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Nicolay has been a significant factor in the progression of hip-hop, R&B, and electronic music since the early 2000s. An accomplished beatmaker before he started to fully flex his skills as a subtly eclectic producer and classically trained multi-instrumentalist, he is known most for his Grammy-nominated partnership with Phonte under the name the Foreign Exchange, and has an extensive discography of additional collaborative and solo recordings. Among these releases are his City Lights trilogy (including 2015's City Lights, Vol. 3: Soweto), Glaciers (a 2018 meeting with jazz trio the Hot at Nights), and Analog Dreams (a 2021 set combining three EPs). Born and raised in the Netherlands, Nicolay (Matthijs Rook) played in a number of bands around his homeland, but it wasn't until 2000 that he decided to start producing his own beats. In 2002, Little Brother MC Phonte Coleman stumbled across one of them on Okayplayer's message board and asked if he could rhyme over it; soon a friendship and a musical relationship were born. This transatlantic collaboration, which they called the Foreign Exchange, led to an album, Connected, in 2004, after which Nicolay continued producing tracks for Little Brother and Cesar Comanche, releasing City Lights, Vol. 1.5 initially only online and then through BBE Records in 2005. The Dutch Masters, Vol. 1, which featured Nicolay DJ'ing, came out that same year, followed by Here in 2006. In 2008 the producer teamed up with Houston rapper Kay -- whom he had also met through message boards and had put on a track on Here -- and issued the album Time:Line. The second Foreign Exchange album, Leave It All Behind, came later in the year on the Foreign Exchange label. One of its highlights, "Daykeeper," was nominated for a Grammy, but not before the 2009 release of Nicolay's own City Lights, Vol. 2: Shibuya. The Foreign Exchange label, operated by Nicolay and partner Aimee Flint, expanded during the 2010s with additional albums from FE and Phonte, as well as releases from collaborators YahZarah, Zo!, and Median. Joined by the Hot at Nights, a band featuring FE associates, Nicolay reworked City Lights, Vol. 2 tracks as Shibuya Session EP, released in 2011. Four years later, Nicolay released another predominantly instrumental solo album, City Lights, Vol. 3: Soweto. Its material, enhanced with vocal contributions from Phonte, Carmen Rodgers, and Tamisha Waden, was inspired by South Africa dates on the Foreign Exchange's world tour the previous year. All the while, Nicolay and the Hot at Nights continued to work together, and in 2018 released Glaciers, an album assembled over the course of six years. Toward the end of 2020, Nicolay co-wrote and produced "Again and Again" for Carmen Rodgers, and over the course of a few weeks issued three digital solo EPs: Lights in the Sky, Never Stand Still, and A New World. The trio of distinctive releases was tied together in early 2021 for the triple-vinyl pack Analog Dreams.
© Marisa Brown & Andy Kellman /TiVo
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