Straight Outta Queens

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Photo: Steve Eichner / Getty Images

How Salt-N-Pepa Turned Rap on Its Head

*From the January 17, 1994 issue of New York Magazine.

Salt-N-Pepa, the world’s top female rap group, have fallen in love again. Guys have hurt them, but they have found better ones. They have had babies. They have been to the gym. They are sleek and muscled and beautiful. And they are still doing the things your mother taught you not to—wearing tight clothes, wiggling their bodies, showing their underwear.

Whatta man, whatta man, whatta man, whatta mighty good man!

In the video of their single “Whatta Man,” made with the group En Vogue and released this week, Salt-N-Pepa have a warmth and sexual heat that make Madonna seem contrived and mechanical.  “I wanna take a minute or two and give much respect to/ The man that’s made a difference in my world,” raps Salt (Cheryl James), the group’s founding member, wearing a pair of denim shorts undone at the waist.  Pepa (Sandi Denton) rubs her hands over the oiled body of Treach, her real-life rapper boyfriend.  (Part of Naughty by Nature, Treach once came onstage at Radio City wielding a chain saw.)  Then there’s Spinderella (Dee Roper), the group’s D.J., who lies on a bearskin rug, in black lace.

A good man, Spin raps, “touch me in the right spot.”  Salt-N-Pepa, it seems, have at last discovered what a good man really is.  A good man takes his time when he makes love.  “A good man says he loves me,” James says.  And he takes good care of his baby, too.

While gangsta rap spins violent odes and misogynistic threats, Salt-N-Pepa celebrate female independence, female sexuality, and—yes—motherhood.

The No. 1 rap hit last week was Snoop Doggy Dogg’s “What’s My Name.”  “If you don’t give a f— about a bitch/ Then you’re rolling with the Row,” it says.  What’s more, the gangsta rapper Tupac Shakur has been indicted for “deviate sexual intercourse by forcible compulsion.”  Shakur, a friend of Salt-N-Pepa’s, appears in their new video.

James believes the charges against Shakur were “fabricated.”  But she says gangsta is not for her.  “I grew up in the ghetto, but my heart isn’t hard.  I have a child.  I have a mother’s mind.  Certain things make me cringe.  I would be furious if my child listened to them.  But I also understand that gangstas are dealing with reality in their lyrics.”

Her own lyrics, however, are not always upright.  “I have said ‘bitch’ in my songs.  But I have a limit!”

“We try to tell women not to give rappers so much to talk about,” Denton adds.  And indeed, in their lyrics and videos, Salt-N-Pepa mock the macho posturing of male rappers.  Unlike, say, Queen Latifah or the women of TLC, Salt-N-Pepa don’t hesitate to put men down.  TLC wear their baggy clothes as a statement, but Salt-N-Pepa flaunt their figures.

In Salt-N-Pepa raps, the women are in control.  In their hit single “Tramp,” it is the man who is the tramp.  In the video of “Let’s Talk About Sex,” James and Denton dress up as construction workers—ogling guys and grabbing themselves between the legs.  The video also ties up—and gags—their producer and manager, Hurby “Luv Bag” Azor, the man who, in real life, broke James’s heart.

The artistic life of most rap stars is very brief.  They usually glimmer and fade in a year or two.  But Salt-N-Pepa have been performing for more than eight years.  The members won’t give their ages: “Salt-N-Pepa keep the mystery,” says Denton.  But they are probably somewhere in their mid- to late twenties—positively ancient for rap stars.

Salt-N-Pepa are the only female rap group to sell more than 1 million copies and go platinum.  In 1987, they had their first hit single, “Push It” (as in “push it real good”).  Then, in 1991, came “Let’s Talk About Sex” (“Let’s talk about sex, babe/ Let’s talk about you and me”), which sold more than 1 million copies.  The group’s recent single, “Shoop,” taken from the new album Very Necessary, was released thirteen weeks ago.  It reached No. 4.

In many ways, the Salt-N-Pepa story is an archetypal one.  Two girls from Queens dream of success in show business.  They work hard, and finally become famous under the tutelage of a Svengali-like figure.  The man is strong, domineering, and the lover of one of them.  Their production company gets more than $5 million, but they think they get too little—though they receive half of what the company does.  Out of sheer naivete, perhaps—and like so many young artists before them—they feel they have cheated themselves of money and control.  Then, they rebel.

