By Paul de Revere
As was established from the get-go on this week’s Saturday Night Live, Aubrey Graham — better known as rapper Drake — was an actor long before he was the toast of the hip-hop world. Take a look at his filmography and you’ll see there’s more to Graham’s acting career than just the Canadian-television Degrassi franchise, mentioned during his opening monologue/sketch (below).
So it’s unsurprising Drake performed better than most musicians would as host and musical guest. He was goofy, obviously down for whatever the writers wanted to do with him, knew when to focus and showcase his rhymes (“knishes for my b****es”) and fully willing to make an ass of himself un-self-consciously in sketch comedy, which is pretty much the key to any good Saturday Night Live host performance. Drake embraced that and he can hang his hat on his performance. It’s comparable (but not quite up to par) with Justin Timberlake, another child actor-turned-musical-superstar who’s pulled SNL double duty in the recent past.
Yet the awful truth is: it’s still SNL. In any given episode — no matter how great it seems on paper — it’s unpredictably hit-or-miss which sketches will work given a tight timeframe, live or recorded. Protip: After 30-60 seconds, you know whether one’s working or not.
Here’s what worked. And also wigs (they were comparable to Key and Peele’s):
Drake as Katt Williams
Wig Rating: 10 out of 10 flat irons
Whoever’s idea this was deserves a pat on the back. Drake wasn’t much for voice mimicry on Saturday night but he nailed Williams, a stand-up comedian who’s ripe for parody. Although Drake kept fussing with the wig like it was going outta style.
Dorky Dad Drake
Wig Rating: 8
Fake Mustache Rating: 10
Drake had the look down on this one. All he needed was a cell-phone belt clip to put it over the top. Plus, his dancing and corny jokes weren’t ha-ha funny so much as they were squirmy funny, as in, “Oh God, my dad does this. This is too real!”
“Started From the Bottom”/”Trophies”
Wig Rating: n/a
Drake’s medley of “Started From the Bottom” and new song “Trophies” is a great example of how the confessional rap torch has passed from Kanye to Drake. It’s a testament to Drake that he can stand alone, bathed in red light, and carry a performance all by himself: no flashy visuals, no DJ and no hype men. All he needs is one mic and a spotlight.
Here’s what didn’t work quite so well (to steal a phrase from Drizzy, “WORST!”):
Disney Drake Loves Short Shorts
Wig Rating: 5
Shorts Rating: 11
This is one of those sketches in which SNL writers think repeating a word/name enough times (“Rahad” was said over 50 times) makes it funny. Drake hangs on bravely as the unflappably positive Disney World stage performer but this sketch is over five minutes long. Not even Drake’s khaki short shorts could save this.
Wig Rating: n/a
Wizard Hat Rating: 9
This music-video sketch was mercifully short. The cliche comedic premise of failing to meet New Year’s resolutions if up there with Airline Food Is Bad. Drake cosplaying as a wizard (“eleven death potion!”) was a saving grace here.
“Hold on We’re Going Home”/”From Time”
Wig Rating: n/a
You don’t have to be a color theorist to see where Drake was going — bathed in blue light for his second performance– performing another medley: “Hold on We’re Going Home” and “From Time” featuring Jhené Aiko. “Hold on We’re Going Home” lost some of its propulsive funk in this live rendition, sounding more like a Whitney Houston-like torch song. Aiko’s live vocal could’ve, and has, sounded much better.