R&B Duo the Foreign Exchange Aims for the Soul


Photo by Chris Charles/Creative Silence

So a Dutch producer and a North Carolina rapper meet in an online forum …

The punch line? They go on to make progressive, polished and envelope-pushing soul and R&B. A decade, four albums and a Grammy nod later, the Foreign Exchange has gone from a hip-hop side project to a full-fledged band and record label. And their music has taken them all over the globe—everywhere except Las Vegas. On the road again in support of their highly praised Love in Flying Colors, the group is ready to spread their gospel to Sin City with producer Nicolay spinning July 13 at Insert Coin(s), followed by a Foreign Exchange show at the venue July 14.

Many artists have a love-hate relationship with touring. I know it’s impacted your relationships. Why is touring such an integral part of your mission?

Phonte Coleman (MC/singer): Because we’re not a band you’re going to see on a lot of mainstream outlets. We have to use the tools that are available to us, and one of our many tools that we have is our live show. We’re just that group where you can try to explain it all day, but once people see the show, that’s when they become a believer. It’s very much like a traveling band of preachers. You go, you spread your gospel from city to city and make people believers as you go on.

I’ve heard great things about your live show. What can we expect?

Nicolay: We’re very much a duo as a group, but onstage we’re eight people strong. It’s a two hour-plus show that has everything from musicianship to comedy.

How do you expand that two-man sound to a full-band experience?

Coleman: Before we go on tour, we’ll hold a day or so of rehearsals. … But for us, every night is rehearsal. Every night something changes. No two shows are going to be the same. One song that might bring the house down in Vegas may get crickets in San Francisco. You kind of have to read the vibe of the crowd that night and adjust to that.

The Foreign Exchange started as a side-project (Coleman was a member of seminal rap group Little Brother at the time). Now it’s the main vehicle for both of you. What’s kept the chemistry going?

Coleman: In this business you have to work with people that keep you driven and constantly push you to be better. And with me and Nic, that’s just something that we’ve always done. We’ve always pushed each other to be better and always present our best selves. And not only that but never putting limits on the other person. Whereas most artists would say “I don’t think we should do that,” me and Nic are the type of people that will say to each other, “Why not do that?” It’s just that kind of adventurous spirit that you need to keep growing and to keep creating, and to really keep yourself from getting bored. With me and Nic, we’re able to keep things fresh. We go for re-invention every record.

Get Familiar

Over the last 10 years, Nicolay and Phonte have created lush R&B soundscapes mixed with hip-hop, jazz, soulful house and electronic stylings. If you’re foreign to the Foreign Exchange, these selections will bring you up to speed.

The Foreign Exchange

8 p.m. July 14, Insert Coin(s), 512 Fremont St., $20, 702-477-2525, insertcoinslv.com