Salt N Pepa: Breaking down the barriers

By Paula Yeoman

Female duo still pumping it out in world of hip-hop, writes Paula Yeoman.

The queens of Queens, Cheryl James, left, and Sandra Denton, are back in New Zealand.
The queens of Queens, Cheryl James, left, and Sandra Denton, are back in New Zealand.

Cheryl James and Sandra Denton, AKA Salt N Pepa, are known as the queens from Queens - two of the first women to break through in the mid-80s male-dominated world of hip-hop. And much to James' (Salt) constant amazement, they're still going strong.

"When I was 18 years old, I used to say, 'I am not going to be a rapper in her 40s still pushing it and shaking my thing on stage'. And here I am, pushing it and shaking my thing all over the world."

The duo have toured constantly since reforming in 2007 and will perform in New Zealand for the first time in 19 years next month. It's a one-off show that promises to be a colourful trip down memory lane. And yes, their biggest hit Push It is on the set-list.

"That song is possessed. It's got a mind of its own," laughs James, telling the story of how just the other day she was at the cinema with her daughter when the song started blasting from the big screen. "We were like, 'are you kidding me right now?'!"

"I'm sure they asked me for permission on my royalty statement, but I don't go over every little thing, so I was completely surprised."

The funny thing is, James adds, the song was thrown together quickly because they needed a B-side to Tramp. "Pep and I didn't even like it. We thought it was corny. We did the vocals at someone's house in Brooklyn. We were all tight up in this little teeny bathroom doing Push It. So we were really surprised when it turned out to be our signature song."

It won't, of course, be the only hit they perform. There's also Shake Your Thang, Let's Talk About Sex and Whatta Man - all iconic songs that helped Salt N Pepa pioneer a new era in rap.

But it wasn't without its struggles, as James explains: "Hip-hop is very misogynistic, it's very aggressive. It isn't the kind of music that women can easily infiltrate and succeed in. You have to have something so unique and special to get past that barrier."

She believes it's even harder now: "There were a lot more artists to choose from when I was coming up, you know Missy Elliott, Lauryn Hill. There aren't that many now and that's probably because it's even more misogynistic and more testosterone-driven." Salt N Pepa, at Auckland's ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, on Friday, November 15.

- NZ Herald

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