The Foreign Exchange, the North Carolina based duo of Little Brother’s Phonte and Dutch producer Nicolay is steeped in legend. Meeting online via the hip-hop site Okayplayer, they exchanged beats and rhymes over the Internet, creating a friendship and leading to the group we now know today. Over the years, The Foreign Exchange has grown and matured, flipping its sound from its roots of hip-hop to the laid back almost Radiohead-like soul of their latest project Leave It All Behind, which received Album of the Year Honors from The Couch Sessions in 2008.
Earlier this week, The Foreign Exchange graced DC for the second time this year, spreading their magic on yet another capacity crowd at Black Cat.
Rapper Big Pooh started off the night to a somewhat lukewarm reception, running through a 30 minute set, dropping selections from his extensive (and slept on) body of work, Pooh did his best to entertain the crowd until the headliner, but people didn’t seem to feel Pooh until he dropped the classic “Whatever You Say.” The lack of crowd response is sad, because he’s one of the more underrated MC’s of of the past 10 years.
After Pooh’s set it was time for the main event. The Foreign Exchange graced the stage looking as dapper as ever. Let’s face it The Foreign Exchange dresses better than you do, complete with matching suits and fedoras, with the woman of the moment, Yazarah fronting a shimmery dress and honestly, killing the game. The first thing you notice about Foreign Exchange is that the live band is stacked with talent. Singers Darren Brockington, Carlita Durand and DC Native Yazarah are so good that they make me want to slap the creator of AutoTune for even thinking of inventing pitch correction software. Another DC native Zo! mans the keys while Nicolay lays back in the cut, quietly enjoying his producer status.
As The Foreign Exchange dressed in their Sunday best, the show ended up being a Sunday night revival. Phonte, who is one of the best frontmen of this decade, commanded the stage with a classic and commanding (and sometimes long-winded) swagger. With a set that blended the more upbeat songs from the first album, Connected, with the more downtempo tracks from their second, Phonte kept the crowd hype and entertained, dropping wisdom and relationship knowledge at times, and leading the band into jazz renditions of “Snap Yo Fingers,” and “Stanky Leg,” and their crowd pleasing cover of “My Prerogative.”
When it was time for the band to get down to business, they did. D Brock kills it on his track “Take Off The Blues,” while Yaz shines on her song “Sincere.” Even downtempo tracks like “House of Cards” had an extra dose of energy in the live set.
For those who dismiss The Foreign Exchange as just another “backpacker neo-soul group” be warned. They put on a show that will rival any touring act you will see this year. Hands down. The excitement of the show that went down on Sunday cannot be expressed in written words. You must experience them for yourself.