Review : The Foreign Exchange - Leave It All Behind
AllmusicThe second Foreign Exchange album reverses the rapping/singing split of the first. Not only is Leave It All Behind much more an R&B album than 2004's Connected -- it's more an R&B album than a lot of modern releases filed in that section, given that Phonte slips into MC mode only twice while otherwise putting his sensitive singing voice to full use. Even more nuanced and textured, and therefore more musical than Connected, Leave It All Behind is a concise and complete set of songs that brings out the best of both producer Nicolay and Phonte. More than ever, Nicolay's mellow but moving productions have that lingering, memory-triggering effect mastered by the late J Dilla, and a multitude of shades is cast: dreamy folk-soul that ranks with the Beauty Room and latter-day 4hero, lean and contemporary constructions that would fit within any adult-oriented R&B station's playlist, deceptively frictional backdrops that bridge hip-hop to West London broken beat, and even the intermittent unclassifiable moment, with several styles thrown into swirls of crescendo-enhanced dramatics. Joined by Connected accomplices Darien Brockington and YahZarah (her lead turn on "If She Breaks Your Heart" sounds even more like a lost Stevie/Minnie collaboration than the Jungle Fever soundtrack original), as well as Muhsinah (an earthbound Georgia Anne Muldrow), Phonte does not deliver knockouts, yet he is not out of his depth and never reaches beyond his grasp, exuding warmth and sincerity as effectively as anyone praised for inhuman range. Even when his lyrics deal in the less complicated aspects of relationships, his voice provides a gently bittersweet tint, as a man with his guard down whose articulations are neither reactionary nor based on some false posture. And with love as its core rather than impulsive lust, as well as its unified feel, the album is not just a unique and exceptional R&B album but also a soundtrack or means of communication -- when heat-of-the-moment resentment, a lump in the throat, or anxious longing get in the way -- for a real-life adult relationship....full text
PopmattersPhonte and Nicolay, the respective emcee and producer behind the Foreign Exchange, have done just what their sophomore album, Leave It All Behind, alludes to. They have left it all behind, and by “it”, I mean their debut, Connected, which was fresh, stylish, and absolutely fantastic. Although there are musical similarities to that album, the duo has jumped head first into more mature territory on Leave It All Behind. The playfulness that has characterized Phonte throughout his career is mostly gone in this more focused, grown-up songwriter. And yes, he does sing on every song. But don’t think he decided to randomly up and try his hand at some Love Below-esque joints. Anyone who knows Phonte is well aware that he has sung plenty of hooks, and even some full tracks, both as part of Little Brother and the Foreign Exchange.
Even though Phonte isn’t going to win any awards for his vocal performances here, not recognizing his talents as a singer would be a sin. Few rappers can match his chops, both as an emcee and a singer. It’s for that reason that Phonte gets a slight pass for not having the range of his vocalist contemporaries, like John Legend and others. But Phonte knows that. He doesn’t try to hit any notes outside of his range or overextend himself. Instead, he uses his charming, sometimes smooth voice to lure you in. And some of his duets are absolutely breathtaking, particularly those with Muhsinah. Her breathy voice meshes with his so well that it’s impossible to not get sucked into tracks like “Daykeeper” and “House of Cards”, which are a one-two punch that R&B has not seen yet this year....full text
PrefixmagIn 2004 Little Brother frontman Phonte teamed up with Dutch producer Nicolay to create The Foreign Exchange and the critically lauded album Connected. The pair took four years to release its second album, and it's even more beautiful than its predecessor. The Foreign Exchange finds Phonte -- well known for his distinctive flow as an MC -- exploring his vocal range within Nicolay’s increasingly experimental and electronic productions. Sitting firmly at the confluence of hip-hop, soul and down-tempo electronica, Leave It All Behind is a marvel of modern music making.
Nicolay's rather organic productions are the project's centerpiece. He makes full use of live instruments to weave his tapestry, and the horns, strings, keys and flutes create a three-dimensional sound for Phonte and company to stretch out in. The tracks bounce from head-nodders “Take off the Blues” and “All or Nothing/Coming Home to You” to more magical affairs, like the cascading symphony of “Valediction.” The true sound of The Foreign Exchange lies somewhere in between the two realms on the lead single, “Daykeeper,” which features Musinah. The track uses a steady hip-hop groove but switches into a slower-tempo breakdown. Rarely has hip-hop or soul been infused with so much raw emotion through production alone. Nicolay is that rare producer that can take the best elements of a variety of genres and inform them with a sense of place....full text
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