Salt-N-Pepa have a sexual wit—saucy, graphic, very much in the tradition of Moms Mabley and Bessie Smith.  “I wanna know how does it hang,” they rap in “Shoop.”  “Straight up?  Weight up?  Hold up?  Come on, gimme summa that yum, yum, chocolate chip, honey dip/ Can I getta scoop?…”  Other lyrics can’t be printed in a family magazine.  Real freedom for women, Salt-N-Pepa are saying, lies in sexual autonomy, in taking control of their bodies.  “We big women up,” says Denton.

“There are these types of women, girls who totally dis themselves,” says James.  “They will do anything for a guy.  Our message is that we make a big deal about not letting guys treat you bad.  Girls go into relationships, and their man is their world.  You have to develop into a whole person before you can be in a relationship.”

Like TLC, the group has extended its female-empowerment campaign to safe-sex education—with the video “Let’s Talk About AIDS,” taken from their hit single “Let’s Talk About Sex.”  Also, there’s a public-service announcement by Boston high-school students on Very Necessary.  The message is aimed at people like themselves, young women of color, who’ve become especially vulnerable to AIDS.

Offstage, the members of Salt-N-Pepa have a different persona.  James, who chants outrageous raps, is quiet and watchful.  She dresses in loose-fitting jeans and a sweater; she doesn’t wear makeup.  And she’s embarrassed whenever her mother is in the audience.  “Those shorts I wore in ‘Shoop’ I wouldn’t walk down the street in,” James says.  “That’s just entertainment.”

The girls are devoted mothers and serious Christians.  They attend church regularly, and before every performance, they get down on their knees with their hair-dresser, Elena George, and pray.

There was a three-year hiatus between Salt-N-Pepa’s past two albums.  The women have been arguing almost constantly with Hurby Azor, James’s former boyfriend, over the artistic direction of their work.  The women have also fought with him and their record company, Next Plateau, over money.  “The production company was paid millions.  Hurby wrote many of the songs.  He gets money every time they are on the radio—they never quite grasped that,” says Eddie O’Loughlin of Next Plateau, an independent label that has other top groups.  “It was difficult to be in the middle of the personal thing with Cheryl and Hurby.”

“I have had platinum albums!” says James.  “I’ve sold millions!  I should be set for life—and I’m not!”  Today, James is the only one of the group who owns a home, a modest one on Long Island.  Denton has a duplex in suburban New Jersey, and Roper rents a nearby apartment.

“We just woke up,” says James.  “We called our lawyers.  We made a big ruckus.  Hurby was another kid like we was—he was not capable of managing anyone.  The lawyers turned around our finances and taxes.  Now we have major distribution with London-Polygram.  We have a new attitude.  We feel this is our album.  We did a lot more writing ourselves.  The videos were our concepts, and we were very much involved with the directing.  I’m the one who yells and screams and smiles now.”

James, Denton, Roper, and Azor all grew up in black communities, in strong, strict families that valued education.

James’s father was a subway conductor; he now works for the Transit Authority repairing tracks.  Her mother, now retired, was a bank manager.  James grew up in Bushwick and went to Grover Cleveland High School, which seemed overwhelmingly white.  She hated it.  At Queensborough Community College, she studied psychology “or something stupid like that.”  One day in 1985, James was sitting by herself in the lunchroom, as she always did, when she noticed Denton, a plump, bubbly girl with bleached-blonde curls and a black leather jacket.  She was outgoing, “with, like safety pins in my ears,” Denton remembers.  She had been bornin the Caribbean, to a prosperous Jamaican family, but was raised in Jamaica, Queens.  Denton comes from a family of achievers: One sister is a lawyer, another a geologist.

Denton lit up the lunchroom.  “Hey, watchooo doin’!” the other kids would cry.  “Hey, Sandee!”

James was fascinated; there was an instant chemistry between them.  Denton could make her laugh—and the two women still giggle all the time when they are together.  They began cutting class and hanging around the lunchroom.  James had a part-time job at the Sears store in College Point, Queens, selling service contracts over the phone to customers who’d bought appliances.  She got Denton a job in the booth next to hers.  But the girls spent most of their phone time talking to each other.  “Whatcha doin’ after work?”  Denton would whisper into the receiver.  Then the supervisor would walk by.  “Yes, yes, Mrs. Walker!”  Denton would tell a make-believe customer.  “We’ll extend this for another two years!”

