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Allow us to reintroduce ourselves: Our name is Rec-Room Therapy. Each week, we discuss recent hip-hop tracks. Today, we declare our eligibility for the draft with Drake; pop some steroids with 2 Chainz and French Montana; and get so serious with Sage Francis. Along for the ride is our distinguished panel of Marcus DowlingPhil R, Aaron Miller of Austin’s North Door, Joshua Phelps, Jose Lopez-Sanchez of Dead Curious, and Hip Hop Hooray’s Leah Manners.

Drake: “Draft Day”

“Draft Day” is not the orchestral theme to Kevin Costner’s upcoming “Draft Day”. It’s a new Drake song.  And as the Canadian is wont to do, he dropped it on his OVO out of nowhere, for free download, late on a week night.  The track – which features a sample of Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing)” – was produced by Boi-1da, Ducko McFli, and Syk Sense, and it features some blog headline worthy lines.  Here’s Drake repping Johnny Manziel (who has an OVO tattoo), Andrew Wiggins (who is currently without OVO tattoo)!  Here’s Drake dropping “Hunger Games” references (“I would die for my district”)! Here’s Drake making a Chance the Rapper crack!  Everything was the same.

Marcus: Instead of being content being Barack Obama in the Pop Culture Politburo (Jay’s the premier), Drake instead has turned rap into his own personal American Psycho-style New York City landscape. Yes, he’s by far the top ranking executive at the ad agency-as-rap music, but he’s still totally freaked out when the other ad execs were passing around business cards at Dorsia, and that junior exec Chance the Rapper had those damned tie-dyed cards on heavy stock paper. So, he went back into the lab, and decided to write an entire rap song built around all of the shit he’s got that Chance doesn’t have (and humorously enough, Chance doesn’t probably even care about having). All that being said, word up to Johnny “Johnny Football” Manziel. He could be a touchdown away his whole NFL career, but he’ll be a millionaire member of the OVO crew for life (and that’s kinda trill).

This whole rap song reeks of the sad state of affairs that ultimately lies at the core of Drake being Drake these days. I really feel for him. Imagine if you desperately wanted to be a baseball player your whole entire life (even going as far as starring on a TV show as a teenage baseball player), and by the time you got to the major leagues, the game was suddenly being played by retirees and Little Leaguers. As much as you should want to leave baseball and say, go back to acting, or sing, or well, just do something else, you decide to stick with being a baseball player. Of course, you aren’t as savvy as the retirees, but they certainly respect your talent. Insofar as the Little Leaguers, you have some that you might think are cool, but for the most part, you routinely beat the tar out of them (and nobody cares because even Ray Charles and Helen Keller could tell you how unfair it is).

So, yeah. As awesome as Drake is (and he’s plenty awesome), he’s oftentimes kinda pathetic, too. That’s really unfortunate.

Leah: This Lauryn Hill sample is great but not well-used. Most of the time, it sounds like she’s saying “meow meow,” which actually works pretty well for Drake’s kitten raps. C’mon, man, you wanna be the best but you can’t bless us with any internal rhymes, doubles, or triples? Delivery strong, but Drake needs to go back to school and work on his writing.

Phil: What do we know about this song?  People are parsing this shit for every possible underhanded, subliminal shot at whoever (read: HOVA, obviously), but are we even sure that “Draft Day” was recorded somewhat recently? Does Drake have three-headed producer teams – not even counting the uncredited, ever hovering hand of 40 – just sitting around and crafting beats for him to not officially release?  Maybe he does. Or maybe this is months old. All I’m saying is: Deep breaths, Internet.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, at least for me. These days, I try my best to evaluate Drake material in a vacuum. Is the production good? Does it have a strong hook? Is Drake imitating Migos? Does Drake morph into a vortex of self-involved, cyclical, hypocritical, whiny bullshit, sucking any enjoyment I might otherwise feel listening to a song of his? Does he call himself Drizzy?  These are basic questions, and ultimately why I can rationalize being allergic to Nothing Was the Same and loving “Trophies”.

And “Draft Day” is more the latter than the former.  It’s nice to hear Drake casually shit talking. He’s good at this. This is vintage 2011 Drake.  2011 Drake doesn’t give a fuck about technical chops!  “No offense, cause I don’t know that n*gga”: That’s grade A shade. See also:  “Left some beat on the end so that all of you n*ggas could loop it and get your lies off.”  And despite comments from Leah (who it must be noted owns multiple cats, and may have just heard her felines vibing out to this – just saying), I liked the chopped up sample. The drums kick too.

