Turn Back The Clock
By Melissa Minners
Music has always been a big part of my life. Whenever I think back to big events in my past, there’s always a thought as to what was playing on the radio at the time. My life has a soundtrack and each time I hear a song on the radio, I think back to what I was doing when I first heard that song. I love all kinds of music, but, it’s true that I have had my favorites over the years – artists whose music I never changed the station on and whose works I had to have in my possession. It would seem that some of those artists dominated portions of my musical life. If Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam were the soundtrack of my late 1980s, it’s fairly safe to say that Salt-N-Pepa were the soundtrack of my early 1990s. This was all brought back to me when I saw The Best of Salt-N-Pepa: The Millennium Collection for sale at FYE the other day.
It was easy to love Salt-N-Pepa. For one thing, Cheryl James, AKA: Salt, was from Brooklyn and Sandra Denton, AKA: Pepa, was from Queens. That meant these two rappers were from my hometown of NYC. Being a Bronx girl, this was important to me back then. For another, Salt-N-Pepa was one of the first all-female rap groups – the first I had ever heard of anyway. Even when they changed DJs from Latoya Hanson to Deidra Roper, AKA: Spinderella, they stayed true to the all-girl look. This meant that Salt-N-Pepa not only knew what it was like in the neighborhoods I traveled through, they knew what it was like to be a female in those areas. Another important factor for me – these girls were not far from my age, making it big in a medium I was really starting to enjoy.
I know our readers can relate to the fact that when you really get into a singer, group or actor/actress, you do your research. It was interesting to learn that Salt and Pepa actually met studying nursing, of all things, at Queensborough Community College and worked together at Sears. They got their start working with another co-worker named Hurby “Luv Bug” Azor on a class project. They recorded a song called The Showstoppa, answering recording artist Doug E. Fresh’s The Show in 1985. At the time, they were working with DJ Hanson and the single got some airplay in NYC. It eventually was released by Pop Art Records and reached 46 on the Billboard R&B charts. That lead to signing on with Next Plateau Records and releasing their debut album, Hot, Cool and Vicious, under their new stage name, Salt-N-Pepa in 1986. This was all before Spinderella showed up.
Now, Hot, Cool and Vicious yielded some pretty good tracks, like My Mic Sounds Nice and Tramp, a song in which Salt and Pepa speak candidly about men and the stereotypes people are labeled with. When a woman goes around with a lot of men and maybe beds a few, they call her a slut, a whore or a tramp, but when a man does it, they call him a playa. This was the first time I heard a playa called what he should be called – a Tramp. But the real star of the album was the Cameron Paul remix of Push It. It had a great musical hook and beats that made you like the song even if you didn’t know the lyrics. Case in point: every high school band was playing this song until administrators and parents got a hold of the lyrics and started banning it. Push It was an instant hit on the radio after that Cameron Paul remix and the song was nominated for a Grammy, pushing up the sales of Hot, Cool and Vicious and making Salt-N-Pepa the first female rap group to go platinum.
In 1987, Latoya was gone and in came 15-year-old Deidra Roper. Who knew that such a young girl could spin a record so well. DJ Spinderella became a fixture for the band moving forward and she was present for the recording of A Salt with a Deadly Pepa, featuring some great songs like Shake Your Thang, sampling The Isley Brothers’ It’s Your Thing, and Get Up Everybody (Get Up). The third album, Blacks’ Magic, featured a song that really catapulted this group to the top. Let’s Talk About Sex is a song that talks about that tabooed and oft censored subject of…yup, you guessed it – sex. But it wasn’t just a song about getting it on. No, this was a tale of “how it is and how it could be, how it was and of course how it should be.” I loved that the band’s next lyrics basically let people who were uncomfortable with the topic know that they could just “lift the needle, press pause or turn the radio off,” but this was a subject that was important and the group wasn’t going to stop discussing it simply because it made some feel uncomfortable. Later, Salt-N-Pepa really hit home, changing the lyrics to address the AIDS epidemic and the importance of safe sex. This was a ground-breaking song and it catapulted Salt-N-Pepa to certified gold.
The next album contained three chart toppers. Very Necessary was my favorite album and it contained the anthem, None of Your Business. I loved that track, because it basically told those gossipers out there that they needed to get their noses out of our business, especially since they weren’t living their lives any better than the rest of us. Shoop was actually the first single released off the album and, of course, if you listen to the lyrics, after a while, you’re going to know what the word shoop is a metaphor for. This album also contained the track, Whatta Man, which gives props to the men in the girls’ lives and features a hook performed by En Vogue. These were great songs, but it was None of Your Business that actually gave Salt-N-Pepa the Grammy for Best Rap Performance, making them the first female rap artists to win a Grammy.
And it was during this time that I got the thrill of my life. I was given a ticket to attend Hot 97’s Valentine’s Day Concert at The Palladium and the opportunity to see Salt-N-Pepa live. Sure, Funkmaster Flex was there as MC and Snow, Silk and the Barrio Boyzz performed and they were great, but it was Salt-N-Pepa I was here to see and they were the most memorable performances of the night. There are some groups that just aren’t as good in person, live on stage, as they are on the radio, but Salt-N-Pepa rocked the stage that night and energized the whole crowd who sang along to Shoop and Whatta Man at the tops of their voices.
Here we are, decades later, and, you know, I just had to buy that “Best of” album to add to my collection. Salt-N-Pepa were a novel new idea for me when they first hit the airwaves. This was a time when I was just coming into my own as an adult and these ladies were talking about taboo subjects, letting us know that these were topics we should be talking about and addressing. They had their own spin on the feminist movement, telling folks that woman should be able talk about the same topics men do and go about their lives in the same manner without being shamed or labeled. Their music was hot, their lyrics catchy and fun while still having meaning. Salt-N-Pepa will never grow old for me and, as I write this article, I see they are back on tour – awesome…maybe I’ll have to try and get tickets!