Dutch hip-hop producer Nicolay is best known as half of Foreign Exchange, his long-distance project with Little Brother’s Phonte Coleman. But in addition to collaborating with Phonte and Little Brother, he’s also worked with Darien Brockington and Sy Smith, remixed tracks by such artists as Roy Ayers, and released various solo projects. But Here is his first proper solo album. Nicolay’s style incorporates the sound of live music and classic soul into rather beautiful hip-hop productions. Soaring strings, powerful horns and upbeat keys characterize many of the tracks, but surprisingly Nicolay’s touch works better when he is working with soul singers than with emcees.


    Here is primarily a hip-hop affair, but most of the album’s hip-hop cuts are redundant and boring. “I Am the Man,” featuring Black Spade, isn’t as exciting as I expected them to be. The instrumentals are even a bit boring, although produced with precision. But the tracks that have a more R&B/neo-soul vibe really stand out. Collaborations from rising talents Darien Brockington, Yahzarah and Sy Smith yield the best results, particularly closer “My Story,” featuring Kay and Sy Smith. This track harkens back to ’90s-style hip-hop, when emcees would tell stories rather than simply boast. The inspirational hook sung by Sy induces goose bumps.


    Fans of Nicolay’s classy brand of hip-hop might be a bit disappointed by Here, but lovers of hip-hop-flavored soul will likely be satisfied.



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