Known as a beatmaker prior to fully flexing his skills as a producer and classically trained multi-instrumentalist, Nicolay (Matthijs Rook) has been a significant factor in the progression of hip-hop, R&B, and electronic music since the early 2000s. Born and raised in the Netherlands, Nicolay played in a number of bands around his homeland, but it wasn't until 2000 that he decided to start producing his own beats. In 2002, Little Brother MC Phonte Coleman stumbled across one of them on Okayplayer's message board and asked if he could put his rhymes over it, and soon a friendship and a musical relationship were born.
This transatlantic collaboration, which they called the Foreign Exchange, led to an album, Connected, in 2004, after which Nicolay continued producing tracks for Little Brother and Cesar Comanche, releasing City Lights, Vol. 1.5 initially only online and then through BBE Records in 2005. The Dutch Masters, Vol. 1, which featured Nicolay DJ'ing, came out that same year, followed by Here in 2006. In 2008 the producer teamed up with Houston rapper Kay — whom he had also met through message boards and had put on a track on Here — and issued the album Time:Line. The second Foreign Exchange album, Leave It All Behind, came later in the year on the Foreign Exchange label. One of its highlights, "Daykeeper," was nominated for a Grammy, but not before the 2009 release of Nicolay's own City Lights, Vol. 2: Shibuya.
The Foreign Exchange label, operated by Nicolay and partner Aimee Flint, expanded during the 2010s with additional albums from FE and Phonte, as well as releases from collaborators YahZarah, Zo!, and Median. Joined by the Hot at Nights, a band featuring FE associates, Nicolay reworked City Lights, Vol. 2 tracks as Shibuya Session EP, released in 2011. Four years later, Nicolay released another predominantly instrumental solo album, City Lights, Vol. 3: Soweto. Its material, enhanced with vocal contributions from Phonte, Carmen Rodgers, and Tamisha Waden, was inspired by South Africa dates on the Foreign Exchange's world tour the previous year. All the while, Nicolay and the Hot at Nights continued to work together, and in 2018 released Glaciers, an album assembled over the course of six years. ~ Marisa Brown