the year was 1986 and, despite its international popularity, critics were saying that rap music was a fad that would not endure into the next decade. people within the industry, while more confident of its longevity, proclaimed that rap was an genre in which women would never excel. now, more than ten years after their debut, cheryl james, sandi denton and dee dee roper÷collectively known as salt-n-pepa÷are able to enjoy the last laugh as they ride the success of their latest release brand new.
cheryl james, a brooklyn native, and sandi denton, a transplant from kingston jamaica, met while studying nursing at queens borough community college in the mid eighties. both women also worked as telephone sales representatives for sears, alongside fellow undiscovered talents kid 'n' play and martin lawrence. but it was writer/producer hurby azor who would launch their career by asking them to participate in a class project. azor, a student at the center for media arts was assigned the task of producing a record·a task he would complete with aplomb. cheryl and sandi were recruited to perform the vocals for "the showstopper", an azor-penned reply to doug e. fresh's "the show". the record earned azor an "a" and attracted the attention of pop art records, who released the song in 1985.
in 1986, having changed their name from super nature to salt-n-pepa, cheryl and sandi signed with independent next plateau records and released hot, cool & vicious÷written and produced by hurby "the lovebug" azor. the album produced a string of successful singles, but it was not until d.j.s across the country started flipping over the single "tramp"÷a rewrite of the 1967 otis redding/carla thomas song÷that the group went supernova. "push it", the notorious flipside that cheryl and sandi have since declared was just a joke, became an overnight hit with it's catchy hook and rump-shaking rhythm. 1987 also witnessed a change in the line-up with dee dee roper replacing latoya hanson as the women's personal lady dj, spinderella. because azor holds the copyrights to the names "salt", "pepa" and "spinderella", hanson continues her career under the name "the original". roper, still a teenager at the time, took a tutor with her on tour and observed a curfew that prevented any post-performance rabble-rousing. while she is not featured in the song, the new spinderella made her debut in the group's second video, "push it". in the end, "push it" sold over a million copies, topped the r&b and rap charts and earned the women their first grammy nomination for best rap performance.
salt-n-pepa's second album, a salt with a deadly pepa, was put together in record time in an effort to appease fans hungry for more first-class rap and record executives desperate to capitalize on the success of s-n-p. admittedly hastily-produced, a salt with a deadly pepa did not fail to meet expectations by any means. reworks of isley brother songs like "twist and shout" and "it's your thing" (molded into the rap classic "shake your thang" by cheryl and sandi) established salt-n-pepa as one of the hottest rap acts around·male or female. doubling the success of hot, cool & vicious, this album went double platinum, setting the stage for even greater things to come.
under pressure to continue producing rapid-fire hits, and noticing that hurby had his hands full between salt-n-pepa and kid 'n' play, cheryl decided to pitch in by beginning work on a new single. this "can do" attitude laid the groundwork for the creative control that the women would eventually take. on black's magic, salt held producing credit on four songs, spinderella co-produced another and all three of the women contributed lyrics. "expession", salt's first production and the first single from the album, followed closely on the heels of madonna's international hit "express yourself" and went platinum. riding the trend of female empowerment, s-n-p released "independent", which failed to reach the top 40, and "do you want me", which peaked at #21. undoubtedly the greatest success from the album was "let's talk about sex", which climbed to #11 on the u.s. charts and topped international charts. perhaps more importantly, the song became an anthem for people everywhere who were struggling to deal with the aids crisis; peter jennings requested that s-n-p rewrite the song to focus on the epidemic and "let's talk about aids" was born. this rewritten version, released in 1992, premiered on the abc television special in a new light and the "let's talk about aids" video became a psa distributed by the new york state department of health; all the proceeds from both benefitted the national minority aids council (of which patti labelle is an honorary chairperson) and the tj martell foundation for aids research.
in 1993, after signing with london records and having babies, salt-n-pepa returned to the studio to produce very necessary. nurturing their new-found interest in writing and producing, the album went multi-platinum and spawned the gold single "shoop" and the platinum hit "whatta man". "whatta man", based on the 1968 linda lyndell song "what a man", was a collaborative effort with en vogue which first appeared on the funky diva's runaway love ep. in 1994, another b-side, "none of your business", earned salt-n-pepa a grammy for best rap performance by a duo or group. later that year, the group performed at woodstock '94, providing the song "shoop" for the event's soundtrack album. they were also performers at the mtv music awards, taking home three awards, including one for choreography.
in 1995, salt-n-pepa lent their vocal talents to a number of projects, the first of which÷the song "freedom" for the panther soundtrack÷teamed them with the likes of patra, tlc, queen latifah and nefertiti. the trio worked with patra again on her scent of attraction album, as well as joining with vanessa williams, me'shell ndegeocello, annie lennox and others for ain't nuthin' but a she thing, a benefit album for which s-n-p contributed the title track. signing a multi-million dollar deal with mca records allowed the women to create jireh records, their pet project for developing new artists such as modern yesterday and day ta day. furthering their entreprenuerial endeavors, sandi opened an atlanta clothing store called "hollyhood", while dee dee realized her dream of opening a salon and day-spa called "she things", in queens.
rumors of a new release from salt-n-pepa began early in 1996, with the alleged title being flavor in your ear. fans eagerly awaited this new album, along with a solo project from spinderella, enheartened by the later's release of "if you believe" from the kazaam soundtrack. unfortunately, their public would have to wait over a year for flavor in your ear÷which wound up being called brand new÷satisfying themselves, in the interim, with an s-n-p appearance on the songs of west side story album. "champagne", from the movie bulletproof, and "upside down", from the space jams soundtrack, also served to whet the appetite of an adoring public. it wasn't until august of 1997 that salt-n-pepa's fans (at least the one's watching quincy jone's television program, vibe) got to hear the first track from brand new, "r u ready?". after difficulties with a record label that filed for bankruptcy, s-n-p's fifth studio album was released to critical acclaim. with special guests like queen latifah, cheryl crow, kirk franklin and the sounds of blackness, cheryl, sandi and dee dee proved that they were still on top. from gangsta to r&b, the album masters a variety of genres, appealing to a broad spectrum of tastes.
with rumors circulating that a new-found devotion to salt's faith will keep her from recording any further "secular" albums, there is much debate as to the future of the world's favorite female rap divas. still certain, though, are the release of spinderella's debut solo album, which has been heralded as the hip-hop/r&b equivalent of the salt-n-pepa sound, and an album from blue denim, salt's sister's group, which salt is producing. hopefully, the same strength and determination that has allowed these women to become leaders in an industry that once claimed to have no room for them will carry them into the next century. for it is because of such strength, and their undying commitment to the battle against aids, that cheryl "salt" james, sandi "pepa" denton and dee dee "spinderella" roper are proclaimed the #1 divas of rap.