Salt N Pepa – Trendsetters and Hip Hop Legends

Trendsetter Champions come to mind when we think of the infamous dynamic-duo, first-class entertainers “SALT N PEPA.” Cheryl (Salt) James, a Brooklyn Native and Sandi (Pepa) Denton from Queens by way of Kingston Jamaica, are the world’s first female Hip Hop Legends. The year was 1986 before Rap became a genre and while the game was still all male, the group we know today as Salt N Pepa changed their name from Super Nature and signed with independent Next Plateau Records. They released their first song Hot, Cool and Vicious – produced by Randy Hurby “the luv bug” Azor; crashing the glass ceiling in Hip Hop forever. Soon after in 1987 they would go on to release the hit single from their album “Push It” selling over a million copies. Their ground breaking success topped the charts earning them their first Grammy nomination and launched the group to the international popularity that they have today.

Sitting in Cheryl’s lovely home, sipping tea, I asked did she ever dream of the group having this much success from the beginning? She told me how she and Sandi met in nursing school and how they always had a love for music. How they were “on the grind hard,” even in those days, busy going to school and working for Sears as telephone representatives. “We were always looking for the next big thing. So I guess you could say, yes, because we always knew we were going to make it big”. Oddly enough and as fate would have it while at Sears, the girls worked alongside the then, also unknown, Kid N Play and Martin Lawrence. They made a promise to each other that whoever would make it first would help the others, and they did!

Pep stated, “We all became the best of friends and when we started touring Martin Lawrence would open up for us by warming up the crowd. Look at him today.” As laughter filled the room she went on to explain her relationship with the founder of the group. “I will always have that soft spot for Azor, because although we experienced tight times between us it’s because of him we were able to attain a lifestyle that otherwise we may have never known.”

Azor was, at that time, a student of the center for the media arts and also Cheryl’s boyfriend. Azor asked Cheryl if she and her friend Sandi were willing to collaborate using their vocals on a class project to produce a record. They said yes!

Cheryl said, “We agreed because I always wanted stardom and Sandi was always ready for it.” They gladly accepted the offer and the project was a success for Azor in class landing him an “A” and in the streets leading to radio play. A string of new tunes were written to keep up with the demand. The girls hired a new personal DJ, Dee Dee (Spinderella) Roper, and left for a tour that would change all their lives forever.

We started to talk about the reality show.

“Well Cheryl was the initiator of that,” stated Sandi. Referring to the Reality Show “Let’s Talk About Pep,” which was on VH-1. The show followed Sandi’s adventures in New York City with four girlfriends: Cheryl (Salt) James; journalist, Jacque Reid; Joumana Kidd, the former model and ex-wife of basketball star Jason Kidd; and radio personality Kali Troy, aka Kittie.

Sandi, no novice when it came to reality shows, was a perfect person to lead the show. She said, “I was already doing reality shows,” referring to her roles on Surreal Life in 2005 and The Surreal Life: Fame Games in 2007.

Pep continues to stay current keeping in touch with old school artists as well as new artists on the scene. She published her autobiography in 2008 also titled, “Let’s Talk About Pep,” which gave the reader insight on Sandi Denton and some of the fire that she was to overcome. Some literally, as she shares the story in her book of how her lover who she refers to as “Brad” abused her. During that abusive period in their relationship Brad attempted to burn Sandi’s face with an iron but while struggling with her missed and burned the skin off her arm. While turning to run, he scratched her cornea causing her to wear an eye patch. Sandi feeling that she was making all the wrong decisions concerning finding a mate, lead her to celibacy. The book’s intro is written by Queen Latifah with an epilogue by Missy Elliott, two of her very dear friends.

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So the idea of a reality show as sort of a jump off and continuation of the book was a great idea. They would base it in New York and show reality dating in today’s society. Cheryl thought the show would also let their fans know what happened to Salt N Pepa since the group left abruptly with neither of them ever speaking publicly about it. Sandi stated, “It was a way for me to finally know what happened too,” as she laughed.

The group’s last concert was in 1999 and they were on a high when Cheryl ended the partnership, to Sandi’s surprise.

