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A new song and dance for the Foreign Exchange

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Rapper/singer Phonte is a little nervous, though getting him to admit it takes some coaxing. Yes, he's toured the world for years as one half of the acclaimed rap group Little Brother, but this is the first time that he's ever toured with Nicolay, the Dutch producer with whom he makes up the genre-bending group Foreign Exchange. And even more notable, this is the first time that he's singing the entire way through.

"Nervous? Come on, fam," he exclaims, before laughing and finally succumbing. "Nah, there's always a bit of nervousness. This is literally the first time [Nicolay and I] have ever played together, like ever," he stresses. "But I'm beyond certain we'll do a great job."

His certainty is well founded. When he and Nic first met on Okayplayer.com about seven years ago, they didn't imagine that their cyber-spawned musical relationship would resonate with listeners the way that it has. Phonte was a cipher-approved rapper and Nicolay an obscure producer from overseas, but the chemistry between the two was, and still is, undeniable.

"He's one of the people I trust to do anything," Phonte says. "If he's like 'Yo, I'm about to do a polka track,' I know it's gonna be a hard ass polka track."

While their first album, 2004's Connected, found them relying largely on their hip-hop roots, their follow-up Leave It All Behind paints a completely different picture. The record draws on sprinklings of jazz, downtempo, electronica and soul. Blame it on their willingness not to give a damn about "the rules."

"We just wanted to make music that we liked," says Nicolay, who also has an album out with DJ Jamad, Afro Collabo Vol. 1. "We knew that there would be a little bit of a discussion [because] there's a lot less rapping on the new record, but I'm just happy that a lot of people understood our need to take it where we took it."

The euro may be worth more than the dollar, but Foreign Exchange is equal parts good money.

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