SoulBounce Honors 2008’s Album of the Year: The Foreign Exchange’s ‘Leave It All Behind’

The Foreign Exchange's Leave It All Behind took us all by surprise.

First we were surprised that the album even got made. After a four-year hiatus, when the duo of Phonte and Nicolay announced that FE was dropping a new disc this year, hip-hop fans rejoiced. Any true head worth their salt more than likely still rocked Connected, so to hear that a new album was on the way was the best news ever. In production since 2006, the sophomore set was on track to pick up where the debut album left off. But that's where we were all wrong.

Everyone thought they knew what Nicolay and Phonte were going to do, but their next move revealed that this was a game of chess not checkers.

The trio of video teasers should have tipped us off that Leave It All Behind was something different, special. The instant message conversations from the videos upped the ante on intrigue. The album cover simply added to the mystery. When the first single "Daykeeper"
dropped, we were all caught out there at the sheer beauty of the tune. One of the dopest emcees in hip-hop today, Phonte traded in his
baseball hat and t-shirt for a fedora and buttondown, transforming into a soul man right before our ears with the accompaniment of Muhsinah. The LIAB sampler followed and gave us a five-minute taste of heaven. The tone of the samples was different than the music found on their freshman release, but not enough to raise any red flags that they were on the brink of a sophomore slump. Quite the contrary.

When Leave It All Behind was finally released in October, it defied all expectations. This was not Connected 2.0. This album represented an evolution in The Foreign Exchange's sound. Unlike their hip-hop heavy debut, there were only two tracks to contain rap verses. Otherwise, LIAB was a straight-up soul album, which to many was the biggest surprise of all. However, this wasn't the type of watered-down soul or tired R&B typically heard on urban radio nowadays. LIAB was progessive soul with a wink and nod to the past that sounded fresh without resorting to gimmicks or played out trends.

Lastly, we were surprised at how fantastic the album was. You could listen to Leave It All Behind over and over again and not get tired of it. Enlisting the vocal talents of Yahzarah, Darien Brockington and the aforementioned Muhsinah, Phonte also sang on the majority of
this album and had the nerve to sound good. Nicolay's stellar production on LIAB stood head and shoulders above that of the majority of "big-name" producers who played Recycle That Beat this year.

One thing that no one should be surprised about, however, is that SoulBounce chose The Foreign Exchange's Leave It All Behind as our Album of the Year. The choice was easy and a given. Nicolay and Phonte created something beautiful, something incredible, something timeless. If there was ever a perfect album in 2008, Leave It All Behind was it.

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30 Responses

  1. I'm going listen to it again on your recommendation Butta Baby!

  2. All Im going to say is ... GOT DAMN!!
    FE .. the Michael Phelps of soul!

  3. Surprise, surprise! 😉
    LIAB is a beautifully crafted album, well deserved honor!

  4. Amazing album... In my top 3 of the year... but 2000black "A Next Set A Rockers" is the album of the year for me.

  5. I agree 1000% (and not that Maury Show 1000%, either).
    The album is epic, I tell ya!

  6. Okay, okay, folks...we get it now.....
    First, I'm man of the year....then Nic is producer of the year......THEN FE wins album of the year.....
    It all makes sense, yo.
    If you wanted me and Nic to buy stock in, all you had to do was ask and not even bother with giving us all these pesky awards. I got a fresh money order from the gas station that y'all can spend however you liiiiiiiike (c) Clifford Harris
    Nah seriously.....we can't thank you guys enough.
    Much love, much appreciation....


  8. thanks for introducing me to this it...been playing it none stop the last couple of weeks

  9. I've been telling anyone willing to listen to cop LIAB...def a must have in your music collection. FE shut Sugarhill down in ATL a couple of weeks ago. Well deserved....blessings!!!

  10. Strongly co-signed,

  11. I agree. This album was incredible. Peace to Nic and 'Te on an excellent release. Why it can't get industry-wide acclaim like mainstream garbage being peddled out there, i do not know...