I will say, however, that there is an ick factor here. I know that Wiggins is Canadian and Manziel is YOLO, but repping college boys is kind of creepy. Even Taylor Swift doesn’t get away with this shit unscathed. You’re 27, Aubrey.  Be a grown man. Stop trying to suck off the fountain youth. And to whatever degree your beef with Jay Z matters, you look like a complete dope cheerleading college athletes when he owns a sports agency.

Aaron:  I hate hate hate Drizzle getting this beat. Not worthy. Who let this cotton candy ass rapper get his manicured little hands all over my all time fave Ms. Hill track? Find him,fire him,and punch his moms in the face. Dude is so soft I bet he can’t even keep his fucking feet on the ground all the way. Just fucking floating around like a plastic bag in the wind. Soft like a baby duck in a pile of marshmallows and Dandelions.

Trust me, Aubrey, you did not have to ” do it” for us.

Jose:  I enjoyed this song a lot, from the first play.  Love the Lauryn Hill sample, and think the song takes a great break from the original and turns it into a strong, strong beat.  This is Drake trying to put on his big boy pants, and stepping up.  The lyrics are firmly in DGAF land, and he’s trying to remind us of how far he’s come on the back of his talents.  While we can sit back and hate on Aubrey… he kind of has a point?  Despite his obvious lack of street cred, and possessing the consistency of a Cadbury creme egg, Drake has managed to become one of the most popular, successful, and recognizable rappers… ever.  He can co-opt other people’s flow, creep on other people’s women, and generally hover around the same lyrical topics for five years, all without too much mainstream backlash.  I have to give props for that shit.  Plus, like I said, I like this song.

Is it weird that Drake and Johnny Football have some strange kind of bromance?  Absolutely.  But there is this kind of unspoken credo among the (soon to be) rich and famous in this country, where people are friends simply because they inhabit the same rarified air.  Would explain why it all seems to alternate between being one giant circle-jerk and the world’s biggest cat fight.

Drake is rap’s version of easy listening, and his production team/PR machine have been making all of the right moves for his entire career.  Will he ever become the undisputed King of Rap?  Probably not.  But the way he sells himself will ensure that he is always in the conversation, in the same way that “The Big Bang Theory” is the “best” comedy on TV.

2 Chainz ft. French Montana: “A-Rod”

“Watch 2 Chainz And French Montana Swing For The Fences With ‘A-Rod’,” wrote one very satisfied MTV.com blogger last Friday. Because 2 Chainz and French Montana made a song with a lot of Alex Rodriguez references. And he plays baseball. GET IT?  Of course, such subtlety is very fitting for Tity Boi, who has never been one to finesse a point. “A-Rod” is his latest, though it’s not entirely sure what it’s story is. Like February’s “Ima Dog”, it’s possibly a B.O.A.T.S. II outtake or a taste of the forthcoming (eventually) B.O.A.T.S. III. Or neither.  Regardless, here it is, and it has a cheapo video filmed at Yankee Stadium.  We do know that it was produced by hard-hitting Chicago youngster Young Chop, who released a single of his own this week with “Bang Like Chop”.

Marcus: Wow. Last week, Jay Z mentioned how his lineage included “kings and queens and Michael Jordan rings.” This week, as if the universe felt a shift in the balance towards MAYBE, just maybe black folk could have some self-respect in mainstream rap these days, this musical abortion had to get released. Fuck 2 Chainz. Fuck French Montana. It’s the opening of baseball season and you can’t name another power hitting and controversial superstar than Alex Rodriguez? Shit. I would’ve even accepted someone retired like Jose Canseco. At least he admitted he was wrong, is remotely redemptive and is still pretty much a certified bad ass.

Issues with Major League Baseball’s branding of its current superstars aside, 2 Chainz is the circus clown of rap that proves the quote mistakenly attributed to PT Barnum as true, that there’s a sucker born every minute. As much as the circus is fun, I don’t need to go to the circus every day if the clown is going to do the same handkerchief routine. Of course, that recent 2 Chainz show at the 9:30 Club was sold out, so I’m alone in this belief, which is sadder than hell.

Sadder than 2 Chainz is French Montana, who if rap is a circus, is the top drawing attraction in the freak show. Montana’s incredible because he maintains a balance between not quite sucking and being the absolute worst rapper of all time. As long as he walks that line (and has tremendous beats supporting him), people are going to not see that the wannabe emperor is not wearing new clothes, he’s only just wearing a new towel that, while we’re turning up around him, he’s clinging to for dear life.

Leah:  This song is terrible. Worse than that, it’s lazy. I have no problem with fun party rap from French and 2 Chainz, but this is worst-freestyle-ever level of disappointing, apathetic delivery and middling beat.

