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Rap Biographies: Salt-N-Pepa

Salt-N-Pepa
By the late '80s, hip-hop was on its way to becoming a male-dominated art form, which is what made the emergence of Salt-n-Pepa so significant. As the first all-female rap crew (even their DJs were women) of importance, the group broke down a number of doors for women in hip-hop.

They were also one of the first rap artists to cross over into the pop mainstream, laying the groundwork for the music's widespread acceptance in the early '90s. Salt-n-Pepa were more pop-oriented than many of their contemporaries, since their songs were primarily party and love anthems, driven by big beats and interlaced with vaguely pro-feminist lyrics that seemed more powerful when delivered by the charismatic and sexy trio. While songs like "Push It" and "Shake Your Thang" made the group appear to be a one-hit pop group during the late '80s, Salt-n-Pepa defied expectations and became one of the few hip-hop artists to develop a long-term career. Along with LL Cool J, the trio had major hits in both the '80s and '90s, and, if anything, they hit the height of their popularity in 1994, when "Shoop" and "Whatta Man" drove their third album, Very Necessary, into the Top Ten.

Salt-N-Pepa is an American R&B and hip hop group, consisting of Cheryl James and Sandy Denton ("Salt" and "Pepa", respectively), and Deidre "Dee Dee" Roper (DJ Spinderella). They debuted with "The Show Stopper", a response record to Doug E. Fresh & Slick Rick's "The Show". It was an underground hit and Salt-N-Pepa signed to Next Plateau. Their debut LP was Hot, Cool & Vicious (1986), which was produced by Salt's then-boyfriend, Hurby Azor, the group's manager, and he received songwriting credit for the album, though this was later disputed.

Hot, Cool & Vicious received little attention until a San Francisco DJ named Cameron Paul created a remix of "Push It" (The b-side to "Tramp"). Mr. Paul's remix of "Push It", rereleased as a single, quickly became a national hit and was nominated for a Grammy, pushing both the single and LP to Platinum album status.

They released A Salt With a Deadly Pepa, which was only a minor hit, though it featured "Shake Your Thang". Their third original LP, Blacks Magic, which received generally positive reviews and expanded Salt-N-Pepa's fanbase among hip hop fans using more R&B. It included "Let's Talk About Sex", one of their biggest songs.

Salt-N-Pepa released Very Necessary in 1993 and it performed very well on the charts, buoyed by "Shoop" and "Whatta Man" (with En Vogue). In 1994, they appeared in the motion picture "Who's The Man?".

Cheryl "Salt" James and Sandy "Pepa" Denton were working at a Sears store in Queens, New York, when their co-worker, and Salt's boyfriend, Hurby "Luv Bug" Azor asked the duo to rap on a song he was producing for his audio production class at New York City's Center for Media Arts. The trio wrote an answer to Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick's "The Show," entitling it "The Show Stopper." The song was released as a single under the name Super Nature in the summer of 1985, and it became an underground hit, peaking at number 46 on the national R&B charts. Based on its success, the duo, who were now named Salt-n-Pepa after a line in "The Show Stopper," signed with the national indie label Next Plateau. Azor, who had become their manager, produced their 1986 debut Hot, Cool & Vicious, which also featured DJ Pamela Green. He also took songwriting credit for the album, despite the duo's claims that they wrote many of its lyrics.

Three singles from Hot, Cool & Vicious -- "My Mike Sounds Nice," "Tramp," "Chick on the Side" -- became moderate hits in 1987 before Cameron Paul, a DJ at a San Francisco radio station, remixed "Push It," the B-side of "Tramp," and it became a local hit. "Push It" was soon released nationally and it became a massive hit, climbing to number 19 on the pop charts; the single became one of the first rap records to be nominated for a Grammy. Salt-n-Pepa jettisoned Greene and added rapper and DJ Spinderella (born Deidre "Dee Dee" Roper) before recording their second album, A Salt With a Deadly Pepa. Though the album featured the Top Ten R&B hit "Shake Your Thang," which was recorded with the go-go band E.U., it received mixed reviews and was only a minor hit.

The remix album A Blitz of Salt-n-Pepa Hits was released in 1989 as the group prepared their third album, Blacks' Magic. Upon its spring release, Blacks' Magic was greeted with strong reviews and sales. The album was embraced strongly by the hip-hop community, whose more strident members accused the band of trying too hard to crossover to the pop market. "Expression" spent eight weeks at the top of the rap charts and went gold before it was even cracked the pop charts, where it would later peak at 26. Another single from the album, "Let's Talk About Sex," became their biggest pop hit to date, climbing to number 13. They later re-recorded the song as a safe-sex rap, "Let's Talk About AIDS."

Before they recorded their fourth album, Salt-n-Pepa separated from Azor, who had already stopped seeing Salt several years ago. Signing with London/Polygram, the group released Very Necessary in 1993. The album was catchy and sexy without being a sellout, and the group's new, sophisticated sound quickly became a monster hit. "Shoop" reached number four on the pop charts, which led the album to the same position as well. "Whatta Man," a duet with the vocal group En Vogue, reached number three on both the pop and R&B charts in 1994. A final single from the album, "None of Your Business," was a lesser hit, but it won the Grammy for Best Rap Performance in 1995. Since the release of Very Necessary, Salt-n-Pepa have been quiet, spending some time on beginning acting careers. Both had already appeared in the 1993 comedy Who's the Man?

The less commercially successful single "None of Your Business," won the Grammy for Best Rap Performance in 1995. Since Very Necessary, both Salt and Pepa have focused primarily on their acting careers. They released Brand New in 1997, which does not credit Azor.

Despite their girl group beginnings, Salt-N-Pepa insist that they wrote many of the lyrics on their first album, and by Blacks Magic they displayed a sex positive, and responsible, feminism, and are often seen as innovators or role models.
In March 1999, Salt-N-Pepa embarked on their final live tour. Pepa (Sandy Denton) married Treach of Naughty By Nature on July 27, 1999. Salt-N-Pepa's greatest-hits album, entitled Salt-N-Pepa: The Best Of was released on January 25, 2000. Treach and Pepa were divorced on July 31, 2001. The group officially disbanded in 2002. Upon disbanding, Salt (Cheryl James) claimed she had become a born-again Christian, and would no longer be involved in hip-hop. However, all that changed when Cheryl announced that she would be releasing her first solo CD "Salt of the Earth" which later changed to "Salt Unrapped".

Cheryl James and Sandy Denton appeared on VH1's Hip Hop Honors in November 2004 without Spinderella. They did not perform.

In March 2005, it was announced that Sandy Denton would join Jose Canseco, Bronson Pinchot, Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth, Caprice Bourret, Janice Dickinson, and Carey Hart on the 5th season of the VH1 series The Surreal Life. She did appear on the show, and remains a member of the cast.

Salt-N-Pepa reunited on September 22, 2005, and gave their first performance in six years. They sang Whatta Man, along with En Vogue, as a part of VH1's Hip Hop Honors program.
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