The Foreign Exchange, Love in Flying Colors

Longtime buddies Nicolay and Phonte have joined forces once again for their fourth album, Love in Flying Colors—and they brought some friends along too (Carlitta Durand, Shana Tucker, Eric Roberson and more). The album, as the title suggests, is about the euphoria of falling in love. Phonte, originally known for slanging rhymes as one third of the rap trio Little Brother, is just as nice when it comes to sanging, as fans already know. And like previous Foreign Exchange collaborations, he blesses us with his vocals.

Nicolay performs most of the album’s instrumentation, and the rest is musical goodness. Seriously, the audio quality of this LP makes you think of shouting from the mountaintops, which is usually what most of us want to do when we’re in love. From “Dreams Are Made for Two,” where Phonte raps about the highs of being in love over a beat that’s close in sound to Surface’s “Make Me Happy,” to “Call It Home,” which lends itself to a drum and bass sound, this is an album not to miss.

Available at iTunes.

AKIR, The Plan

Before you get into AKIR, you’ll probably think he sounds like Nas. This is something he’s addressed in previous interviews, and even in his music. There. It’s out of the way. For those who aren’t familiar, AKIR (whose name is an acronym for Always Keep it Real) is a rapper, activist and producer known for his raspy flow, intricate rhyme patterns and perceptible beats. The Buffalo, New York native burst onto the underground scene in about 2003 and has been non-stop ever since.

His latest effort is The Plan (via Immortal Technique’s imprint, Viper Records), and he brings soul-piercing gritty hip-hop of a caliber that mainstream radio hasn’t heard in a reeeally long time. Not one for clichés, AKIR really does keep it real here. Those familiar with his previous music will delight in his signature thought-provoking, revolutionary tracks like “Future,” featuring Immortal Technique, which calls on third-eye vision, and “Bear Arms,” where he and longtime comrade Swave Sevah get on their Malcolm X ish about protecting what’s theirs (family, livelihood, etc).

AKIR also gets reflective and sentimental on joints like “Sun” (ft. Lo Diggs), an inspirational track dedicated to his love for his baby boy, and “Love” (ft. TL Cross), where he admits to being an imperfect man trying to be a standup individual for the lady in his life.    

The album’s out today; more information is available at AKIR’s site.

Rokia Traoré, Beautiful Africa (album)

Rokia Traoré is dope. The Malian singer-songwriter-guitarist is the daughter of a diplomat who spent time traveling to several countries around the world with his family in tow, and she wrote the music for Toni Morrison’s play, Desdemona. Her latest project, Beautiful Africa, is a lovely but often melancholy nod to her homeland with hints of blues infused with African soul. She performs mostly in French and Bambara, her native tongue, but the label has made English translations available. While it all sounds very beautiful, she does address some of Mali’s recent hardships, like the politically fueled violence that’s escalated in the country since last year. Yet she also still professes her love for the Motherland, and that struggle comes across in her mesmerizing music.  

Available at iTunes.

Sandra St. Victor, Oya’s Daughter

Sandra St. Victor can best be described as a magical soul diva. The classically trained singer-songwriter, formerly of the Family Stand, has toured solo with the likes of Roy Ayers and Chaka Khan. Now she’s back with her fourth proper studio album, Oya’s Daughter. With Oya (Yoruba goddess of change), St. Victor combines soul, funk and rock and muses over everyday life situations from romance (see “Eternal,” her jazz-infused ode to sensual bliss) to social realities facing Black culture (“Sugar Foot Is Dead,” where she blends spoken word with her vocals).

Available at iTunes.

Starrene Rhett Rocque is a pop culture junky who often fantasizes about becoming a shotgun toting B-movie heroine, and aspires to save the world from the impending #ZombieApocolypse… In reality she’s a freelance entertainment journalist/blogger who muses about music, TV, movies and love. Follow her on Twitter @GangStarrGirl.