Phelps: It really is terrible.  A-Rod?  He’s not even cool in the city he plays in, although probably more popular than French.  “Run that base” – that was a Clipse line from 30 years ago right?  Swear I heard it before somewhere but point being OK baseball and freebsing metaphores zzzzzzzzzz.  This should have stayed on a personal upload Worldstar page.  I wanted it to bang because I think Young Chop has potential (see the beat from even more terrible song, “Bang Like Chop.”)  This meanders all over without going anywhere at all.  I hope none of these dudes got that check for this one.

Phil: Jesus, tough crowd. I won’t deny that it’s easy to dismiss 2 Chainz, but to actively hate him? The man couldn’t be more innocuous. He is “stay in your lane” personified.  (In his own words: “Lyrically, I could be Talib Kweli / But with gold teeth it’d be hard for some to believe.”)  He’s the anti-Future of self-importance and the anti-Drake of smarminess. He’s a guy who keeps his head down, takes shots at no one, and fucking works.  I went to that 9:30 Club show. Two hours. No hype man. No back-up. Just a dude punching the clock and sweating through all three of his ensembles, one of which was a tank top that stretched to his knees like a dress. Point is: Save the vitrol for the assholes of the world.

And, yeah, I think the dude is funny.  It’s crass and low brow – no fucking doubt – but a whole lot of dudes try to be crass and low brow without getting laughs.  Maybe that makes him a clown.  Maybe every punchline rapper is a clown.  Maybe you hear “I ask em, ‘Who is it?’ They say, ‘Room service!’ / Give me one minute, she getting her womb serviced!” and roll your eyes. I laugh. That shit’s funny. It amuses me.

Of course, 2 Chainz does shit the bed on occasion – sometimes he features on production that he never get comfortable on, and sometimes he just phones it in. Dude is not immune to clunkers.  But “A-Rod”?  C’mon, guys. “Terrible”? This song is fine! The The A-Rod metaphor works! It’s some hard-hitting production, and 2 Chainz inhabits it.  Is it up to B.O.A.T.S. II standards? No, not at all. But if I’m blindly speculating, this is a song that cut from that album (probably because it sounds an awful lot like “Extra”), and they’ve just been sitting on it, and, hey, now it’s start of baseball season, so why not? And, yes, French Montana is trash, and I won’t attempt to defend his verse, nor argue that it doesn’t take away from this song, but isn’t always that always the story with “ft. French Montana”? Overall, this song gets a pass.

Aaron: Young Slop on the beat.

Phelps:  Much like terrible rapper Tity Boi transformed to 2 Chainz in his mid 30s, perhaps Young Chop has some gems ahead of him, working with Kanye and other mentors.  I like 2 Chainz enough, but I’ll agree with your speculation that this was probably a throwaway track from the record.  I just don’t think releasing it now is doing anyone a big favor if it’s not close to B.O.A.T.S. II standards as you put it.

Phil: Man, Young Chop had a hell of a run!  Not many guys get to be the “it” producer.  I just think that most producers with a neatly defined sound make a splash, their sound gets co-opted, and the world moves on. Like, the Lex Luger thing – we’ve had this conversation before. Also: Lex worked with Kanye too. Kanye is a vampire; he doesn’t mentor people – he takes ideas and moves on.

Phelps: In a perfect world, maybe 2 Chainz would have rapped on the lyrical abomination that is “Bang Like Chop.” Maybe Chop won’t escape south Chicago, but, it stuck with me when he was sort of bewildered and interested in Paris during the Yeezus sessions.  Unlike Keef – and this is completely speculative – he strikes me as someone who will keep working on his craft.  I’m just holding out hope because, yeah, I do like some of the knucklehead bangers he puts out.  I am setting a Google calendar alert for us to revisit this when he’s 2 Chainz’ age if I live that long.

Jose: Off the bat (see what I did there?), I want to say that Young Chop was responsible for that Chief Keef abomination a few months ago, so I’m siding with Runco here – when does potential become wasted potential?  Young Chop hasn’t shown much of a broad sonic palette from what I’ve heard, so I’m thinking that his career won’t have much legs unless things change up pronto.

The song is fine – boring if anything.  I can appreciate the ignant earnest effort that Tauheed puts into all of his cuts, and it’s not like we can reasonably expect anything else –  we know it’s all about bombast and club bangers.  Dude is living large!  He’s not coming in here trying to be subtle and shit.

I’d like to see him collaborate with Diplo/Major Lazer.  That’s some real summer shit.

Aaron: I tried Googling some baseball shit but I gave up.

This track is grade A, top shelf garbage. It’s a fumbling, slo-mo, tuneless sedative – almost boutique in it’s dedication to pissing me off.

The first rule of French Montana is we don’t talk about French Montana.

