Salt-N-Pepa, Hip-Hop Duo That Spoke Up for Women, Tells Its Own Story
While selling washing machine warranties from a Sears call center in Queens, friends Cheryl James and Sandra Denton came together as a hip-hop duo called Super Nature with the 1985 staccato track “The Show Stoppa (Is Stupid Fresh)”. When they first heard it on the radio, they were dancing together on a car. It was just the beginning: James became Salt and Denton became Pepa; The group changed their name and scored 10 hits on the Hot 100, including the 80s dance classic “Push It” and the 90s sex anthem “Shoop,” which became one of the few female superstar acts in male-dominated hip -Hop-Golden became epoch.
The two, who have been on the I Love the 90s tour for the past few years, tell their story in a new Lifetime biopic, “Salt-N-Pepa,” released on Saturday and both the onslaught of world tours and the Conflicts that have erupted capturing the group’s longtime DJ, Spinderella, is also a character in the film, but the biopic doesn’t cover their unsuccessful lawsuit against the duo filed in 2019. The film – which they co-produced with Executive Queen Latifah and others – begins and ends on a note of unity, showing their reunion in 2005 for a VH1 event.
“It was something I and Pep bought,” Salt said. “Pep called and said, ‘Girl, we have to do our film before someone else does it.’” Latifah, an old friend, attended meetings where they met the director (Mario Van Peebles) and the screenwriter (Abdul Williams from “The Bobby” chose Brown Story ”).
The duo-style partnership “Laverne & Shirley” – Salt calm and precise, Pepa relaxed and exuberant – continues despite a dispute with the man who helped them, their start, abuse, divorce and simple old conflicts between Salt and to reach Pepa. “We can tell a 36-year life in two and a half hours,” Pepa said in a group Zoom interview. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
For a film about the journey of two women, your producer and manager Hurby Azor, known as “Luv Bug”, plays a major role as a decisive creative force, especially at the beginning. How much did you come to terms with the decision to emphasize his character?
SALT Well the truth is the truth. And Hurby was our type. He started to be my friend. Being an artist was something that he embodied and transferred to us. My mother took me to all the Broadway plays, and I took singing and dancing lessons, and I did productions for my aunts at home with my cousins. But I didn’t know how to sing. I didn’t play an instrument. When hip hop came along, it was an opportunity to do something that got me excited – and that was through Hurby.
In an early scene, we see Hurby (played by Cleveland Berto) boring Pepa (played by Laila Odom) to rap without her Jamaican accent, and Salt (played by GG Townson) trapped in the middle. How frustrating were those early days?
PEPA For me, hip-hop was a way of life – we had those parking jams where the turntables draw power from the light poles. When Hurby felt that I was who Pepa was going to be, I was thrown into the studio. Hurby had his vision. He wanted it to be said, done – this way and no other way. In the beginning I had a difficult time jumping to the beat. I finally got it.
SALT Pep always says, “Hurby is our third,” and the chemistry between the three of us was explosive on so many levels. Pep and Hurby fought like cats and dogs. It was just an explosion of creativity, passion, drama that resonated in a sound, a music, a movement.
The part of you portrayed in the film that attracts opposites is based on reality?
PEPA One hundred percent.
SALT I am an introvert and a little lonely. What I love about the artist is the creative process. I love taking something out of nowhere and making it a reality, I love the audience reaction, but I don’t necessarily love everything that comes with it – the attention and the chatter. But Pep loves everything.
PEPA I’m an extra-extra extrovert.
SALT When we first met someone asked us what fascinated us about each other. What interested her in me is that she thought, “Who is this girl who doesn’t pay any attention to me?”
PEPA When we were in college I came into the dining room and was talking crazy and I saw Cheryl in the corner and noticed her. It was a chemistry. I was drawn to her.
How much did you both write for the script and did you work separately or together?
SALT Many changes have been made. What I found frustrating – I’m just keeping it real – there were some limitations with making a movie that I wasn’t ready for.
PEPA Keep it real, salt!
SALT Legal restrictions that violate other people’s rights that people had to sign off, budget restrictions. What became important in the end was the story of two women in a male-dominated industry who were first friends, became business partners, who struggled with many difficulties to be heard, to be taken seriously – from the record company to our producer Hurby. We had problems in our relationships and kept picking the wrong men.
PEPA We can take her back to college when it all started and we’re making $ 200 a show.
SALT And split it up.
There was a long time after Salt-N-Pepa’s greatest hits and before Nicki Minaj and Cardi B, when the route for women in hip-hop was limited. How much did you pay attention to it?
SALT I remember this question was asked many times when there was a big empty room with no women. I have no idea why, other than this is a male dominated music and business genre and we had to get through a hurby. There was a time when you had to vouch for a camp – a men’s camp. That is starting to change with social media and all the ways people have to stand up there without belonging to a Jay-Z or whoever.
How many of the original “Push It” video eight-ball jackets, originally designed by your friend Christopher Martin (Play of Kid ‘n Play), do you each own?
PEPA The original was stolen during a performance backstage.
SALT I remember it was Brixton in London and someone broke in the back door of our dressing room. We came in and the door was open and the jackets were gone.
PEPA Everything else remained – the paperbacks, everything.
In the film, Salt says at the time of the breakup: “I have to work out a space that has nothing to do with you.”
SALT Absolutely. When I left I had to deal with many of my own problems, my own demons. It is healthy when you are in a group so that you can also preserve your individuality. We’d been doing this since we were 18, 19, and I didn’t get a chance to find out who I was but Salt-N-Pepa. After a while, I felt a lot of separation, a lot of resentment, a lot of anger from Pep, whom I didn’t understand. I felt like I was in a spiral trying to prove myself to her: “Girl, I have your back. Girl i’m here for you “Nothing I did or said could remedy what she was feeling. I feel like there was a lot of miscommunication.
PEPA [vigorously playing with her hair] The point is, you and I have never spoken to each other – you keep telling me how I feel and say and think. When did you and I talk?
SALT I feel upset with you. And your answer –
PEPA It feels like I never had to talk to her. It’s all her feeling with everything. I have to do with your friend being the manager! I also go through a whole situation. We were there together. When you feel all of this, I feel it too.
How uniform is Salt-N-Pepa these days?
SALT Relationships go through different phases. I know one thing: I love Sandy, and I know Sandy loves me. It is difficult to be friends and business partners, and anyone in this position can relate to it. Sometimes we’ll be married and sometimes we’ll raise the brand together and sometimes I’ll sleep on the couch.
PEPA However, communication is the key to all successful relationships.