Cheryl says, “I would have done it differently in hind sight.” However, she doesn’t regret putting it aside because she really believes that the hiatus saved her life. She talked about her days of being bulimic and the long nights that turned into months of depression. “On the outside it looks glamorous, but it’s not all what it’s cracked up to be sometime.” She reflected on other celebrities like Britney Spears and even Michael Jackson. “You go from feeling loved and having fun to just feeling like a commodity.” She didn’t know what to do but knew she needed healing.

One night while she was in a series of binging and purging, she had what she called a “spiritual awakening.” This awakening was the “healing” that she longed for and what she gives credit to today for saving her life. Soon after, she joined a church in Brooklyn, New York called Christian Cultural Center (CCC) where A.R. Bernard is the pastor. At CCC she was taught how to regain her strength and renew her self-esteem. When she was strong enough, she reached out to Pep and tried to repair their relationship but Pep was non-responsive. Understanding, Cheryl was persistent and got the message to her about the reality show. She explained to Pep she wanted to do a reality show with the hopes of developing and building their relationship again. Sandi begin to listen and the show was born. Although the show is no longer on the air, Sandi and Cheryl agree that the show accomplished their goals.

When asked how they felt about being living legends Sandy quickly stated, “It feels great knowing that our contributions are worth something of value to so many. We are the pioneers and it feels good; look at us 30 years later we are still in the game.” Cheryl thought about it a little and said, “I feel very appreciative, a little overwhelmed but definitely appreciative.”

I asked how they felt about the tour so far and what can their fans expect to see when they come out to them. Both of the ladies perked up and were thrilled to still be so high in demand even without a current record. They spoke about their atoned relationship.

Sandi says, “It feels like we are on the same page now and we have learned to communicate about everything.”

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Cheryl said, “I’m glad we are back together.”

They both expressed enthusiasm as they talked about the packed concert halls, the vibe, and love that’s present everywhere they go. They said sometimes it’s hilarious because people come dressed in all the clothing they wore in the 80’s. Cheryl talked about the colored wigs, the big rope chains and how some of their fans show up in Salt N Pepa jackets and tee-shirts.

She says, “It’s just a lot of fun.” Although they are both parents now with two children each and Cheryl with a husband to be mindful of; she goes on to say “This time around is more relaxed, less pressure, and every night is like a family reunion.”

The lineup is not the same every night but they share the stage with fellow old-school rappers Curtis Blow (“The Breaks”); “Human Beatbox,” Doug E. Fresh (“Just Having Fun”); Big Daddy Kane (“Raw”); MC Lyte (“Ruff Neck”); and Kool Moe Dee (“How Ya Like Me Now”); as well as Houdini (“Friends”), just to name a few. They go on to discuss how they feel this concert is pure irony. Old-school rap was mostly male dominated and now returns to the lime light because of the first female rappers that challenged the game and were commercially successful. Again, they reign as the producers of the tour: Salt N Pepa presents the Legends of Hip Hop Tour.

“Now that’s Amazing!” Cheryl says smiling, “All I can say is…look at God.”

They mentioned Dee Dee (Spinderella) Roper is not with them on the tour but was a very intricate part of the group in the early days. She also appeared with them on VH-1’s Hip Hop Honors in November 2004, where the trio was honored. Salt, Pep and Spin reunited the following year for the next Hip Hop Honors program. It was the trio’s first performance in six years, and was their first performance of “Whatta Man” with En Vogue on stage ever. Spin most recently holds her own radio spot on Dallas 94.5 K-SOUL every work day from 9 am to 2 pm.

Cheryl and Sandi are still relishing in the attention and want their fans to know they should expect new music, new television shows and new venues in the future. Sandi states, “Let’s just say you ain’t seen the last or the best of us yet.” One last question, our magazine is a networking magazine for Trendsetters such as yourself so what advice would you have for people out there passionately following their visions and dreams?

Cheryl: “Two things come to mind, 1. You have to believe in yourself, because you will need your belief to draw from when dark times come. 2. Take care of the business. A lot of people leave the business to others but it’s very important that you know what’s going on because there are so many people that end up with zero to show at that end of the day.”

Sandi: “We are trendsetters in music, hairstyles, clothes etc. I would say be yourself but find out what sets you apart from the rest. Stand out, stretch yourself, stay original but don’t be afraid to stand up and be noticed.”

The legends of Hip Hop tour was very successful. We are looking for more from Salt n Pepa in the future to find out more about these ladies you can visit.

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by Carol Courtney Anglin