Synopsis of Pop Music

“Salt-n-Pepa’s here, and we’re in effect…”

In the mid-1980’s, 'rap music' was still an oxymoron in the minds of many. Breakout artists like Run DMC, LL Cool J and the Fat Boys showed that hip-hop had a future in Top-40 radio, but the sounds of turntables, microphones and “human beat boxes” was still struggling for respect. Imagine then, being the disrespected half of a disrespected genre: a female rapper. Little girls from the inner city to suburbia had rhymes of their own, but no heroes to look up to in the music business.

The turntables were finally turned with the emergence of an act known as Salt-n-Pepa. Cheryl ‘Salt’ James, Sandra ‘Pepa’ Denton and their record-scratching DJ Spinderella (Dee Dee Roper) hit the big time with a series of sexy grooves and powerful attitudes, showing the world that rap music was no longer an all-boys club.

Queens, New York, natives James and Denton were working as Sears telemarketers when a co-worker named Hurby ‘Luv Bug’ Azor asked the two to throw down some rhymes on a record he was making for a college course. The resulting single, titled “The Show Stoppa,” became an r&b hit, and James and Denton began performing under the name Salt-n-Pepa (taken from a line in “The Show Stoppa”). With DJ Pamela Green on the turntables and Azor as producer, the group recorded their debut album, Hot Cool & Vicious, in 1986.

A few album cuts—“I’ll Take Your Man,” “Tramp,” “My Mike Sounds Nice”—made a modest splash on the rap scene, and Salt-n-Pepa’s live show, complete with beefy male dancers and plenty of sexy spunk, earned them a hot reputation locally. But the breakout moment for Salt-n-Pepa didn’t arrive until a San Francisco DJ began playing a remixed version of “Push It” (the B-side of “Tramp”) in heavy rotation. The song, a straightforward come-on with a danceable beat, soon spread across the nation and even across the Atlantic, where it became a #2 hit in the U.K. Green was replaced by DJ Spinderella, and Salt-n-Pepa began working on a follow-up album.

A Salt With a Deadly Pepa arrived in 1988, offering proof that these female rappers were no novelty act or one-hit wonder. “Shake Your Thang,” a single recorded with E.U. (“Da Butt”), and an unlikely cover of the Isley Brothers’ “Twist and Shout” were both British hits, and the album went gold by years’ end.

Musically and lyrically, Salt-n-Pepa were developing with each album, and 1990’s Blacks’ Magic was proof of how far they had come. The group still reminded fans that “I Like To Party,” but the songs were all part of a concept album about black awareness, including the hits “Expression,” “Do You Want Me” and the straightforward “Let’s Talk About Sex.” The latter song became a favorite of the safe sex movement, later re-recorded as the fundraising anthem “Let’s Talk About AIDS.”

After Blacks’ Magic, both Salt and Pepa took time off to have children, but their 1993 return was a triumphant one. In January, the group performed at President Clinton’s inauguration, and in October, they released what would be their most successful album to date, Very Necessary. Boosted by the hip-hop groove “Shoop,” the Grammy-winning “None of Your Business” and the platinum-selling single “Whatta Man” (recorded with En Vogue), the album was an international smash, cementing Salt-n-Pepa’s reputation as the First Ladies of Hip-Hop.

After another long break—during which Salt-n-Pepa recorded “Ain’t Nuthin’ But a She Thing” and a few singles for soundtrack albums—the trio returned in 1997 with Brand New, an old-school jam with a new record label and new producers. The single “Gitty Up” helped the album go gold, and Salt-n-Pepa began work on a follow-up, tentatively titled That Was Then, This Is Now.

As the first female rap artists to go gold (and later the first to go platinum), Salt-n-Pepa were certainly pioneers on the charts, but more importantly, they inspired a generation of up-and-coming hip-hop girls to pick up the mike and kick out the jams. Li’l Kim, Missy Elliot, Mary J. Blige and others all owe a debt to the groundbreaking efforts by Salt, Pepa and Spin, who opened the doors for female rappers to join the house party.

Artist Release History

1986 - Hot Cool & Vicious
1988 - A Salt With a Deadly Pepa
1990 - Blacks' Magic
1990 - A Blitz of Hits: The Hits Remixed
1993 - Very Necessary
1997 - Brand New

Pop Sub Categories

hip hop

Essential Music Albums

Very Necessary (PolyGram)

Band Members

Cheryl 'Salt' James vocals
Sandra 'Pepa' Denton vocals
Dee Dee 'DJ Spinderella' Roper DJ, vocals (1988- )
DJ Pamela Green DJ (1986-88)

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