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?
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
One of the first albums to be released by an all-female rap group, Hot, Cool & Vicious is paced by its opening track, "Push It," one of the first rap songs to hit number one on the dance singles charts. Considering how little Salt-n-Pepa actually rap on "Push It," which is all about its instrumental hook, they maintain a surprisingly strong presence over most of Hot, Cool & Vicious. No, they aren't technical virtuosos on the mic, but their fairly basic raps are carried off with brash confidence and enthusiasm. Some of the other key tracks borrow ideas from outside sources: the single "Tramp" is a rap remake of the Otis & Carla soul classic, and "The Show Stopper" is an answer record to Doug E. Fresh's "The Show." The duo's sass comes across very well on "My Mic Sounds Nice" and "I'll Take Your Man," and they're equally assertive on "Chick on the Side."
Words: Steve Huey
Salt-N-Pepa exhibited a lot of growth on Blacks' Magic (1990), their third album and, by far, best to date. For their follow-up, Very Necessary, released a long three and a half years later, in 1993, the ladies delivered a fairly similar album. Like its predecessor, Very Necessary boasts a pair of major hits ("Whatta Man," "Shoop") and a lot of fine album tracks. Also like Blacks' Magic, Very Necessary is filled with strong, prideful rhetoric: femininity, sex, relationships, romance, respect, love -- these are the key topics, and they're a world apart from those of the gangsta rap that was so popular circa 1993. And as always, the productions are dance-oriented, with a contemporary R&B edge. Most tracks were produced by Hurby "Luvbug" Azor, though Salt is credited on a few, chief among them "Shoop." Very Necessary is just as impressive as Blacks' Magic, if not more so. The key difference is, Blacks' Magic was a striking leap forward for Salt-N-Pepa, who were somewhat of a novelty act up to that point, whereas Very Necessary is a consolidation of everything that had worked so well for the duo previously. Hence the lack of surprises here. Still, the raised expectations don't change the fact that Very Necessary is one of the standout -- and, for sure, one of the most refreshingly unique -- rap albums of its era.
Words: Jason Birchmeier
Blacks' Magic is the third album by female rap group, Salt-n-Pepa, released in 1990 on London Records. The album was a critical and commercial success, making it to #38 on the Billboard 200 and #15 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop album charts and was certified Platinum. The album featured four hit singles, three of which made it to the top 10 of the Hot Rap Singles chart; "Let's Talk About Sex" (U.S. #13, UK #2), "Expression" (U.S. #26, UK #23), "Do You Want Me" (U.S. #21, UK #5) and "You Showed Me" (U.S. #47, UK #15).
It's hard to believe that there wasn't a U.S.-released Salt-N-Pepa best-of until the trio got its entry in the 20th Century Masters series. (A Blitz of Salt-N-Pepa Hits: The Hits Remixed does not count, and 2000s The Best of Salt-N-Pepa wasn't distributed in the States.) Released in 2008, this disc doesn't contain anything from Salt-N-Pepa's last album, 1997's Brand New, but it features almost every significant single from their first four. That said, two of the best tracks from Blacks' Magic, "You Showed Me" and "Do You Want Me" (a number seven rap single that seemed nearly as ubiquitous as "Push It" for a couple months during 1991), are missing -- bound to be an issue for some. Do give the compilers some credit for tapping "My Mic Sounds Nice."
Words: Andy Kellman