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The Foreign Exchange 

Connected (BBE)

It's a shame that A Tribe Called Quest wasted an epic title like The Love Movement on 1998's clunker reunion album. It would have been so much more appropriate for this debut from Foreign Exchange. Sure, Dutch producer Nicolay and North Carolinean head MC-vocal ringmaster Phonte are "connected" by their partnership in the Exchange, but Connected is just filled to bursting with love. It's in Nicolay's mellifluous, dubby beats, which he adorns tenderly with diaphanous synths, flanged-out guitars, and lush, muted horns. And it's in Phonte's words, which chronicle the struggle of hungry MCs who try to balance playing the hip-hop game with satisfying their parents and building families of their own.

On their own, Nicolay's beats would probably be solid if unremarkable entries amid a growing pack of posh broken-beat selections from studio acts like Jazzanova and Bugz in the Attic. Phonte and his supporting cast are what imbue the jazzy cuts with that little extra something -- an indelible urban soul that vaults Connected over hip-hop, soul, and R&B fences. Albums like Connected come along pretty rarely, so pop it in, let Nicolay's deep, hypnotic bass lines massage your shoulders, and join Phonte and crew's new Love Movement.

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