Most people, including me, are growing tired of singer/rapper-producer combo groups. It's like either have a band or don't. Expanding the idea of calling duos like Atmosphere, J*Davey, and even this group The Foreign Exchange a band is highly hesitant for me to do because there's no one playing an instrument (except for a keyboard or a beat machine). Plus, being that most of these duos lack the use of actual instruments make me even more reluctant to read any articles that call these groups a band. However, one thing that is undeniable about the aforementioned groups, especially The Foreign Exchange, is that their chemistry and the development of crafting their own art is phenomenal.
This group, consisting of rapper/singer Phonte (who some know from the awesome hiphop group Little Brother) and the Dutch producer Nicolay, are an unstoppable force in the R&B and hiphop community. Without even being signed, The Foreign Exchange has made greater accomplishments than folks with multi-million dollar deals, including a Grammy nomination. Their two previous albums, Connected and Leave It All Behind, have made the most noise out of the soul realm than the usual big-name musicians. Honestly, they're incomparable, and anyone with ears could hear the longevity in their musical talents.
From the opening chime I felt bad that I had to finally let go of Leave It All Behind, their sophomore effort that got them a Grammy nomination. It was so magical! There were so many emotions driven by that record that it became necessary to play in moments of downtime. Songs about abuse, suicide, neglect, all in the name of love, The Foreign Exchange knows a little something about love.
Flows much better than the last one, and that's not a shot at the last album, but it's like Authenticity is one giant, hour-long song. However, the line-up of these songs give the listener no time to really breathe or recuperate from the previous song before diving right into the next, making any emotion drawn out of the listener hard to sift through.
Phonte is finally given a vocal challenge on this album. The changes in the tempo, the various styles of singing, and the length of some of the records forced Phonte to step outside of being the type of singer that makes great hooks. The sound of this album is well beyond R&B and other Black music genres, and for a hiphop artist (rapper and singer) to mold his sound into that, while still having a standout reputation as an emcee, gives the guy an upstanding ranking in the music world. Phonte is no longer the guy from Little Brother that can sing. He's no longer a soul singer that can write good hooks to experimental records. Phonte's now a full-fledge musician.
The lyrical content on Authenticity mimics much of the last album, Phonte's aim at diving deep into relationship psyche continues to be on-point. The only difference between then and now is his explicit cynicism. In the best record on this album "Fight for Love" he says "I don't wanna be a soldier anymore / because the war never ends and no one ever wins / I don't understand why we should fight for love / either it ain't or it is..." And as opposed to being totally dark like before, he has flashes of positivity on a couple tracks, including "Maybe She'll Dream of Me" and "Don't Wait." Overall, this album tells feelings of neglecting it all in order to be loved.
The other half of The Foreign Exchange, Nicolay, carries on the distinct sound from Leave It All Behind into Authenticity. In fact, he brings in the little light of electrosoul from his City Lights set into this album, although Nicolay's solo records are arguably far from The Foreign Exchange's soul mantra. In this album is a more acoustic sound, which works well with the always-improving frontman Phonte. This album may not sound much different than the last, but the wish to have more hiphop like Connected is still just a wish.
Overall, to not buy this album is doing a disservice to the entire R&B community and industry. Groups and musicians like The Foreign Exchange need the support of true music lovers so that the R&B industry can shape up, because right now that industry is slowly becoming irrelevant to music in general. When Drake, who is a rapper, has better R&B songs on the radio than Dwele, the soul music genre is taking major steps back. Usually the blame is pointed at radio, but in reality the listeners and the artists need to put forth a greater effort.
Either that or get ready to hear melodies from every rapper n the music business.
I hope that The Foreign Exchange gets the recognition they deserve, from the eclectic soul groups to the mainstream audience, as this album (as well as their last works) has something that everyone, absolutely EVERYONE, could enjoy and learn from. In short, it's edutainment at its finest!
Star's Grade: A