‘Nuthin’ But a She Thing’: Salt-N-Pepa to showcase the hits at Mount Airy
Salt-N-Pepa, hip hop’s door-busting, boundary-pushing female trio, will return to its heyday Saturday, as the I Love the ’90s Tour arrives at Mount Airy Casino Resort, Paradise Township.
Aside from Salt-N-Pepa — who brought femininity, fun and fashion to hip-hop in the ’80s and thereafter — I Love the ’90s will feature performances by the following artists on Mount Airy’s new Outdoor Summer Stage/Concert Pavilion: Rob Base (“It Takes Two,” “Get on the Dance Floor,” “Joy and Pain”), Tone-Lōc (“Wild Thing,” “Funky Cold Medina,” “All Through the Night”) and Young MC (“Bust a Move,” “Principal’s Office,” “That’s the Way Love Goes”).
With nostalgic shows like I Love the ’90s offering an escape from the world’s trials and tribulations, Salt-N-Pepa’s Deidra “Dee Dee” Roper, aka DJ Spinderella, understands the yearn to travel back in time.
“People love memories from greater times in their lives. We bring theirs back, at least for a night. You can have a party at the parking lot, and then come through the entrance and have a good time. To bring these artists back together again and take people on that ’90s journey is always fun. There’s something about the ’90s — the love. You wanna go back to it, especially in this day and age.”
Salt-N-Pepa, whose roles in the group were outlined during a 2007 episode of VH1′s “The Salt-N-Pepa Show,” features: Cheryl “Salt” James, the “mother-type”; Sandra “Pepa” Denton, the “fun auntie”; and Roper, the “baby” who joined the group shortly after the release of Salt-N-Pepa’s first album.
Saturday’s performance at Mount Airy — during which Roper will step down from the decks here and there — comes at a busy time for the ladies. This past Sunday, the trio performed at the Billboard Music Awards; Roper’s enjoying a DJ gig on VH1′s “Hip Hop Squares,” and will continue to work the show into her schedule; the threesome will star — along with SWV and En Vogue — in the upcoming BET reality series “Ladies Night,” which will follow the groups as they embark on a nationwide tour; and a residency — to include Roper — will hit the Las Vegas strip around Labor Day weekend.
Formed in 1985 in New York City, Salt-N-Pepa first featured James, a soft-spoken and private Brooklyn native, and Denton, a rowdy and extroverted girl born in Kingston, Jamaica, and raised in Queens. The twosome studied nursing at Queensborough College, became friends and worked as phone solicitors at Sears. Hurby “Luv Bug” Azor, a co-worker and James’ then-love interest, recorded the duo for a class project at the Center of Media Arts. The result, “The Show Stoppa (Is Stupid Fresh)” — an answer to Doug E. Fresh & the Get Fresh Crew’s “The Show” — cracked the top 50 on Billboard’s R&B singles chart. Inspired by a “Show Stoppa” lyric, the act changed its name from Super Nature to Salt-N-Pepa.
IF YOU GO
I Love the ’90s Tour featuring Salt-N-Pepa, Rob Base, Tone-Lōc and Young MC
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Outdoor Summer Stage at Mount Airy Casino Resort, 312 Woodland Road, Paradise Township
COST: $85, $65 and $45; VIP packages available
INFORMATION: 877-682-4791, mountairycasino.com
Roper, a 16-year-old high school student when she joined Salt-N-Pepa and took on the Spinderella moniker, was aware of the rappers prior to hearing they needed a new female DJ — to replace Latoya Hanson — for their first major tour.
“Salt-N-Pepa was playing on the radio. I had seen the videos. I had joined them after “Tramp” was released. I had heard about them in the local scene. I would hear ‘I’ll Take Your Man,’ ‘Tramp,’ ‘Show Stoppa’ on the radio. At the same time, I was DJing. It wasn’t something I was doing in clubs or anything. It’s something I picked up from my high school boyfriend. They found out about me and I auditioned. It worked out pretty well.”
Born in Brooklyn, Roper received early musical inspiration from her father. “He was a collector of music. Every day of my young life, we had music blaring in our seven-floor apartment in the projects. Musically, I got the love and knowledge from him. Coming into the industry itself, my favorites were Jazzy Jeff, DJ Scratch and Jam Master Jay.” The latter DJ, shot and killed in 2002, served as a blueprint for Roper, as did his group, Run-DMC, for Salt-N-Pepa.
With Roper in the mix, Salt-N-Pepa’s sophomore album, 1988′s “A Salt with a Deadly Pepa,” featured the R&B hits “Shake Your Thang,” “Get Up Everybody (Get Up)” and a cover of the classic “Twist and Shout.” The set — like its million-plus-selling predecessor — cracked the top 40 on Billboard’s album sales chart, shifting more than 500,000 units.
Taking note of Salt-N-Pepa’s trailblazing feminism in a male-dominated field, many MCs and hip-hop acts —of both genders — cite the rappers as an influence. Roper recognized, even in the early days, the group’s impact on fans.
By the late 1980s, Salt-N-Pepa grew tired of Azor’s total musical control and wanted to shake things up. James wrote “Expression,” the lead single from group’s third album, 1990′s “Blacks’ Magic,” and also penned two other tracks, including “Independent.” Later hits “Do You Want Me,” “Let’s Talk About Sex” and “You Showed Me” helped push the album past 1 million in sales.
As Salt-N-Pepa’s impact and popularity soared, the ladies had little time to think about their level of impact, as they were performing nonstop and started touring in Europe.