The employees had sales quotas.  Sometimes Denton and James would check off the box that said the customer had accepted a contract—even when he hadn’t.  “I guess you will have this!”  Denton would say, brandishing her pen.  A big graph on the wall charted each person’s performance; James and Denton’s lines kept going up.  “Whoop de doo!” Denton would yell, clapping.  Still, every time the two were called into the supervisor’s office, they were sure they would be fired.  Instead, they kept getting raises.

In the mid-eighties, the store was a crucible of talent.  Martin Lawrence, the star of Fox TV’s Martin and HBO’s Def Comedy Jam, worked there, too.  During his lunch hour, he would test comedy routines out on James and Denton.  Other employees included the rappers Chris Reid and Chris Martin, who would become famous as Kid ‘N Play, the stars of the House Party movies.  Kid ‘N Play were friends with Azor, also a rapper.  He worked in a booth behind James and Denton.

Azor, who got his “Luv Bug” nickname from either the Disney movie or the streets, is Haitian; his father was a bush driver, a cabdriver, and a landlord.  Azor is thin and charming, with a square jaw and dimples.  He dressed like a “B Boy,” with sneakers, jeans, and a Kangol hat on backward.  When James met him, she thought he was “corny”—he wore a leather Michael Jackson jacket.  But Azor conquered James’s shyness.  He made her talk.

Azor like James but was too shy to ask her out.  “Listen, I got this girl you would really like,” he told Chris Martin.

“Hurby being real slick, he had his eyes on Cheryl,” Martin says.  The three arranged to meet at Laces, the roller disco in New Hyde Park.

After James met Martin, Azor wrote her a note with a picture of a rabbit.

“How’s Play?” the bunny asked.

“He’s cool,” James wrote back.

“I really wanted to talk to you myself,” Azor wrote.  “But I thought you’d like Play better.”

“I like you,” James wrote.

They made a date to go out together after work.  But James suddenly got shy, and left the store without him.  Late that night, she went to Elmhurst, and rang the doorbell of Azor’s parents’ house.  She and Azor talked for hours, and started dating.

James liked club music then—she wasn’t into rap.  But Azor loved rap, and took her to clubs in Manhattan.  He had a group with Kid ‘N Play called the Super-lovers, but they couldn’t get a recording contract.  Azor and Kid ‘N Play figured that rap was only for the neighborhood.

Azor was studying at the Center for Media Arts in Manhattan, a vocational school for kids who dream of recording careers.  To graduate, Azor had to produce a music tape.  Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick’s rap hit “The Show” had just come out; Azor decided to “answer” it.  An answer is a pop-music tradition, a cocky response to another artist’s work.  Azor decided that he and James would make a rap tape together and that he would then submit it to his teachers, for a grade.  Azor began teaching James to rap in the attic of his parents’ home.

“Stop making that noise in the attic!”  Azor’s mother would scream up the stairs.  Noise in the Attic Productions was born.  Azor and James planned to call themselves Salt-N-Pepa.  He, dark-skinned, would be Pepa; she, lighter, would be Salt.  But Azor thought his tape would work better with two girls.  He suggested that they enlist Sandi Denton.  “She likes attention,” Azor says.  “She’s loud.  You can’t be shy and have 10,000 people staring at you.”

At the time, only one woman rapper had ever been successful—Roxanne Shante.  Azor thought her work was “garbage,” but he was convinced that there was a future for women rappers.

He named Denton and James “Supernature.” “Hurby wanted to rile up some beef in the streets,” Denton says. “ ‘These girls have the nerve to answer Doug E. Fresh!’ ”  “The Show” was a braggy piece about a male rap star.

“Right now we gonna show you how it’s supposed to be, because we the Salt-N-Pepa M.C.’s,” James and Denton rapped in response.  “We’ll chance that the circumstance rocks your pants…This is called the jam!

Azor says he was “encouraging the girls to be defiant.”  Years later, his encouragement would come back to haunt him.

Azor handed in the tape, and got an A.  He took the cut to his friend Marly Marl, the D.J. of the WBLS show “World Famous Mr. Magic Rap Attack.”  “This is phat!” Marl cried.  He played it on the show, and listeners started calling in and asking for it.

James and Denton were driving down New York Boulevard when they heard “The Showstopper” on the radio for the first time.  Denton started screaming, “Aaaaaah! My Record’s on the radio!”  James was so embarrassed by Denton that she stopped the car.

The owner of a small, independent record company heard the cut and phoned Marly Marl.  “Yo, what’s up?” the record man asked.  “That’s my friend Hurby,” Marly Marl told him.  Soon the group had a contract.  “The Showstopper” sold well, but, Azor says, little money came in.  “They were foul,” Azor says of the company.

