“We were big time screw-ups,” James informed The Guardian. “We never went to class. We’d just hang around in the lunchroom playing cards, and we formed this amazing friendship. Because we were polar opposites, we fascinated each other.”
It was the strength of that yin-and-yang relationship that turned the school friends into international sensation Salt-n-Pepa — the first female rappers to be certified platinum — because of the fearless manner they dove into matters so seldom talked about on the time.
More than three many years after they fashioned, their music — together with hits “Push It,” “Let’s Talk About Sex,” “Whatta Man” and “Shoop” — nonetheless maintain their place in historical past as a number of the most modern and breakthrough sounds and lyrics of their time, and stay simply as related in the present day than ever earlier than.
Denton ‘auditioned’ for the group whereas working at Sears
The two college students quickly took their friendship off-campus — and likewise grew to become coworkers as part-time phone operators for Sears, working alongside Martin Lawrence and Kid ‘n Play. “It was that sense of humor that we both had,” James informed Vibe. “Laughter was contagious when we were together. We always made each other laugh.”
During a shift, James’ boyfriend at the time, Hurby Azor, had an idea. “Hurby was a music student and he was always working on beats and music and he wanted to produce a song,” James told Rolling Stone in 2017.
He needed a group and thought Denton might be the perfect fit. “I remember him asking me, ‘Can you rhyme?’ … at work. At Sears. His desk wasn’t too far from mine, his cubby hole,” she told the music magazine. “I’ve never rapped in front of a crowd, ever in my life. I grew up with park jams. That’s how I knew about rap.” But she went for it and showed what she had with a couple of lines like “I’m Sandy D. from coast to coast.” “That, to me, was an audition,” Denton said.
Their first observe ‘answered’ Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh’s tune “The Show Stoppa”
Clearly, Azor noticed one thing within the lady within the close by cubical, although she had by no means seen it in herself. “I just had my little raps that I used to write, but I was nervous, I was scared. I always wanted to, but I never did,” Denton informed Rolling Stone.
They went to Azor’s attic and Denton and James recorded their first observe in 1985. At the time, rap was all about battles, so although they have been an all-female group making an attempt to interrupt right into a male-dominated trade, they determined to tackle a number of the most established names — Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh — by beginning with a daring response tune, referred to as “The Show Stoppa (Is Stupid Fresh).”
“That was the best way for us as female rappers to get noticed, which was crazy for us to do because Doug and Slick Rick were the biggest thing ever and ‘The Show’ was the biggest song ever,” James informed Vibe. “It was very ballsy for two women that nobody knew to do something like that!”
Eventually, they recorded it again more professionally at Power Play Studios — and Azor took it to WBLS DJ Marley Marl who had a show World Famous Mr. Magic Rap Attack. “Back then, you could only hear hip-hop on the weekends,” James defined to Rolling Stone. “And [Marl] promised Hurby that he would play the song.”
James and Denton have been glued to the radios each weekend — till at some point they have been driving in Queens down Guy Brewer Boulevard and heard “The Show Stoppa,” which James referred to as “one of the most exciting moments of our career” to Rolling Stone.
“Pep being the crazy person that she is — she stopped the car in the middle of the boulevard, she jumped out of the car, and she started screaming, ’They’re playing my song! That’s me! That’s me on the radio!’” James recalled. “And I’m like, ‘Get back in the car!’”
But that publicity was precisely what they wanted. From there, they began doing native reveals simply from the one profitable single. The larger the tune obtained, the extra they have been “bitin’ our nails” ready for a response from the 2 established rappers.
“One time we saw them at a club and they were just really nice to us,” James mentioned. Denton added, “I bear in mind Doug E. Fresh telling me that Slick Rick was gonna get us, however Doug Fresh mentioned, ‘Ah, let ’em stay.’”
Salt-N-Pepa recorded “Push It” in a toilet
Even although Denton was 20 and James was 19, abruptly their lives had a completely different dimension. “We were going to school, we were working at Sears after school, and on the weekends we were doing shows in Manhattan,” James informed Rolling Stone. “Making money wasn’t the goal, nor was the goal being extremely famous. The goal was to entertain, to make good music and to have a good time,” she added to The Morning Call.
With their newfound side hustle, they needed a more fitting name. Originally called Supernature, they took a note from their own lyric, “We go together like salt and pepper,” and realized that the name Salt-N-Pepa “felt perfect” — James became “Salt” and Denton was “Pepa.”
With a name and airplay established, it seemed like the duo was headed to the top, but the road there wasn’t so smooth. They soon found counterfeit versions of their group performing in clubs and couldn’t get a record deal because rap was a “man’s art.”
Eventually they met Eddie O’Loughlin of an indie label Next Plateau, who provided $5,000 for the only “I’ll Take Your Man” and one other $9,000 for an album. When the tune “Tramp” wanted a B-side, they have been at Azor’s good friend Fresh Gordon’s home. Gordon developed a riff, Azor wrote lyrics, and the women recorded a observe referred to as “Push It” within the rest room due to the echoes from the tiles in there.
“Pep and I were in there trying to go, ‘Ooh baby baby,’ thinking it was so corny,” James informed The Guardian. “The song didn’t make a lot of sense to us, then when we were on tour, a DJ in San Francisco called Cameron Paul flipped ‘Tramp’ over and started playing ‘Push It.’ All the stations followed suit and it just took off.”
That song launched them into another realm of fame, as it sold more than a million copies, hit No. 20 on Billboard’s pop charts and was nominated for a Grammy. James added, “It’s a very popular song in maternity wards. An aquarium once told us that when they played ‘Push It,’ the sharks started mating.”
They weren’t afraid to hit the problems head-on
Even with the success, they continued to develop their status and their picture, including a 16-year-old DJ Deidre Roper with the stage title Spinderella. They dove into what appeared like taboo matters by speaking about protected intercourse in “Let’s Talk About Sex” in 1991 and the HIV epidemic within the bluntly-titled 1993 “I’ve Got AIDS.” “We were in the era of HIV,” Roper informed the Herald-Tribute. “That was a time when no one really was sure how you contracted it. So we used our platform to create discussion and dialogue.”
While their mission might have appeared calculated, it was exactly the alternative. “We came along at a time when female rappers weren’t really having that much commercial success, and we brought fun, fashion and femininity to hip-hop,” James informed The Morning Call. “[We also came out] hitting the heart of a female audience and speaking their truth, and stepping out and being as bold as we were with the things that we had to say, the way that we dressed. Being successful in such a male-oriented genre, such a misogynistic genre, I think that women were really hungry for a voice.”
On prime of it, they quickly had their very own kids and have been touring the world as working moms, enthusiastic about the affect they have been spreading. “We all have little sisters and cousins who look up to us, and we see what they go through, so we have to be an example,” Denton informed Interview. “As you get older — and now that we also have children — your conscience starts working on you. You have to give your fans and your children something they can use in life.”
While the group did go through their ups and downs, what started as a friendship between two college students has continued to seep its influence on the industry today. “Back then we didn’t think a lot about what we were doing — was very organic,” James told The Morning Call. “And 31 years later, to see Beyoncé dressed up as Salt-N-Pepa on Halloween is simply, like, ‘Wow.’ That’s not one thing that I positively thought could be occurring.”
Salt-N-Pepa airs Saturday, January 23 at 8/7c on Lifetime. Watch a preview:
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