“It was more like, this is just growing and I’m just going to grow with it,” Roper said. “First realizing how big we were becoming was probably during the ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’ era. Because of the attention we got from that song, it was like wildfire. Unwanted teen pregnancies, the STD situation, and of course the HIV situation was popping. We were making good, fun music with messages, and then it started to become important.
“Then we started growing up,” she continued. “We did a PSA, ‘Let’s Talk About AIDS,’ changing the words. It had a purpose. We had talks with people in our age range, the community, peers. We were hoping it would not make it taboo. Sex was always taboo back then. For us to put that out, we were getting the point across that this wasn’t a bad thing. We can discuss it, help each other with it, get information out.”
Coinciding with Salt-N-Pepa’s raised profile as a message-driven act, Roper started taking on a more prominent role in the group. “At the time, it was, ’wow, we can use her more, she’s not just a DJ,” she said. “Herby started to utilize me, try my hand at production. ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’ was probably the biggest of the first things I had done vocally.”
Salt-N-Pepa reached its commercial zenith with 1993′s “Very Necessary,” a 5-million-plus-selling album touting five James co-writes, including the hits “Shoop” — written with Denton — and “Whatta Man,” the latter a vocal collaboration with En Vogue. The trio won a Grammy for the album’s third single, the Azor-penned “None of Your Business,” though as a mom, James had issues with some of the track’s racy lyrics. In 1995, Salt-N-Pepa scored another hit with a James-composed empowerment anthem, “Ain’t Nuthin’ But a She Thing,” the title track on an all-female compilation.
Following “Ain’t Nuthin’…,” the ladies of Salt-N-Pepa liberated themselves, creatively, from Azor. For the trio’s fifth album, 1997′s “Brand New,” James co-wrote 10 of the 13 tracks, with Denton co-penning five. Released to less fanfare than its predecessor — the label to which the act signed, Red Ant Entertainment, went bankrupt before the album’s release — “Brand New” sold 500,000-plus copies and spawned minor hits in “R U Ready” and “Gitty Up.”
With an uncertain future and tensions rising in the group, James left Salt-N-Pepa around 2001. In 2017, she told Rolling Stone that her friendship with Denton was heading south at the time, while their careers and personal lives, also in a bad place, left them “not knowing where we belong.” One of the personal issues was James’ battle with depression and bulimia, which the rapper conquered with help from her Christian faith. James then became a devout Christian and aspired to make music more reflective of her religion.
Even around the time of “Brand New,” James had expressed interest in making inspirational and/or gospel music — “Hold On,” a track from “Brand New,” featured Christian singer Kirk Franklin — rather than another Salt-N-Pepa record. That same year, she collaborated with Franklin on the 1997 single “Stomp.” After Salt-N-Pepa officially disbanded in 2002, James — who in late 2000, married Gavin Wray, father of her two children — planned to release “Salt of the Earth.” The solo album never saw a release, with the artist citing difficulty getting a gospel label on board.
Back to S-N-P
Salt-N-Pepa eventually got back together, as honorees/performers on VH1′s “Hip Hop Honors” in the mid-2000s. The ladies reunited, Roper, said, as result of “the need for Salt-N-Pepa’s voice, being the women that they remembered. From an artist’s standpoint, you always want your music to be something that will reflect situations. That music right there is timeless. Even though times have changed musically, eras have changed, the messages are still there and the songs are still going. It’s always important to keep putting your voices, your music out there.”
In late 2007, the 14-episode “The Salt-N-Pepa Show” chronicled the group’s efforts to reform and resolve issues like Denton’s hurt feelings following James’ abrupt exit, James’ discomfort performing racy lyrics and dances, and Roper’s feelings of inequality within the act. Since reforming, James, for a time, replaced some of her suggestive lyrics with spiritual lines, though nowadays — despite all its members being moms — Salt-N-Pepa’s having an even better time performing than back in the day, racy rhymes and all.
In terms of favorite Salt-N-Pepa cuts, “we really love ‘Shoop,’” Roper said. “It’s a fun song and great to perform. ‘Push It’ is our biggest classic hit. The energy in that song will never come down. ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’ — the message and the response we get when we perform that song — people love it. It has such a catchy hook. Salt-N-Pepa’s first album, I love that. Hurby did a wonderful job capturing two girls from the streets/the hood at that time.”
In recent years, Salt-N-Pepa — whose members, when performing “Push It,” sport recreations of the colorful eight-ball jackets they wore in the original video, sans the asymmetrical haircuts — has participated in nostalgia tours and received honors like a 2010 I Am Hip Hop Icon Award from BET and a 2012 induction into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame. In 2016, VH1 again saluted the rappers, this time during “Hip Hop Honors: All Hail the Queens.” The trio’s music, too, has gained new pop-culture relevance: the Geico insurance company used “Push It” in a James-/Denton-starring 2014 TV ad, while the 2016 film “Deadpool” featured “Shoop.”
Despite not recording an album of all-new material since 1997 — the act did release a “Wiz Mix” of the single “Big Girls” in 2016 — Salt-N-Pepa has definite plans to release new music. While the ladies would like to make a full-length record, Roper said the group, in the current streaming-driven musical climate, could release single tracks, and tackle issues at the forefront of today’s culture.
“Times have changed,” Roper said. “We’ve changed. There are plenty of things to address. Ideas are being laid now. New things are coming up. We need to remember how we did it before. When we were putting music out, was what was going on at that time. Today’s times need more of Salt-N-Pepa.”
Comments are closed.