Record label: BBE
Format: 2xLP/CD
Release date: August 2004

I had been hearing about North Carolina’s Little Brother from heads in the know for more than a minute, but haven’t been able to sit down with any of their releases yet. Thankfully, I was given a copy of this side project that LB member Phonte Coleman is involved in. The Foreign Exchange is a collaboration between Phonte and Nicolay of Justus League. Proving how intimate the global village really is, the fruits of their labor represent a transcontinental link between NC and the Netherlands. They traded tracks back and forth on the Internet, y’all. They only met face to face after the album was finished. You gotta love technology.

As far as production goes, Nicolay definitely brings it: taut, crisp beats provide the bed for lush vocals and rich accompaniment. Overall, the harmonies on the album are tight. It brings the soul back to hip-hop without forcing it to compromise. The hard rocks out there will probably gravitate to “Raw Life” (hot beat, plus Joe Scudda’s smackin’ up cats verbally) and “The Answer” (more of the same, this time with Kenn Starr and Oddissee handin’ out beat downs). As for me, I’m more chill but still weighed down by life’s problems, and three joints definitely hit the spot in that regard: “Brave New World,” “Let’s Move,” (I’m feelin’ that woodwinds sample) and “Be All Right.” The last in the trio features a line that still trips me out: “I scream ‘f**k the world,’ but Mother Nature’s takin’ Ortho now.” Thumbs up for “All That You Are” also – that one’s been growin’ on me.

Although this is definitely a hip-hop affair, soul is flowin’ throughout this album. And while I’m not usually one for the R&B, “Come Around” is my favorite cut on Connected. Brother Darien Brockington is SANGIN’ this thang! Plus the “Title Theme” and “End Theme” make for nice bookend pieces and remind of the important role that soul plays in making Connected so memorable. With talks of the daily grind, relationship strife, and raising children, it’s safe to say that this is grown folks’ hip-hop. And while this is an area that has been growing within the genre, there is always room for more. Props to Phonte and Nicolay for the cyberspace collab; as the chorus sings at the top of the LP, “Thank you for the music…”

{vic feedle}

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