Upon first viewing the case for the most recent CD I was supposed to do, I was confronted with a common problem that faces critics. The case that stared back at me was from an artist called Luc Duc entitled "Smoke Affair Vol. 2." The artwork on the cover was a rather garish picture of two female lips with a piercing through the bottom one, holding a giant blunt between the teeth. According to the writing at the top, this disc was being brought to us by Hard White Ent./Street Hustler Mgmt. As most of us might, I have preconceptions about an album that features such attention-grabbing artwork, and those preconceptions are not necessarily positive.
Thankfully, my job calls for more than simply analyzing the artwork and guessing the content of the music. Records like these are quick reminders to take the phrase "don't judge a book by its cover" literally. Because the music on Luc Duc's "Smoke Affair Vol. 2" is good. Really good. Luc Duc hails from the dirty South, specifically Miami, Florida, and he does stick to many of the conventions that this region offers. There is the occasional yelling patterned after Lil' Jon, and the subject matter rarely varies from the topics of marijuana and women, a trend adopted in part by nearly everyone. This record is purely southern, with the club-friendly vibe that accompanies so many others, but the music is executed with a funky flair that I have not heard from the region in a while.
This is essentially a mixtape, and therefore there are certain things that must be excused. For starters, there are thirty tracks, but twelve of them consist of Luc Duc's friends talking on wax, which doesn't include the "Teddy T Intro" and "Teddy T Outro" that bookend the disc. After the intro, though, the party is started just right. "Hay" is some of that old ‘Kast circa "Funky Ride," and the beat can only be described as thick and funky. There are twangy guitars in the background, but the soothing singing is the most visible element. The most surprising part of "Hay" is the execution of the vocals, which are completely coherent with just enough soul to run along with the beat. "Pass the Weed" follows, and the vocals are synthesized just the slightest bit to tinge the track with some P-Funk goodness. Up to this point, all of the lyrics have been about mary jane, but the crooning and the rapping are flawless. Thought-provoking? Certainly not, but this music is relaxing and almost inspirational.
Of the sixteen songs that remain after elimination of the skits, every single one has something to offer. Oddly enough, after the first two, the rest of the music Luc Duc has to offer is strictly hip-hop. Luckily it is pulled off with no less flair. "Irie" is only a minute and a half long, but features a sweet beat accentuated with hand-claps. The lead single, "Do Tha Damn Thang," sounds like standard fare with high-pitched blips and a fat horn section, but a spaced-out sci-fi noise is thrown in for variety. A surprisingly effective chanted hook nails it home, and a breathtakingly quick flow is the perfect addition.
A surprising amount of variety is shown throughout the disc, both in the words and the music. The most visible musical variation is the drums, which appear in nearly every mutated form possible. A gathering of guests chip in on the vocal side of things, and there is harmonizing, chanting, and several different styles of rapping throughout "Smoke Affair Vol. 2." The gem of the second half of the disc is "What Would You Do?," which is helped out by wickedly low bass drums and electric guitars reminiscent of "Superthug." The reality is, though, that every cut is worthy of inclusion in some way. Some are stronger than others, but if the acapella skits had been removed, this album would be pure heat from start to finish. "Miss You," coming at track twenty-seven, is a fitting conclusion because of its softer, melodic tone, and Luc Duc displays his versatility in addressing his dead father. The most noticeable difference is the production, which does a 180 from the rest of the material for a soulful, introspective beat that rivals anything being made in the same mold today. In the last two verses, Luc demonstrates some refreshing humility as well.
Musically, this record is coherent and intriguing, but thankfully never repetitive. Luc Duc favors the club sound a little, which I would normally struggle with, but each song is carefully crafted and the result is a disc of very high quality. This is an unexpectedly nice record that could have benefited from a trimming of the skits. Removal of the irritating downtime between songs would have made for a truly great, smooth-playing work, but "Smoke Affair, Vol. 2" is lovely regardless. This is simply a collection of energetic music from a voice that will hopefully gain support nation-wide. Judging from the popular trends of exploring lesser-known parts of the nation for good hip-hop, Luc Duc should be getting some publicity right quick. Picking up this record will give anyone who tries it a head-start on the rest of the country.
Music Vibes: 8.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8 of 10
Originally posted: May 17, 2005