Foreign Exchange - Authenticity

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Longtime fans of Phonte the lyricist may not get what they're expecting, but that's not to say they won't find satisfaction on this smoky Vocal Jazz album.

Foreign Exchange was made possible by the Internet. Nicolay, a Dutch producer and Phonte, one third of the Little Brother, met on a message board and collaborated via email to create the stellar debut, Connected. They continued this way of creating music with Leave It All Behind and created another critically acclaimed project. On Authenticity, they again build on their previous two projects with the chemistry that garnered them a Grammy nomination and deliver 39 minutes of complex melodies and a distinct sound.

The album opens with “The Last Fall.” It’s a building track in which Nicolay builds around Phonte’s voice beautifully. By the time the drums and keys hit, the mood is in full effect. When Phonte sings, “Never fall in love again,” the listener can feel invested into the music due to the production's incredible build up. The title track’s drums are reminiscent of early Prince, which in return creates a bit of disappointment when Phonte delivers his vocals. His range, though improved, lets him down on “Authenticity” and a few other places. There are several moments where a more powerful or tender voice would have made the track explode. Listeners may hear this again with higher notes on "Eyes To The Sky" or the extended vocal cadences on "Everything Must Go."

To cut the suspense, Phonte doesn’t deliver a single bar on the project (October 31 edit: outside of the first single) - further distancing himself from F.E.'s genesis on Connected. As a vocalist, he shows some improvement in variation, despite a limited range. He remains a stellar songwriter, who has a good understanding of melody and feels comfortable over Nicolay’s soulful/jazzy production. “Fight For Your Love” demonstrates this growth. Never short on confidence, Phonte delivers an impressive vocal over some of the best production of the album. This project can’t be mistaken for Kanye West’s 808’s & Heartbreak singing attempts. Phonte has found another career with Foreign Exchange, and his singing ability is a huge part of it.  

The highlight of the project might be “Laughing At Your Plans.” The song itself teeters more towards the Norah Jones Adult Contemporary world, but to put it simply, the track is beautiful. It’s one of the more stripped down tracks on the album, which allows the listener to see how talented of a vocalist Phonte truly is. Single “Maybe She’ll Think of Me” features top-notch songwriting. Lyrics like, “Wondering if a face that wears a smile like yours has ever heard a no before” has artists and songwriters regretting those words didn’t come from their pen. Authenticity's final track, “This City Ain’t The Same Without You” highlights new Foreign Exchange imprint artist Yahzahara. It’s not hard to imagine this song popping up in a movie somewhere, because of its ability to create and sustain a mood.  

From their creation, Foreign Exchange pushed the boundaries of Hip Hop. Now they've punfully left it all behind. Although several emcee guests appear, much of Phonte's songwriting vernacular pulls him away from Hip Hop altogether here. That's not a bad thing, just suggestive of further evolution. Nic's melodic beats have always tip toed the line of R&B and Hip Hop and Phonte has used The Foreign Exchange to showcase his passion for singing. On Authenticity, the only line that Foreign Exchange toes is the line between R&B and Adult Alternative. Phonte relies on melodies in lieu of flow, while Nicolay produces a smoky Vocal Jazz album. Longtime fans of Phonte the lyricist may not get what they're expecting, but that's not to say they won't find satisfaction. Foreign Exchange experimented here, and the group with digital roots has developed their sound organically. Authenticity doesn’t revolutionize any genre, but it does telegraph the direction that the duo is going.

Editor's Note: We apologize for the initial wording in the first sentence of the third paragraph.


  • Whathaveyou

    Phonte as a rapper had presence that few had, I don't hate for him expanding as an artist but 'Tay is a slightly above average singer. Foreign Exchange always has been experimental but it slowly has morphed into adult contemporary/soft rock. Even the soul seems to be fading, as venturing into bland amorphous songs of stacked soft vocals fitted for Kenny Loggins. To put it bluntly, its boring. It lacks that whimsical nature of Cee-Lo or genre blurring of Stoupe (Of Jedi Mind Tricks fame)'s group Dutch with gritty hip hop edge. At the very least, Phonte could find himself bringing something more soulful to the table. I have four LIttle Brother albums that attest to the fact he can. I'd hate to see Phonte go the route of Mos Def... gifted rapper who prefers to be mediocre singer.

  • whoreson

    I love the album. It gives me a break from listening to all that rap bullshit thats out right now. This album helps me make it thru my nights at work...well this album and mood musik 4....I love it tho, I have all their previous albums also and they are all good.

  • FourTrackFiasco

    The fact is this is another clever album but no where do they come close to reaching the creative boundries set by Connected. Phonte is an undeniably great song writer, a superior MCs, but only an average vocalist, and that's where the album suffers. You can see the difference when more established vocalist sing over Nicolay's tracks. It's the same thing with ZO!'s album Sunstorm. Great production, great concepts, great song writing, but Phonte's vocals holds the album back from achieving its maximum potential. Again, Phonte is a great writer, but I think he should leave the singing, for the most part, to singers.

  • uhurube

    WHOVEVER gave this album a 3 rating should not critque albums no more. The album is an original classic!!! get it together hip hopdx smh

  • soulroe

    Did the reviewer hear this album more than once? I doubt it. This album is lovely, at least 4 x's.


    Another example of an uneven DX review. they pretty much praise the album front to back, with the only flaw being phonte's vocal range. yet it still gets a 3? wtf. I used to trust DX as one of the only places i could go for legit hip hop reviews. but...i think i'm about done with ya'll

  • Cultures Clothing

    I'm starting to think that the Hip-Hop DX reviewers just listen to the album sampler instead of to the whole album. Phonte clearly spits a verse on "Maybe She'll Dream of Me". Fail

  • Damien Juen

    Another gem by this fantastic duo...soulful production and amazing vocals...Phonte of "Little Brother" fam dares to do something different and I call that TALENT.Expand your mind and support true artists!

  • C.JayDee

    I found this album amazing. It's production and creativity was flawless, along with Phonte's voice. Just because its not "Connected" type shit, doesn't make it a lower rating, it's just a different style, and you can't even hate on that.

  • Frank_EC

    Did the reviewer hear the entire album? He drops a verse on "Maybe she'll dream of me", not sure how it ended up being reported as non existent.

  • seriously?

    If Rick Ross makes "Maybach Music" and 9th Wonder makes "Honda Music" This is "Zipcar Music." I always blame Foreign Exchange for having a hand in one of my favorite groups to break up.


    Wow, a 3? Damn DX. I know it's not a "hip hop" album by y'alls standards but I think they deserve a little more than a 3. Big Ups to the Exchange for thinking outside the box.