2 Chainz is Rap Game Forrest Gump: Just dumb as a hammer, failing forward into greater and greater recognition and praise. Smiling his way to success while the world fails around him. It makes no sense. It defies logic and lays waste to all reason. Science can literally see a billion years into the past and give us a realistic snapshot of life before life and time before time, but nobody seems able to explain Tity Boi in a way that satisfies me. 2 Chainz is gonna win at everything, meet the President, and get the girl, and I will never know why. Turnt is as turnt does.

It’s like hitting a ball with one of those heavy sticks they use on TV. A lot of people like balls and sticks and grass like A-Rod I guess. Did I do that right?

Sage Francis: “Vonnegut Busy”

Prior to the release of the Sick to D(EAT)H mixtape in December, it had been a quiet few years for Sage Francis. His last record – and final for Epitaph – Li(f)e, dropped back in 2010, And with that behind him, he’s returned to the independent route, where he made his name as spoken word poet turned rapper at the turn of the century.  Also in the rear view mirror: the rock backbone of Li(f)e, which he recorded with the help of roots heavies Califone, Calexico, Chris Walla, and Jason Lytle.  Instead, his forthcoming LP Copper Gone finds reuniting with some old production friends: Buck 65, Cecil Otter, Alias, and Reanimator, among others.  The album’s first single, the punny “Vonnegut Busy” (say it out loud five times in a row), comes with a beat courtesy of longtime Providence compadre Prolyphic.  In related news: Hope and Personal Journals are still incredible.

Leah: This is pretty classic Sage Francis – complete with literary references, lofty language, and dramatic delivery.  The biggest problem I’ve had with Sage is that (probably because of his slam poetry roots), he comes off as so emotional that it’s sanctimonious. This track is also trying to ride the personal narrative vs. social commentary line, which is a tough balancing act without making it explicitly narcissistic and pedantic. The track overall is fine, but there’s not a lot of fun in it. Why so serious, Sage Francis?

Marcus: I appreciate everything about this. I am of the sincere belief that maybe rap is *TOO* fun these days. I mean, the mainstream guys are spending ridiculous sums of money and happily becoming independent self-corporations. The guys coming up are smoking weed, popping pills and or appearing to be so sad that there’s almost some perverse level of joy in their ever-present angst. So, a sustainable rap pro like Sage Francis releasing a song that’s all about every other damned thing happening in the world (that’s NOT all turnt up or bourgeois) is fine by me. And, the production is vicious, too. Good lord, those drums!

The clarity in delivery and legitimate emotion in the rhymes make this worthwhile. Sage actually cares, and actually wants us to hear it. I mean, compare what Sage is doing to Future mumbling and shouting “Shit” on the hook, or Kevin Gates trying so hard to be a #sadboy that he comes off as not sanctimonious, but entirely inauthentic – which I think is a worse creative crime. There absolutely has to be diversity in rap (as in all things), as if there’s sweet without the bitter, nothing exists in balance. As in any situation, the opposite of harmony is mayhem, which is arguably rampant in rap right now. So, while I don’t want 100 of these songs on radio and filtering throughout the top levels of bloggerati cosigns, I like having a great one of these every so often to maintain the balance.

Aaron:  I give it a strong 6. S age makes me think, always a plus. Beat is nice, but it does not bang.

But I’m a cynical hater and I also have a problem with rap that’s too nice. Not sure why, but I would step over 10 Murs tracks to get to an Aesop track. Does that even make sense? Not really, but listening to this track just makes want to listen to CanOx or Jedi Mind Tricks or El-P so I can get angry at something and feel good about it. Sage Francis will always get props because he was there at the end of the Boom Bap era hanging out with some of the best indie rappers alive, keeping it (too?) real while rap fans were rejecting weird rap in favor of party culture.It’s not my favorite shit, but this track, and the message that goes with it, is what hip-hop  is for.

Jose: This beat is excellent.  It’s complex without overwhelming, and has a clear forward driving feeling – it’s hard not to like it, and it stays interesting the whole time.  Can’t really say the same for the lyrics.  Sage Francis is very serious, and it’s almost comical how almost diametrically opposed this song is to 2 Chainz and French Montana’s effort for this week.

It’s good – I just didn’t care for the story he was selling.  Maybe I’m shallow, but I just didn’t feel the same sort of draw that I did with previous “serious raps” we’ve discussed.

Aaron:  That first couple sentences is on some wine tasting swag. Just swirl the track around and take  in the aromas and tannins and shit.

Follow Rec-Room on Twitter, where we’re limited to 140 characters:  @marcuskdowling, @philrunco, @gitmomanners, @jrlopez, @dc-phelps, and @Aaron_ish