Drake's not just a rapper -- but we already knew that, especially for those who grew up watching Aubrey Graham on "Degrassi: The Next Generation." Now, he can add a new notch to his belt of appearances: "Saturday Night Live" host.
Though he's appeared on the show in the past as a musical guest and cameo performer, the rapper got his time in the spotlight -- literally, at times -- for the sketch comedy show's first episode back since Christmas. As though introducing himself to viewers who might not know his backstory, he graciously laid it all out in his opening monologue, during which he asserted himself as both black and Jewish, flashing back to a Bar Mitzvah scene that found him composing a rap about both sides of his culture: "I play ball like LeBron and I know what a W2 is," he spat while introducing members of his extended "family," including new cast member Sasheer Zamata as his aunt.
First and foremost, he's known as a musician -- and though his comedy bits were certainly inspired, Drake hit hardest with cuts from hit album "Nothing Was the Same."
His first song choice was pretty much expected; the rapper broke into "Started From the Bottom," treating the fairly minimalist beats with a correspondingly minimalist stage show. If anyone from his entourage or backing band was onstage, they weren't visible; there was nothing but Drake, red-washed by a spotlight, darkness surrounding him, as he went through the motions -- literally -- on the hit song. Toward its end, the song phased into a few moments of "Trophies," the rapper's newest tune, finishing with a brooding end shot.
The brooding -- oh, the brooding -- continued. A little before the 1 a.m. hour, he broke into a piano-laden "Hold On, We're Going Home," swapping the red light for a cool blue and taking the tempo down a notch. Again, no one was in sight -- that is, into the song segued into "From Time," prompting the song's featured performer, Jhene Aiko, to make an appearance on the dimly-lit stage. The duo swapped lines earnestly, turning to each other as though it was a simple conversation the two were carrying, no one else in the room but them. The stage setup, certainly, accentuated this.
Acting-wise, Drizzy jumped into the game almost immediately, appearing in the cold open of Piers Morgan's talk show to play shamed baseball star Alex Rodriguez, breaking down the extensive roster of entities he's suing while vehemently denying using steroids: his iPhone, for autocorrecting his messages; the dictionary, for assisting in his knowledge of words at all; and Jackie Robinson, "for even breaking into the leagues and making this possible in the first place."
A Hip-Hop Classics bit, hosted by Kenan Thompson's Sway, allowed multiple cast members to break out their very best rapper impressions, showcasing other rappers' forays into acting prior to their moves to music. Drake took over for Jay Pharoah for Lil Wayne, and while it might have paled in comparison, the rapper's aping of Weezy was definitely humorous, especially voice-wise. Then there was his Jay Z, which basically meant copping Hov's mannerisms -- laughing a lot, exclamations of "Brooklyn!" and such. Also of note: Taran Killam's eerily accurate, angry-voiced Eminem and a bit of a bipolar 2 Chainz from Pharoah.
In "Resolution Revolution," the show's newest digital short-esque music video, Drake joined Pharoah, Killam and Zamata in a rap about folks' New Year's resolutions. Naturally, the rapper broke his no-drinking vow in about five seconds, eventually causing the rest of the group to end their vows against gambling and smoking. How long did they make it? Jan. 18, which is honestly probably better than a great deal of us.
The rapper also appeared as Zamata's awkward father who garners a bit of a crush from Aidy Bryant, though he attempts to dispel her every move -- all the while absolutely mortifying his daughter and the rest of her friends. Then there was his Katt Williams impression in a Nancy Grace sketch about Colorado's weed situation ("Consider me forever Rocky Mountain high, baby!", a turn as a detention-bound delinquent who has a thing for his 68-year-old school librarian and an appearance as a newscaster in the always-satisfying Mornin' Mimai skit. Oh, and don't forget the props for holding his composure as a Walt Disney World cast member on the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, attempting to coach Nasim Pedrad's confused foreigner.
Other highlights: Kate McKinnon's egg-tossing Justin Bieber ("I thought my neighbor was a chicken, right? So I was returning his kids"), a jab at Jacqueline Bisset's strange Golden Globes appearance during Weekend Update and the reliable Beck Bennett-Kyle Mooney tag team in the short "I Know."
"SNL" returns next week with Bastille as the musical guest. Jonah Hill will host.
- Arts & Entertainment