The Foreign Exchange - “Happiness”
Alright. I’ve raved about this song countless times before and in a multitude of venues, so right here on this blog I’m putting down the final word about it. Once it’s done, that’s it. It’s over. I’m retiring. Er, retiring over talking about this song, at least. So let’s do it up right.
The Foreign Exchange is a music collective comprised of several musicians representing North Carolina, Washington D.C., Detroit, and The Netherlands. Unified under the goal of creating great music, this collective has been gaining much recognition, acclaim, and listeners thanks to their spirited take on soul, R&B, and hip-hop.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before all this there were two guys, sending beats and rhymes to each other over the Internet. Producer Nicolay, hailing from the Netherlands, and Phonte Coleman, of the awesome, yet woefully underrated (and now defunct, thanks a million to you fickle and uncaring rap fans who never wanted give a group whose name doesn’t have “Lil’” or “Wayne” in the title a chance… but that’s a rant for another time) North Carolina rap group Little Brother, met on the hip-hop website Okayplayer, a major hub of urban music founded by the irrepressible ?uestlove of The Roots, and home to many established, upcoming, and wannabe hip-hop and R&B musicians. Phonte and Nicolay discovered that they had a certain chemistry, and Phonte was drawn to Nic’s organic, R&B-ish sound. They decided to start working with each other.
Thanks to email and peer-to-peer filesharing programs, Nic would send instrumentals from his home studio in Utrecht through those wacky Intertubes across the Atlantic to Raleigh, where Phonte and friends would record vocals over them and send them back. For a year they went back and forth over the net, never once meeting, hearing each other’s voice, or knowing what the other looked like. Eventually, the project took shape, and the duo christened themselves The Foreign Exchange. The collection of songs they were working on would be assembled in an album entitled Connected.
Connected was released in August of 2004 to a flurry of positive reviews and a lot of well-deserved press. It’s one of my all-time favorite albums, a smooth listen with a warm, intimate feel, thanks to Nicolay’s superb production. Phonte’s raps about everyday struggles, perseverance, and positivity vibe well with Nic’s cosmopolitan beats, creating a hip-hop album that was (and still very much is) unlike anything that came before it.
“Happiness” is, for me, the standout track of the record, a downright beautiful composition. Simple yet elegant, this song, with that wonderful piano accompaniment and the group vocals in harmony delivering that wonderful chorus, “good people, good music, good loving in my life, it makes me happy,” brings a smile to my face. Phonte and Little Brother cohort Big Pooh speak about enjoying life and finding joy in the smallest of things, even when the times are tough and getting tougher. It’s easy to lose yourself in this song, and it’s got such a good heart that when you’re in it, you don’t want to be found.
It blows my mind that an album as intimate and personal as Connected was made by two people thousands of miles away from each other, who’ve never actually met until after the album was released. It’s a real testament to the power and possibilities of the Internet, and in this connected age I’m looking forward to seeing more artists being brought together through the medium (which is happening all the time! Tanya Morgan, another fave group of mine, is another example I’ll talk about one of these days).
With Connected under their belts, and Nicolay’s relocation to the US, The Foreign Exchange has grown from a two man operation to a group of six artists, including most notably the rising R&B artist YahZarah (I’ve got to get around to talking about her stuff) and singer Darien Brockington. It’s a real tight-knit group, as they guest on each other’s music, and Nicolay handles a good chunk of the production. In 2008, FE put out a second album, Leave It All Behind, which, like the title hints, is a huge departure from Connected. All singing, no rapping, and Nicolay’s production is on a whole ‘nother level. The third album, Authenticity, is coming later this year and I can’t wait to see what they do next.
A great song, from a spectacular album, by a stellar group. My highest recommendations. Get on this one right now.