Netherlands-based producer Nicolay began e-mailing beats to Little Brother's Phonte four years ago, forging a relationship that would eventually give way to the Foreign Exchange's Connected. Their Web-spawned hip-hop collaboration showcased Nicolay's mastery silky strings and brass backed by software-launched beats and followed mixtape-style post-Connected releases. Here marks Nicolay's return to the polished full-length forum. The album glows brightly in spots, from the jazzy flutes-and-chimes intro to the last-call piano-lounge of closer "My Story," the latter featuring Kay and Sy Smith, two of Here's MC guests. Among them, St. Louis's Black Spade blows up the horn-section loops on "I Am the Man," with some of the brag action that Joe Scudda brought to Connected. Fend of mid-September grayness with some liquor and Here's crafty MC spots, intoxicatingly soulful textures, and frequent female backups. Nicolay's blanket-warm work is a timely elixir.
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