Dutch producer Nicolay first began to gain attention after he and Phonte Coleman, from North Carolina's Little Brother, collaborated together as the Foreign Exchange on a long-distance album, Connected, which came out in 2004. Since then, he's worked with other Justus Leaguers Cesar Comanche and Big Pooh as well as remixed songs by Roy Ayers and Pete Philly & Perquisite, among others, and released his own solo work, including 2006's Here. Like many records by producers, an assortment of MCs and singers are featured on Here, none of whom are particularly well known (Phonte adds backing vocals to "I Love the Way You Love," but is only listed in the credits, and not the back cover) and none of whom sound much better than satisfactory. It doesn't help that Nicolay seems to get so caught up in not overshadowing the vocalist that his beats suffer from it, especially on the first half of the record, where the non-instrumental tracks are fairly boring with long, unchanging synth chords over simple drums and bass. Things get a little better as Here continues on: "The End Is Near," featuring Black Spade, who also shows up on "Good Days Are Gone," has a guitar riff and dark, repeating chords and "Adore," with its warm, layered instrumentation and featuring the singer YahZarah, could fit easily on contemporary R&B radio, but still, nothing really stands out. Nicolay doesn't seem to have much depth, evidenced not only on Connected but also here. Most of his tracks fall into the almost smooth jazz influence category, and while there are a few ("Let It Shine for Me," "Give Her Everything") that are both good in that intense, rock-inspired RJD2 way, they end up being pretty much the same thing. Here isn't a bad album, it's just becomes pretty formulaic, and when the formula's not that exciting to begin with, well, it leaves you wanting something more, something that will probably never come.
by Marisa Brown
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