Nicolay: Here

Here is a superb album of melodic hip-hop soul from Netherlands producer Nicolay, an album so solid and its hooks so potent, virtually every song feels too short. The multi-instrumentalist toiled in several hip-hop and r&b bands for nearly a decade before moving into producing in 2000 and subsequently hooking up with MC Phonte Coleman of Little Brother for 2004's Connected under the name The Foreign Exchange. 2006 finds Nicolay touring the US, visiting with Black Spade in St. Louis, Wiz Khalifa in Pittsburgh, and others to produce 11 tracks brimming with crisp hip-hop beats, pianos, horns, and vocal choruses.

The bar is set high immediately when flutes descend from the clouds for the tight soul-jazz overture “Here (Intro)” (later reprised as “Here (Outro)”). Appearing on three tracks, Black Spade features prominently, leading a braggadocio charge on the extroverted “I Am The Man,” draping rhymes over the string-laden hip-hop soul of “Good Days Are Gone,” and urgently testifying on the apocalyptic “The End Is Near.” Elsewhere, The Foreign Exchange's Darien Brockington drapes soulful harmonies over the languid lope of “I Love The Way You Love” while YahZarah (Dana Williams) throws down a torrid Mariah-styled vocal (even down to the upper register trills) on the exhilarating, Prince-styled ballad “Adore.” Wiz Khalifa assumes the lead on the anthemic “What It Used To Be,” “Give Her Everything” oozes voodoo soul, and even a mere song sketch (the loping piano groove “Let It Shine For Me”) entrances. Nicolay makes it all sound so easy, one wonders why other hip-hop albums aren't as strong.

October 2006