When it comes to my music, there are few artists that affect me in a way that defines a whole portion of my life. In a sense, some artists become the soundtrack of my life because of how much their music lyrically and sonically means to me. At times the reason for the choice is simply because you enjoy the music. But at times there are songs and albums that not only become our favorites because of the sound but because of the parallels between life and song. When the meaning of the song has a connection to your life’s experiences, it becomes a much deeper emotional experience. The Foreign Exchange and their band of merry musicians are certainly in that category for me.
After seeing FE perform at BB Kings back in 2009, my fiancée and I made sure that we would not miss their return to BB Kings on Oct. 23rd, 2010. Arriving early to the scene, we were greeted by the sounds of DJ Brainchild spinning an eclectic mix of hip hop and funk. Experiencing everything from Slum Village to Barry White, the crowd spilled into BB Kings anticipating yet another amazing performance for this year’s CMJ Festival.
Authenticity has delighted its fans and managed to continue the amazing sound that so many people fell in love with on their sophomore album Leave It All Behind. Despite being released a mere month or so before, the crowd already had their favorite old and new songs in mind and many of them discussed which ones they hope FE would perform.
Once everyone arrived and settled in, Dyana Williams, host of the Unsung series on TVOne, came on stage to formally introduce the main attraction for the night. Speaking of how The Foreign Exchange’s music undoubtedly is as touching as it is buzzworthy, she laid the groundwork for yet another unforgettable performance by The Foreign Exchange Music Group.
As the crew came on stage, everyone noticed a slight change in the line up. While last year saw guest vocalists Yahzarah and Carlitta Durand, this year the two were absent. Instead, guest artist Chantae Cann (who is featured on “Laughing At Your Plans” on the album Authenticity) came to assist the usual players of Zo! and Darien Brockington. At times her amazing yet soft voice was drowned out by the excellent musicianship backing FE on stage.
Phonte reached the stage and thanked the crowd for all of the love and pointed out how their release of Authenticity managed to beat out other major label artists (like Trey Songz) who “actually have a budget”! As the crowd laughed he managed to make it clear that he and Nicolay are purists in the true sense of the word. They do what they do because they love music not because they love fame.
Once the music got going and they launched into “The Last Fall”, one thing was decidedly clear. Phonte did quite a bit less ‘prelude dialogue’ explaining each song as he had done on the Leave It All Behind setlist a year ago. In a way, he really didn’t need to. As you listened to the chorus for “The Last Fall” and the Leave It All Behind featured “House Of Cards” that followed, it was clear that the songs truly speak for themselves. Speaking of the heartbreak and revelation of toxic love, the lyrics of both songs eloquently explain themselves.
Phonte probably took this into account learning from his last tour and realized that despite being wildly entertaining, his interludes weren’t really needed. The music speaks for itself! By performing “Authenticity”, the crowd truly responded. It was very clear that the crowd had at the very least learned the chorus for this song:
“I don’t know where I should be! [Soft Break] This game we play is killing me. [Soft Break] She’s all that I could dream, [Soft Break] But she tears me apart. [Soft Break] She wants me to fill her need, [Soft Break]She begs for authenticity, [Soft Break] You don’t want truth from me, [Soft Break] You just want what you want!”
Even if the crowd didn’t know the chorus from the start, by the end of the song it was clear that they did.
Following that performance they launched into “Fight For Love” followed by a bit more Phonte hilarity.
The laughter continued as Phonte was told of a guest named Jesse Boykins III. This brotha has managed to carve out a unique soulful and funky sound that even Phonte was in awe of. Speaking well of Jesse’s recent body of work, Phonte brought him to the stage with thunderous applause. Personally I had only recently heard of Jesse’s amazing work through a music blog site named 2dopeboyz.com. They shared a free single that Jesse released remaking Andre3000’s “Prototype” song.