But Salt-N-Pepa had the calling.  They began doing club dates…and neglecting their schoolwork.  (They never graduated college.) “We thought we were gonna be stars from that one single,” James says.

The group changed their name from Supernature to Salt-N-Pepa.  Then someone began hiring impostors to imitate them in clubs.  The fake Salt-N-Pepas were terrible.  James, Denton, and Azor would arrive at a club to try and book a date, only to be told, “Salt-N-Pepa have been here already.”  One night, they arrived at a club to find the counterfeiters onstage.  Azor seized the mike.  There was a fight, which tumbled onto the street.  One man started beating Azor up.  “This was my boyfriend!” James says.  “I just ran across the street without a weapon or anything!” James says she was beaten up, too.  She and Azor were charged with assault and spent a night in jail.  Bu their adversaries failed to appear in court, and they were released.

In 1985, Azor began trying to get the group a record deal.  Companies told them that girls had no place in rap—it was a man’s art.  “It’s just a trend,” one firm assured him.  But Azor pressed on.  At Next Plateau, O’Loughlin and partner Jenniene Leclercq had heard “The Showstopper.”  O’Loughlin was looking for women rappers and decided to give the group $5,000 to record “I’ll Take Your Man.”  “Your Sex life’s through/  If you get another lover, I’ll take him too,” said the lyrics.  In the rap, the girls also referred to a woman as a “ho.”  The words were bold for their time, especially coming from women, and some radio stations refused to play the single.

“I’ll Take Your Man” didn’t make the charts, but O’Loughlin and Leclercq gave the group an additional $9,000—to make an album, Hot, Cool & Vicious. A song from it, “My Mic Sounds Nice,” hit the Top 40 in the black-singles’ charts. “Tramp,” with a smoother sound, did even better. Then a West Coast D.J. checked out the flip side of “Tramp” and found “Push It.” James and Azor recorded it in a bathroom, in the house of his friend Fresh Gordon. (They liked the echo the bathroom tiles made.) Azor had written the lyrics, which were fairly mundane. Then Gordon had played a string line on his synthesizer—it was so corny, he considered it a joke. But Azor, who has an ear for this sort of thing, cried, “Play that!”

After its initial release, “Push It” was remixed.  With its whispery, suggestive lyrics, the song sold more than 1 million copies, reached No. 20 on the Billboard pop charts, and was nominated for a Grammy.  Hot, Cool & Vicious also topped 1 million copies.  Salt-N-Pepa were famous.

Every rap group needs a D.J., someone to spin the records and scratch them to the beat.  Pamela Greene, the D.J. on Hot, Cool & Vicious, married and left the group.  In 1987, Azor discovered Dee Dee Roper, a senior at Franklin K. Lane High School in Queens.  She had never rapped before, but had worked as a D.J. for a former boyfriend.  Roper was raised in the Pink Houses, a housing project on Linden Boulevard in Brooklyn; before he was injured, her father had been a steamfitter for Con Edison.  Roper is perhaps the most conventionally beautiful member of the group, with a lovely dazzled look.  Azor named her the new Spinderella, and on A Salt With a Deadly Pepa, the group’s next album, he wrote a rap introducing her.  “Spinderella’s not a fella,” it went, “but a girl D.J.”

As the girls grew more famous, as money started to come in, the balance of power shifted between them and Azor.  He had been their impresario.  He had believed in them, in the possibility of women rappers.  He had generated the artistic vision of Salt-N-Pepa and had always gotten a bigger share of the profits than each of the women had.  Over the years, Next Plateau records paid Azor’s production company well over $5 million, half of which Azor passed on to the women.  “Salt-N-Pepa felt that as their manager, I should have gotten them big advances,” Azor says today.  “But if we got $100,000 from Next Plateau, then Next Plateau would have $100,000 less to put into the album.  Salt-N-Pepa was half; I was half.  They felt the number should have been a third, a third, a third.  [In the past, Roper, as the newest member of the group, was paid the least.]  I told them how to say it.”

Salt-N-Pepa was just one of the groups Azor managed, and he had enough money to buy a house.  But the women were still living modestly—James in an apartment on Jewel Avenue.  What’s more, Azor was changing.  “I was supposed to live with him,” says James, but “he wasn’t there for me.  He was hanging out.”

