s been making me wanna turn it up release after release for the last few years. Few artists’ music has been swirling around my headphones as much as Nicolay’s – the Foreign Exchange albums, solo projects, collab projects, remixes, etc. – for the last half-decade. Nic is that dude.
Like a lot of people, I first heard Nicolay’s sound on the Foreign Exchange’s Connected album.
The colorful instrumental City Lights 1.5 album and the Dutch Masters remixes cemented Nicolay as an exciting on the rise talent. I particularly love the City Lights 1.5 LP for its relaxed, blissful vibe.
Yet rather than simply hold down his spot alongside other great post-Dilla golden age torchbearers like 9th Wonder and Young RJ, Nicolay has stretched himself in incredibly exciting and refreshing ways. The 2008-2010 era in Nicolay’s career has revealed just exactly how versatile and wide-ranging Nicolay’s musicality is. Not only is he a rare talent within the hip-hop world, which he proved on Connected and City Lights 1.5, but a gifted producer of soul, rock, and house music as well.
2008 was the year of Nicolay’s rise in my opinion. The criminally underrated Nicolay & Kay project, Time:Line, demonstrates Nic’s impressive versatility and his ability to not just dabble in but really own different styles of music in a believable and authentic way.
And of course, Nicolay and Phonte blew us all away with the new direction on Leave It All Behind. The simultaneous evolution of these two tremendous talents on this album was and to this day is truly breathtaking. On one hand, you had Phontigallo holding back on the raps (except for a couple verses) and emerging as a warm, insightful, witty and relatable R&B singer. And fitting his music to that new vocal style like a glove, Nicolay laid down a lush, emotive musical backdrop that explored a variety of styles – including swirling piano balladry (“House of Cards”), mesmerizing drum n’ bass (“If This Is Love”), even doing a brilliant Stevie Wonder cover (“If She Breaks Your Heart”), adding a dope bossa nova outro. In my humble opinion, the cover tops the original (and I’m a Stevie fanatic!). Together Nicolay and Phonte captured the ups and downs of life and love. I remember D and I being blown away by that album when it dropped. I count it as one of the best albums of the last decade, in any genre. To top it off, the group got a Grammy nod for the opening track, the sensual, haunting “Daykeeper.” Not bad for a group that started off sending each other mp3s over the Internet.
The 2009 solo LP City Lights Vol. 2: Shibuya album showed yet another side of Nicolay’s musicality, this time exploring styles like house, jazz fusion, and broken beat. So many musical treats on this record, from the stuttering, chilled out “Rain In Ueno Park” to the infectious, synthy “Wake Up In Another Life.” I also loved the two cuts with vocalist Carlitta Durand, the lush “Lose Your Way” and the housey, bouncy “Saturday Night.” This album is also another wonderful example of Nicolay’s attention to detail and masterful track sequencing. Peep the seamless segues from “Lose Your Way” to “Shibuya Station” and “Saturday Night” to “A Ride Under The Neon Moon.”
The latest Foreign Exchange album, 2010’s Authenticity,
To top it off, as D said Nicolay seems like an incredibly nice and humble guy. On his site he drops great production insights and treats for his fans. I remember getting a signed copy of the bangin’ City Lights 1.5 instrumental album off of his site when it was going out of print. The Foreign Exchange Music label sure knows how to treat its fans
Nicolay is truly one of the shining lights leading the way in music right now. Can’t wait to hear where his music and the whole Foreign Exchange label’s music goes next. The sky’s the limit.
“Raw Life” – The Foreign Exchange”
“Sincere” – The Foreign Exchange
“Come Around” – The Foreign Exchange
“Daykeeper” – The Foreign Exchange
“If She Breaks Your Heart” – The Foreign Exchange
“Something To Behold” – The Foreign Exchange
“Fight For Love” – The Foreign Exchange
“Maybe She’ll Dream Of Me” – The Foreign Exchange
“Don’t Wait” – The Foreign Exchange
“The City Ain’t The Same Without You” – The Foreign Exchange
“Purple Flip” – The Foreign Exchange, ?uestlove, Zo!, and Carlitta Durand
“I Am The Man” – Nicolay Feat. Black Spade
“Fantastic” – Nicolay
“Lose Your Way” – Nicolay Feat. Carlitta Durand
“Rain In Ueno Park” – Nicolay
“Saturday Night” – Nicolay Feat. Carlitta Durand
“Through The Wind” – Nicolay & Kay Ft. Stokley Williams
“Tight Eyes” – Nicolay & Kay
“Grand Theft Auto” – Nicolay & Kay
“Cry Over You” – Yazharah Ft. Phonte
“Downtime (Nicolay Remix)” – Phonte
“Light It Up (Nicolay Remix)” – Little Brother
“I Can’t Wait (Nicolay Remix)” – Bilal & Jaguar Wright
Come Close (Nicolay Remix)” – Common
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