  12. Much love indeed!

  13. This album became the backdrop of an entire series of new work as I played it in my studio constantly while painting. Thank you Phonte for such a huge and great album. This really made me believe again.

  14. Leave It All Behind is the definition of "Good Music." Actually, that's an understatement. This album is out of this world GREAT! I couldn't have asked for a better lyrical, melodical, soulful, zoned-out, mood-constructed album this year. Those notes just hit you in all the right places; vocals that surround you like a warm blanket in winter. FE, I can't sing your praises enough...THANK YOU!!! I love where you are, I love where you're headed. Let's keep this movement movin'!

  15. Boy I tell you one thing, SB is consistant. I figured they would jock Ms. Badu's or Phonte's musical nuts:) I can think of at least 3 albums as good or better the LIAB ( Ms. Keys -As I am / Lupe Fiasco- The cool / Q-Tips - Renaissance) Hell I could also throw Jazzie Sullivan in the mix. LIAB is no masterpiece, I actually think ther first album was a better overall album, but hey the staff at SB has spoken so I guess I will just have to take my medicine like a man:) doesnt mean it taste good and I have to like it............

  16. Did someone leave the backdoor open?

  17. *sigh* LIAB continues to be the international backdrop of all those passionate about truly eclectic music. High anticipated and graciously lives up to (and exceeds) its expectations.
    Nicolay, Phonte, et al were very consistent in their approach to come together and create a collective sound that kneaded their individual styles into one, warm movement from beginning to end.
    LIAB captures the soulful energy that is at the core of an Alicia Keys. Phonte reps the "cool" lyrically and melodically in the way Lupe does in one lane (i.e., rhyme). Nicolay is about as abstract as they come while paying homage to the "out of the box" musical thought process pioneered by hip hop's big brother, Kamaal.
    In essence, LIAB combines the best of many worlds to form a Voltron of sound that embodies any soul/hip hop icon you could ever love.
    What I love about FE is that they ask for nothing - in fact, they continue to give and that's what real artistry is about. As patrons in the 21st century, we have a choice in how we support them and other artists. If I had a dollar and it came down to this album and a ham sandwich...well, I don't need the pork anyway 😉
    It's one thing to sack ride, but in my humble opinion - LIAB got exactly what they deserved. End.of.discussion.

  18. Not only that, Fave, but LIAB is an album that emerged as a result of honesty and experimentation without the pretense and hype. This is a very important thing to take into account because popular artists like Kanye West and Beyonce are being heralded for "taking things to the next level" when they haven't really done anything fresh. Not even fooling the fans and the public into thinking they are is anything new. It's very easy to wrangle sheep when you have so many.
    This isn't to say LIAB is the most groundbreaking on its own, but there was no massive preemptive declaration that they would be blowing apart or exceeding our expectations. There is a notable purity in that, since it allows us to enjoy the music without the cacophony of bullshit generated by PR reps and fans that won't allow critical thinking to be a part of he discourse.
    And check this out. We're often accused on SB of "putting artists into a box", like Common or Raheem Devaughn and countless others that have careers built upon soul and hip-hop. The Foreign Exchange did something slightly different from the last album with superb results. That's because the direction they took was organic and germane to what they've been doing all along. Expecting an artist to do good work isn't "putting them in a box". LIAB could've easily been a pile of garbage and would've similarly gotten called out for it. Yes, they did something a little different without capitulating to a mainstream, teenage audience with a short attention span. Kudos to them for not allowing themselves to be put "in a box" and managing to NOT make bullshit music. See how that works?
    I cannot wait for the inevitable moment when one of our more popular mainstream hip-hop or "R&B" artists takes the framework of LIAB, jacks it, and gets massive recognition for it.
    I also continue to be disappointed by other publications and sites that have either totally shitted on LIAB's team by asking for the work and not giving it press, or not being responsive at all. There are way too many intermediaries when it comes to music, too many gatekeepers that allow garbage to permeate the collective consciousness. Folks like Vibe, Complex, URB and The Fader (I went there) actually have budgets to get their team to put in the work and actually have the audience, recognition and juice to help push the game forward. Independently owned and operated SoulBounce does all this shit for free. We aren't beholden to anyone and are still putting it down with more panache and gravitas than our MSM counterparts.
    Ultimately, the massive props that Phonte, Nicolay and LIAB have received from this site are more than warranted, they are needed when so many other cats continue to sweat the same tired played out "artists" over and over again so they can say they appeared with Angel Lola Love on the red carpet or some shit. I find it highly amusing that our Honors have gotten even the few negative comments that they did, considering we could easily be posting bullshit like what magazine covers Beyonce has been on in the past five minutes, or every "A Milli" or "Swagger Like Us" freestyle and remix that came out this year. Bammas are so full of shit and pathos that it's amazing they can even get up out of bed in the morning.

