Lights up on an immediately recognizable sitcom living room. Aubrey Graham enters through the front door, stumbles over an ottoman, and falls flat on his face. When he recovers and rises to standing, he gazes directly at us through the camera and winks. Cue the theme song for Drake! Starring Aubrey Graham; the credits roll.
If this doesn't sound like Drake's future to you, then you haven't been paying attention. Drake may have taken a diversion into hip-hop after his time on Degrassi, but he's poised to take on a new role soon enough — after all, his entire music career is pretty much just an act.
This weekend was Drake's second time hosting Saturday Night Live. In his opening monologue, he managed to keep a straight face while telling us he feels like "a victim of an Internet scheme" and he'd rather be more than a meme generator. Canadian, please: You put a meme generator on your goddamn website to promote Views. The lyrics "Why you gotta fight with me at Cheesecake? / You know I love to go there / Say I’m actin’ lightskin, I can’t take you nowhere" from the song "Childs Play" are just begging for him to get placed in front of photos of Cheesecake Factory. And we've been forever associating Drake's overly emotional rapping with "acting light-skinned" — described as being obsessed with one's feelings to the point of emulating whiteness, as opposed to the stereotypical stoicism and silent pain associated with being a dark-skinned black American — so Drake knows mentioning the complex will get a fair run on the Internet.
But that's what Drake expects. The "Hotline Bling" video was designed to create memes. Drake's goofy dancing has burrowed as deep into pop culture as "oh my god, Becky, look at her butt”; the entire video was comprised of Drake dancing for meme love. It wasn't dissimilar from his performance of "One Dance" on SNL, which was so aggressively searching for a moment to meme that it was uncomfortable. During MTV News's Views roundtable, I wondered why Drake has yet to show much personal growth or awareness of the world's climate beyond social media and pop culture, but now the answer seems evident: Drake is a role played by Aubrey Graham. The Drake persona is a vehicle for fame, and for the ability to create his own lane.
Drake has said that he doesn't want to be making hip-hop past 35. He talks of retirement on Views's "Weston Road Flows" when he says, "The most successful rapper 35 and under / I'm assumin' everybody's 35 and under / That's when I plan to retire, man, it's already funded," but there's no way Drake is done with the limelight. That's why he's dipping his toes back in the acting pool with SNL guest appearances and cameos in films like Anchorman 2. He's in the mixtape era of his acting career. When you think of Drake as an actor, your first thought should be his turn as Degrassi's Jimmy Brooks. You don't think of his SNL sketches because, to be honest, Drake is too black for SNL. A variety show still doing a "Black Jeopardy" sketch in 2016 isn't exactly on the cusp of race culture, and Drake, despite being biracial, has overtly embraced blackness. He references dating dark-skinned women with curves, raps about HBCUs, and engaged in the greatest rap beef since Nas and Jay Z. Drake is black as hell. And on SNL, the only black person who truly stands out is Leslie Jones or Jay Pharoah when he busts out his impersonations. So of course they have no idea how to write for him.
The sketches Drake was relegated to were generic and had little to do with his actual personality. They seemed like leftover Justin Timberlake sketches that need Justin and Jimmy Fallon cracking up and breaking character to truly stand out. Drake always commands attention when he's in a scene, but if the material isn't there to suit his personality like Leslie and Jay's does, the end result is stale no matter how much he commits. Drake's a natural actor, but he's not a seasoned comedian. His promos with Leslie Jones were funnier than his actual appearance on the show (and she's busy on her movie set, so even she's taking her black self somewhere else soon) because they had chemistry and played to his strengths, and the only time he truly shined on SNL was in the ensemble "beef" sketch. But Drake is smart enough to know that SNL is just a warm-up. He's smart enough to have an exclusive deal with Apple Music, which is developing original content to compete with Netflix. He's Apple's one-man band man at this point, and when they're ready to make someone a film and television star, the call is going to come from inside the house.