(April 3, 2023). When SNL announced weeks ago that “Abbott Elementary” creator and star, the Emmy winning Quinta Brunson, would be hosting this past weekend’s episode (Saturday, April 1) of the long-running comedy sketch show with Lil Yachty serving as the musical guest, the intrigue factor went up significantly.
Not only did you have Quinta’s extremely bright star presence—her “Abbott Elementary” has been the most critically acclaimed and awarded new TV series of the young decade so far—but you also had the curiosity factor—or as SNL’s Bowen Yang’s “Midwife” character during this same episode might pronounce it, “kerr-ee-us-ity”— of the former “mumble rapper” Lil Yachty bringing his recent career pivot to acid rock to the live stage.
Okay, maybe it’s not quite acid rock, but it’s definitely not rap music, the kind for which Yachty became famous over the past decade or so. His latest album released in January, Let’s Start Here, is the kind of experiment that would make George Clinton, Jimi Hendrix, and Roger Waters (of Pink Floyd) proud. And curious minds, particularly those of us who have been indulging in his experiment the past couple months, wanted to see how Yachty would reproduce two of its key tracks on the live stage at Studio 8H on Saturday night.
Yachty didn’t disappoint. His trippy performances of the album’s opening track, “the BLACK seminole,” which is bound to show up on the year-end Spotify recap of my most listened-to tunes this year, and “drive ME crazy,” another of the album’s stellar tracks (albeit a less psychedelic rock one), more than rose to the occasion.
Yachty and superb backup singer Diana Gordon, along with a full band of women donning what appeared to be braided Bantu knots, performed their alternative rock songs with a lagoon-like backdrop to add to the moody effect. Yachty used a pitch-altering microphone, which removed any lingering doubt that Auto-tuned vocals can be reproduced to satisfying effect on a live stage.
That a rapper like 25-year-old Yachty has made this career leap of faith to produce a whole album of image-defying, psych-rock tracks is a testament to his versatility and vast musical knowledge. That he dared to bring this left-turn to life on the SNL stage is a demonstration of his belief in and commitment to the art form he is now purveying, and it couldn’t have been more welcome, at least to yours truly.
This viewer, for one, expected Yachty’s new dimension of sound to be the highlight of the show. But the thing that SNL has been long known for—its comedy sketches—were so incredibly hilarious that they managed to be the thing that fans were mostly tweeting and talking about Sunday, and deservedly so.
From start to finish, this past weekend’s had to be one of the best—if not the best—episodes of the current season, topped off by what may be the most “evil” April Fool’s prank ever pulled off (successfully) on live TV.
That was when “Weekend Update” cohosts Colin Jost and Michael Che took their normal turns trading jokes about current events (mostly Donald Trump’s indictment).
While Jost’s barbs were getting tepid laughs, Che’s were met with uproarious applause. After a couple of back-and-forth rounds of this with another Jost joke about Trump falling relatively flat, an audience member yelled, “you stink!,” causing Jost to bury his head in his hands (in shame) before Che came clean that he had instructed the audience not to laugh at his partner’s jokes.
It took Jost several minutes to recover before ultimately proving he was the best of sports. He even managed to close the skit by poking fun at himself and his height during a hilarious “Short Kings” segment led by news guest Marcello Hernandez (another talented “featured” player who should be a regular soon).
But the episode’s other great moments included the cold open where featured player James Austin Johnson gave his signature Donald J. Trump impression (he’s easily the best DJT impersonator the SNL stage has seen—no offense to Alec Baldwin).
In the opening segment, JAJ’s Trump gave a speech in the wake of the real Trump’s indictment by a New York grand jury a couple of days earlier. Johnson’s character hilariously spewed the usual grievances about the “radical left,” but this time infused them with performances of “horrible” songs to be included on his new album Now That’s What I Call My Legal Defense Fund, a take on the Now That’s What I Call Music! series of compilation LPs.
The Trump character was exploiting the recent dubious success of his top-downloaded song, “Justice for All,” which he recorded with a group of January 6 prisoners dubbed the J6 Prison Choir last month. In the SNL skit, he was joined by a few known Trump supporters, including “Don King,” “Donald Trump, Jr.” and 2000s rapper “Afroman” (of “Before I Got High” fame) to hawk the new songs appearing on the Legal Defense Fund set.
Host Quinta Brunson starred in several funny bits as well, including a hilarious road rage skit where she and regular comedian Mikey Day hurled insults at each other while being stuck in a traffic jam. Except, instead of rolling down their windows to scream at one other, they used mimed hand gestures to awkwardly (and surprisingly accurately) express what they were saying.
The gestures were allowed to go to an extreme when Day’s character’s increasingly mortified daughter, played by another regular Chloe Fineman, got into the insult exchange. Cast member Ego Nwodim appeared as Brunson’s mom (from the backseat) and threw out a barb or two of her own at the Day and Fineman characters.
And those were just the highlights. The episode included several other great sketches, including a funnily haunting Bridesmaids documentary spoof, a “Midwife” segment starring Brunson and Bowen Yang as reluctantly but forever-connected birthing professionals, and a “my cocaine’s so white” skit that saw many cast members in a nightclub bathroom as drug dealers competing to convince a couple of patrons why their “pure powder” was the coke of choice, while using various racial stereotypes to describe it.
Another hilarious bit, a “Please Don’t Destroy” video called “Street Eats” featuring the three comedy group members Ben Marshall, John Higgins, and Martin Herlihy waxing “expertly” about their dining experiences in Jamaica Queens, New York City, closed the episode.
Maybe it was just that I was in the mood for a good crying laugh, or maybe the writers and producers at SNL are really on a mission to prove that they can successfully move on after the departures of several key players in 2022.
Whatever it was, this and other recent episodes have shown that SNL still has it after nearly 48 years.
And Lil Yachty’s transcendent rock and roll debut, which deserved to be the talk of the town, just got caught in a storm of truly unforgettable skits that made this episode one of the best in recent memory.
DJRob (he/him/his), new fan of Lil Yachty, is a freelance music blogger from somewhere on the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog.
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