  19. I'm still compiling my list for 2008 and trying to decide on my #1. It's difficult for me to get my head out of LIAB long enough to consider another project for the top spot.

  20. Nova you got mad passion, I give you that but just because SB didnt pull the preverbal wool over our eyes by choosing Beyonce does not give SB a free pass. I'm just wondering what would the staff at SB feel like when that little troll Wayne ends up on a remix of Daykeeper:) Happy Kwanza, Feliz Navidad, Happy Hannaka, to all my black peoples:-)

  21. Or better yet how about T-pain singing the hook instead of Brock on "take off the blues"..............................Still feeling the same way?
    Ps. Dear God please dont T-Pain or Lil Weezy end up on any remixes associated with this fine album:)

  22. Wonderful album indeed. I love every minute of this album and at the end of the last track, I feel like I have gone on a beautiful journey that I can't wait to go on again!

  23. Avatar

    Foreign Exchange made our Top Albums list for 2008 at SoulTracks and I also believe it made the list for Pop Matters. LIAB is great, not because it stood head and shoulders above every other album out there (this year boasted plenty of amazing albums), but because it managed to be forward thinking and compelling at a time when progressive soul is expected to be esoteric to a fault or annoyingly techno or crassly synth pop. The best albums of the year in many respect looked back to the 60s through the 80s to make us love them--pulling on our familiarity with those sounds. FE didn't look back in the same overt manner and still manager to create an album we could put on repeat. I don't know about you guys, but as the editor for SoulTracks I listen to hundreds of albums annually, very very few do I listen to on repeat for weeks and months later--even those that I like. FE pulled up off a rare feat a time when few of us give artists and music the attention span we did even five years ago. Cheers to FE and to Soul Bounce for boldy stating the case.

  24. I haven't loved an album so much since "Who is Jill Scott?!" It revitalized music for me!!

  25. Celeb​rate the best cd's of 2008 with Rhyth​molog​y M.​U.​S.​I.​C.​
    All weeke​nd long
    Fri & Sat 6-​10p
    Sun 4-8p
    Forei​gn Excha​nge.​.​.​Leave​ It All Behin​d
    Jazza​nova.​.​.​Of All The Thing​s
    Jesse​ Boyki​ns 3.​.​.​The Beaut​y Creat​ed
    Slaka​h The Beatc​hild.​.​.​Soul Movem​ent vol 1

  26. Celeb​rate Our Fave Cd's Of 2008 With Rhyth​molog​y M.​​U.​​S.​​I.​​C.​​
    All Weeke​nd Long
    Fri & Sat 6-​​10p
    Sun 4-8p
    Satur​day 12-27
    Jazmi​ne Sulli​van.​.​.​Fearl​ess
    Rapha​el Saddi​q.​.​The Way I See It
    Solan​ge.​.​.​Sol Angel​ & The Hadle​y St Dream​s
    Sy Smith​.​.​.​Confl​ict
    Sunday 12-28
    Incognito...Tales From The Beach
    Reel People...7 Ways To Wonder
    Angela Johnson...A Women's Touch vol 1

  27. Soul Bounce your once again always on point! Phonte gave a great interview on recently about this album and I think it was really in-depth...happy new years and pop champagne!