The group resented Azor and Next Plateau.  “We grew, we got bigger, and the deal never changed,” says James.  “We were just all involved in the creativity.  Hurby had a better relationship with Eddie O’Loughlin and Jenniene Leclercq than we did.  We felt they saw us as ditsy little girls that should be lucky they could get a car.  Hurby didn’t rip us off, but we never had management.”

A Salt With a Deadly Pepa was released in 1988—and was a million-seller.  “Shake Your Thang,” O’ Loughlin’s idea, a witty takeoff on the Isley Brothers single “It’s Your Thing,” made the Top 3 of the Billboard Black Singles chart.  Kid ‘N Play, managed by Azor, appeared in the video.  Salt-N-Pepa went on tour, headlining with Keith Sweat and accompanied by Kid ‘N Play.

“We were on the bus for days,” Chris Martin remembers, “playing games, sharing our innermost thoughts and fantasies.  Cheryl’s the mother of her group; I was always the father of my group.  Hurby was always the wisdom one.”  Martin watched as James and Azor broke up.  “I really have to give a standing ovation to Cheryl,” he says.  “A lot of women would use it as a defeat to curl up and die.”

“There was a lot of anger,” James says.  “It was so hard to let go.  I didn’t want to face the realities about him.  I was so caught up in my relationship with him.  We used to be so tight, we went through so much together—jail….He was so young.  We were so young.”

“All breakups are hard,” Azor says.  “Her work kept her going.  The songs she wrote about uplifting women have a lot to do with me, her telling other women, ‘Don’t let guys hurt you.’  I hurted her.”  He adds, “It’s in her music, I believe.”  Eventually, Azor had a son—Brent, now 4—with another woman.  “That helped push me over,” James says.

Salt-N-Pepa wanted to do another album—but Azor was away with Kid N’ Play.  “Hurby was running around the country with his acts,” says Leclercq of Next Plateau.  “He didn’t want to deal with the group.  They wanted to go forward and they didn’t know what to do.  Cheryl said she had made a track.  I said, ‘Why don’t you finish it—and bring it in to Eddie?’”

The cut was “Expression,” the first single James wrote and produced.  “Express yourself,” it said. “You gotta be you and only you.”  “Hurby saw her work,” Leclercq adds.  “He was competitive.  It goaded him to get involved, drew him back into the group.”  Azor remixed “Expression,” and it became one of the biggest singles of the year, staying at the top of the rap charts for a record-breaking twelve weeks, selling 1 million copies, and becoming Billboard’s Best Rap Single of 1990.  The cut “made me realize I had producing abilities,” James says.  Salt-N-Pepa’s next album, Blacks’ Magic, which included her single, was released in April 1990.  It sold more than a million copies in the United States and an additional 1.5 million worldwide.

Then, during the recording of Blacks’ Magic, Denton got pregnant.  “I ain’t talkin’ about him!” she says.  “He was not there from the beginning.  It was rough.  He didn’t want the baby.”  The man left and started hanging out with another girl.  Denton, growing larger and larger, would bump into him with the other woman.  “I always thought I’d be with the father,” she says.  “It was such a depressing time.  I was always crying.”

James came to the rescue, helping Denton through the pregnancy, even going to Lamaze classes with her.  When Denton went into labor, James drover her to North Shore University Hospital, and sat with her for 36 hours—until Tyran, now 3 ½, was finally born.  “When I had my son, I just shaked the depression,” Denton says.

Then, in 1991, while Denton was performing at an MTV spring-break concert in Daytona Beach, she ran into Treach and Naughty by Nature.  “Our group always had a distance from other rappers,” she says.  “Hurby had us believing that no one liked us—that we weren’t tough enough.”

But Denton and Treach got to talking.  She was surprised at how nice he was.  Naughty by Nature, after all, are borderline gangsta; Treach occasionally performs with a machete.  He also wears skintight undershirts, jeans that hang very low on his hips, and a beeper that clips onto his pants.

In Daytona, while the group was playing their hit “OPP,” Treach called Denton onto the stage.  She danced in the background and sang the chorus: “You down with OPP/ Yeah, you know me/ Ya down with OPP…..” From that day on, Denton’s mind was on Treach.  “It was cool from then,” says Denton.  These days, Treach has been spending a lot of time caring for Tyran.  “Tyran doesn’t know who his real father is,” Denton says.  “I wish Treach were Tyran’s father.”

One recent morning, Treach was helping Tyran brush his teeth.  “I’m not going to write about how nice you are to that baby,” I told Treach.  “It’ll spoil your image.”