Where Andre’s version was a tad bit quirky and sexy at the same time, Jesse’s version was pure seduction. Remakes are rarely better than the original but my fiancée instantly fell in love with his sound as did I. As he walked on the stage after the introduction, it was clear that the crowd was already in love with his work as well.
Jesse comfortably joined the FE crew onstage and they blasted into the two different collaborations that featured Jesse Boykins. The first was off of Zo!’s album Sunstorm entitled “If I Could Tell You No”. The song’s jazz club sound sweetly compliments Jesse’s style and he serenaded the women near the stage confidently as they all responded.
This was just a set up for a blazing rendition of the FE song “Make Me A Fool” which featured Jesse as well.
With this performance, the crowd really gets going. It begins a string of upbeat classic FE songs as well as new songs that are all very energetic and danceable.
Zo!’s single “This Could Be The Night” began, I could help but remember Zo! and Phonte’s Love The 80’s project. The track is so lighthearted and yet timeless that it certainly made me wonder if their reported Love The 90’s project is still coming. Of course, as they performed, Phonte took a bit more Comic View time to add a little twist to the lyrics like:
“And to the girl you holla’d at on Twitta, babe
This could be the night!”
“And to that dude that you blocked on Facebook
He found yo @ss and he’s in here!!
This could be the night!”
Phonte then clowns some of his Justus League crewmates including Joe Scudda, Chaundon, and manager Big Doh as a Fred Hampton look-a-like leading into two songs from the Connected album. As standout tracks, “Nic’s Groove” and “Come Around” have an undeniable style and feel to them even when performed live that gets you going. With Rapper Big Pooh joining the renditions, it was clear that no FE concert is complete without performing these tracks. One thing is clear everytime “Come Around” is performed is Darien Brockington’s commanding and powerful voice. This brotha has that classic 90’s crooner voice like Case or K-Ci from Jodeci. As he completely destroys this song, the ladies energize him to continue. Then as a beautiful treat, Darien ended the song with a beautiful rendition of Donny Hathaway’s “A Song For You”.
The drummer then kicked into the riff for the Authenticity track “Don’t Wait” as Phonte giggled through a James Brown impression. Yet another album favorite, this song has a singable chorus that is easy to get crowd involvement with. Before long, the crowd sang along once again. Phonte even launched back into the song once it was done just to get Zo!’s talkbox solo in. Of course, this led to more Phonte comedy.
After going through the first single of the Authenticity album, “Maybe She’ll Dream Of Me”, FE played a trifecta of Leave It All Behind classics. Launching the crowd, and the ladies, into a frenzy, each song kept the crowd singing throughout. Playing “Take Off The Blues”, “Daykeeper”, and “Valediction”, FE showed why their second album was such an amazing effort. The Grammy nominated and harmony heavy “Daykeeper” was especially close to the crowd’s heart it seemed. So sweet and sonically complex, this song will certainly be the flagship for FE’s style forever more.
As the next portion of the concert rolled on, it was very clear that not only Nic and Phonte, but the whole of the FE+ music group have unique and smooth soul sound. As the concert wound down, Phonte took time to explain what their creative direction was. He explained that they wanted to make music that sounded great even if it was performed acoustically or in acapella. Playing Zo!’s “All Is Well With Love”, and FE’s “All Roads” and “I Wanna Know”, the crowd was gifted some of their best slow jams.
Probably the crowning moment of the entire concert was the final performance of the night. For most of the time, Chantae Cann’s Carlitta Durand-esque voice sweetly complimented each and every song mostly as a background voice. With “Laughing At Your Plans”, Chantae beautifully and gracefully stepped into the spotlight. Already a gorgeous song, Chantae’s voice just has that unique and soft flair much like Amel Larrieux that is sure to carry her far. When it was done, the crowd belted out their appreciation for her amazing rendition and voice.
Thanking the crowd, Phonte, Nicolay and the band wrapped up the show and ended yet another amazing performance and night.