When it comes to actors turned musicians, Drake has certainly set the standard for seamless transformations.
In fact, the Toronto-born rapper—AKA the man who coined that word your annoying friends won’t stop saying, YOLO (you only live once)—has spent so long reigning supreme as one of the most successful hip hop artists in the world, it’s easy to forget just five years ago, he was still enrolled in Degrassi : The Next Generation under his real name, Aubrey Graham, playing wheel-chair bound Jimmy Brooks, paralyzed after a school shooting in the series’ most famous and controversial episode.
So when it was announced that Drake would make a “one night only” return to his acting roots as both host and musical guest on 2014’s first episode of Saturday Night Live, the question was: does he still have the chops?
Simply put, the answer is a resounding yes. Drake pulled out all the stops Saturday night, proving to be not only one of the most game hosts this season but also one the best prepared, confidently barreling through each sketch regardless of the material and seldom reading from cue cards (a difficult feat for even the most seasoned of hosts).
Over the course of 90 minutes, the “Started From the Bottom” hitmaker proved his versatility, playing an array of personalities from a theme park employee with Muppets-caliber enthusiasm, the “uncool” father of a teenage girl (the biggest departure from his persona), a high school punk with mature taste in women and a slew of impressions including A-Rod, Kat Williams and Jay Z. So lets take a look at his best and worst sketches.
Best: Hip Hop Classics
SNL was quick to skewer Drake’s origins as a high school heartthrob with a sketch revealing the little-known small screen credits to other successful hip hop stars including Rihanna’s turn as Blossom, Rick Ross’s role as the red Teletubby and Flavour Flav’s voiceover work as narrator on The Wonder Years. Not only did this feature a slew of impressive impersonations from Keenan Thompson’s Sway and Taran Killam’s Eminem to Jay Pharoah’s 2 Chainz, but it gave Drake a real chance to shine, mimicking Lil Wayne as the original Steve Urkel and a spot-on Jay Z appearing on a children’s science show. Bits featuring Eminem as Keri Russell’s love interest on Felicity and a foul-mouthed 2 Chainz as the star of his own Disney sitcom were also highlights in a show-making sketch.
Worst: Slumber Party
While admittedly not the worst segment of the night, this is one of those sketches that had the potential to be so much more than it was, given the talent involved. In this opportunity for him to stretch his acting muscles, Drake played the embarrassing father of a 13 year-old girl, a reach for a man whose brand basically revolves around his coolness. Throughout the course of his daughter’s slumber party, “uncool dad” Drake must contend with the increasingly inappropriate sexual advances of his daughter’s friend. A joke that fell flat and provided diminishing returns each subsequent time it was trotted out. That said, Drake’s deadpan delivery of the line “I called [your mom] as soon as I met you,” was a highlight.
Best: Cold Open
Say what you will about the strength of Tarran Killam’s Piers Morgan impression, this opening sketch wonderfully poked fun at several public figures embroiled in recent headline making scandals including New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Yankees’ third baseman and admitted steroid abuser Alex Rodriguez (played marvelously by Drake) and fellow Canadian pop star Justin Bieber. While the writing could have been stronger, Drake’s A-Rod impression was too good not to be mentioned, threatening to sue everything and everyone involved in his performance-enhancing drugs scandal from “steroids for being inside me” and Jackie Robinson “for breaking into the Major Leagues which really lead to this whole situation in the first place,” to his iPhone and the dictionary. However, the true standout was Kate McKinnon who perfectly captured Justin Bieber with limited dialogue and her teen idol posing.
Worst: Indiana Jones Adventure
This is one of those jokes that’s probably only really funny to the people who’ve actually been to the Indiana Jones Adventure attraction at Disneyland, in which an out of place foreign tourist (played by Nasim Pedrad) is selected to participate in the show despite having no handle on what’s going on or the English language for that matter. This could have been funny had Nasim developed the character beyond constantly spitting out the tiresome line “I am Rahat” and holding a bucket of rice. However, Drake’s infallible enthusiasm was admirable and his increasingly desperate pleas for audience intervention saved the five-minute sketch from being a total dud.
Honourable Mention: Monologue
Drake proved his willingness early on, poking fun at everything from the Rob Ford crack scandal, to his breakthrough role on the Canadian teen sudser and his bi-racial background to both black and Jewish parents. Leading to a hilarious look at his families colliding during his bar mitzvah where he performed a rap-infused version of “Hava Nagila” highlighting his diverse parentage.
However, Drake didn’t just reinforce what made him such a fan favourite in the halls of Degrassi High during his eight-season run, he also proved why he’s one of the best in the rap game today, dropping two equally inspiring musical performances that served as a medley of both established hits and obscure tracks, mostly off his 2013 album, Nothing Was The Same. The first being a mélange of “Started From the Bottom” and “Trophies” as well as his second, stronger performance featuring a stripped down version of the smash hit, “Hold On We’re Going Home” and “From Time” with newcomer, Jhene Aiko.
A Canadian artist pulling double-duty as both host and musical guest is a rarity on SNL. In fact, the only other artist to accomplish such a feat was Justin Bieber in 2013. That said, Canadian artists have been occupying the Studio 8H stage since its inception with acts like Anne Murray, Gordon Lightfoot, Loverboy, Brian Adams, Cowboy Junkies, k.d. Lang & The Reclines, Neil Young, The Tragically Hip and Alanis Morrisette to more recent performers like Nelly Furtado, Arcade Fire, Avril Lavigne, Sum 41, Feist and Michael Buble.