interview: r&b/electronica/hip hop duo the foreign exchange talks international success and iconic inspiration

June 24, 2016

Every so often, if you’re lucky during the summer you months, you’ll have the chance to catch a good live show in your city. As I write this, Funk Legend Masseo who did most of the early production work for James Brown and who often played alongside Prince, will be performing tonight in the city in which I reside. Yet ironically, a group by the name of Foreign Exchange played at the same venue called the Jazz Kitchen a few weeks earlier.

The journey of the duo that is The Foreign Exchange has been a quite serendipitous one. Nicolay and Phonte initially met in 2001 on, which is an online music community that allows hip-hop and alternative artists to connect. Nicolay, who is originally from the Netherlands, started sharing his music without expecting anything but honest feedback for his craft.

“Back home in the Netherlands, there were not many likeminded people to work with,” Nicolay recalled. “While I was not really searching for anything, I was throwing up a ball and waited to see if anyone would catch it.”

Phonte reached out after hearing a beat that Nicolay had posted and asked if he could sing something over it. The two have been rocking together ever since as they created The Foreign Exchange while never having met each other in person and released their first album together in 2004, intentionally and accurately named Connected. After the successful reviews of their first collaborative effort, the music started flowing like butter. Phonte brings the hip-hop and his classic R&B voice to compliment Nicolay’s fusion of jazz and electronic sounds – the perfect addition to your Chill Summer ’16 Cut List.

Phonte and Nicolay both spoke to Afropunk before a recent performance in Indianapolis.

By Jamina Tribbett, AFROPUNK contributor

How have the audiences in the United States and over in Europe embraced you throughout the years?
Nicolay – I think it’s been a good balance. Being from the Netherlands, I felt that the United States has a bigger audience. We have played places like South Africa and we Paris, and have always received a warm reception everywhere we’ve played.

I know you’ve played at First Avenue which was the backdrop place that Prince performed in Purple Rain. How did Prince and Micheal Jackson influence your music?

Well in terms of both artists, I had a great deal of respect for what they did for music. Music critics say that in terms of artistry you’re either a Micheal or a Prince. Micheal was perfectionist the way he dropped an album every three years. I mean the world stopped anytime Micheal did something big. Prince was the shear work horse, by the way he release such good music every 6 months for example. Micheal to me represents audio excellence .I consider myself to be somewhat like Micheal in the since that when I release something, I want to make sure that I am saying something. I usually wait a few years to release new material, because I don’t want to saturate the market with just any type of music. The Foreign Exchange is now five albums in with a 2009 Grammy nomination under their belts. What began as a happenstance encounter between an unlikely pair, swiftly transformed into a successful creative relationship. Please visit for more information about Foreign Exchange .