There are few hip-hop acts who have maintained the kind of longevity and stamina as Salt-N-Pepa did throughout their career. Cheryl James and Sandra Denton started off as the duo Super Nature and recorded a single called ‘The Showstopper’, which garnered attention from local New York radio stations. Before long, listeners were calling in to request the track. By 1987, the duo recruited Deidre Roper to join as Spinderella, and the three women were prepared to pounce on the hip-hop industry with a new name: Salt-N-Pepa. The same year, they released ‘Push It’, their first big hit. The single was certified platinum, reaching No.19 on Billboard, and wrote the group into history as the first female hip-hop act to hit platinum status. Their path to hip-hop royalty had been laid. By the time they released their fourth album, Very Necessary, Salt-N-Pepa had become the most successful hip-hop album by a female act.
Listen to Very Necessary right now.
Heavy-hitters with the plaques to prove it
A cascade of hits had followed ‘Push It’, and the group’s albums were just as successful. Hot, Cool And Vicious proved a hit with the critics, with The Source listing it as one of their 100 Best Rap Albums. It went platinum – another first for a female rap group. A Salt With A Deadly Pepa came next, and that album went gold, sitting at No.8 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop charts. Blacks’ Magic brought the trio even more mainstream success, marking them as heavy-hitters with the plaques to prove it.
By the time Salt-N-Pepa dropped Very Necessary, on 12 October 1993, they were already an established hip-hop act. Their previous album’s breakthrough single, ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’, asserted them as women who were sexually savvy, autonomous and without shame. Hip-hop was – and largely still is – filled with male rappers, but Salt-N-Pepa offered a different picture of what MCs could look like. Confidence and sensuality saturated their albums and gave rappers everywhere a run for their money.
The group made it their mission to prove that sensuality and hip-hop were not mutually exclusive. With Very Necessary, Salt-N-Pepa became an even bigger household name, spawning a number of singles that skyrocketed on the charts. The album sold over seven million copies worldwide, and Salt-N-Pepa made an indelible mark on hip-hop.
Creating a cultural legacy
‘Shoop’ was the album’s first single. While the group tasted hits before, this became one of their biggest to date. The single sold 1.2 million copies, already indicating that the forthcoming album would be a chart-topper. ‘Whatta Man’, the album’s second single, featured R&B group En Vogue and boasted lyrics describing various versions of an ideal man. Meanwhile, ‘None Of Your Business’ found the ladies chanting about their sexual agency and won the Grammy for Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group.
Very Necessary had no shortage of head-spinning, snarky lyrics about sexuality, and loyal fans ate it up. But Salt-N-Pepa’s range didn’t stop there. Though many of the tracks off Very Necessary favoured more salacious lyrics, others, like ‘Heaven Or Hell’, found the MCs delivering verses about police brutality, drugs and other threats against the black community. ‘I’ve Got AIDS’, the last track on the album, is a PSA skit from Weatoc, a non-profit in Boston that sought to inform youth about physical and sexual health in black communities.
Salt-N-Pepa are pioneers, undoubtedly influencing many of the acts that followed, including Missy Elliott and Trina. These first ladies of hip-hop created a cultural legacy with Very Necessary and pushed the genre forward when many music critics shrugged off hip-hop as a trend that would soon lose its steam. Instead of losing momentum, however, hip-hop dominated, with Salt-N-Pepa holding the reins.
Very Necessary can be bought here.