“That’s okay,” he said.  “You can write it.”

Treach blames much of the violence in society on “the media,” not rappers.  “There’s nothing new about violence in America,” says Treach.

While Denton was pregnant with Tyran, James met Gavin Wray, who had been working as a carpenter.  Wray was tall, thin, gentle-seeming, one of those really nice guys who will take your car to the shop for you.  James had always thought that Azor would be the father of her child—and that marriage was how it should be done.  But James was lonely, Azor was gone, and she had a deadline in mind.  James more or less picked Wray to be the father of her child.  When Corin was born, in 1991, she “filled the hole for me,” James says.

Soon Roper got pregnant, too.  Kenny Anderson, of the New Jersey Nets, was the father.  “He made the decision not to be with me,” says Roper.  “Being a young man of his status, he was doing things I couldn’t deal with.  He was at the birth.  He stayed for a couple of weeks until the novelty wore off.  He went out to celebrate and never came back.  I did plan to get married.  But I can’t shackle him and drag him to the altar.”  Anderson has publicly acknowledged his daughter, Christenese.  He sees her at least twice a week, when his playing schedule permits, and contributes to her financial support.

Roper is now dating another basketball player, Kermit Holmes of the Oklahoma City Cavalry.  He makes an appearance as a sexy basketball star in the video of “Shoop.”

While the women of Salt-N-Pepa were having their babies, they were trying to make a new album—their way.  Other rappers were chiding the group for being too “pop.”  Still others said the group was really “soul.”  Rap clubs and urban radio stations weren’t playing their records.

Azor says that Salt-N-Pepa wanted Very Necessary to be “street”; they wanted it to sound “black.”  But he thought that the group should keep its softer sound.  “I didn’t care what my friends out in the street played in the Jeep,” he says.  Azor didn’t think that Salt-N-Pepa should go the way of Naughty by Nature.  The fights continued—until he finally offered them creative control of half the album.  “Do what you think is hard, and I’ll do what I think is a hit,” Azor told them.  “At the end, the bank account counts.”

James and Denton wrote “Shoop,” and played it for Azor.  He wasn’t crazy about it.  “We put our foot down a lot more with Hurby,” says James.  “He was shooting ‘Shoop’ down!” Denton says.  “He said it wasn’t gonna go gold.  I wrote it!  I wrote it!  He kind of fought us because it wasn’t one of his songs, I guess.”  “Shoop” became a Top 5 Billboard pop single. “He had to eat those words!” Denton says.

Still, one some of the cuts, the girls did what Azor wanted.  Under his direction, many of the songs on the album evolved toward more of an R&B sound.  And, ironically, it was Azor who wrote and produced “Whatta Man,” a celebration of good men.  Although Salt-N-Pepa had more control than ever before, Very Necessary still has Azor’s sound, pop with a rap overlay.  “Artistically, it’s more appealing to the masses,”  James admits, “a smoother, groovier, older sound, but still very funky, very black.”  And it’s more “womanly” than their other albums.

Today, the women have reached an uneasy truce with Azor.  They have a distribution deal with London-PolyGram, which Azor had mixed feelings about.  “With Next Plateau we had a lot more say,” he says.  “Next Plateau was small enough to be personalized.  PolyGram is too Big.”

The four have a new business arrangement, and the profits will be divided more evenly among them.  Technically, Azor is still the group’s manager, though his partners handle the day-to-day business.

“Hurby put this all together,” Denton says.  “Salt-N-Pepa was his life.  Hurby don’t want to let us go.  He thinks we still babies.  He still gives us problems.  He’ll still argue.  When he became a big-time producer, he changed.  Salt didn’t change.  Pepa didn’t change.  That’s why a lot of groups break up.”

“We were men-bashers,” says James, in the house she shares with Gavin Wray.  “Our self-esteem was low.  We hated them on all the other albums because we were going through turmoil with some man.  There really are some decent guys out there.  But they can’t do what you won’t let them do.

“We grew up,” she adds.  “We grew out.  And we grew away!”

“He takes his time, does everything right….[He] gives me goose pimples with every single touch….[A good man is] secure in his manhood because he’s a real man,” James says in “Whatta Man.”

[He’s] never disrespectful cause his momma taught him that!”

And then the video cuts to a shot of Denton’s adorable son, also James’s god-son.  Tyran, Salt-N-Pepa are saying, is the hope for everyone.  Tyran is the man of the future.

Salt-N-Pepa Turned Rap on Its Head