Salt-N-Pepa pioneered a role for women in hip-hop with a string of sultry dance-floor hits in the 1980s and 1990s.
A couple decades on, the three-member group is enjoying renewed success on the nostalgia circuit – and still sees a double standard for women.
The trio opened an extensive tour in the US aimed at fans eager to relive the 1990s. Although the group plays mostly second-tier markets, promoters hope its total ticket haul rivals those of major contemporary acts.
Led by rappers Cheryl James (Salt), and Sandra Denton (Pepa), with DJ Spinderella on the turntable, Salt-N-Pepa broke into the US mainstream at a time when much of white America looked at hip-hop with suspicion, seeing it as a passing fad rooted in street culture.
The New York-bred musicians not only helped break hip-hop’s gender barrier but offered a subtle sense of female empowerment, rapping openly and without vulgarity about women’s desires on tracks such as Let’s Talk About Sex and Shake Your Thang.
A couple decades on, however, the rappers see little change since their heyday in music or society, saying women still face too much judgment for their sexuality.
“You still can only have a total of three partners in your life and not be called a ‘ho’,” Denton told AFP with a hearty laugh.
“It’s a double standard in corporate America,” James said of the music business, while stressing that women elsewhere in the world faced even more daunting challenges, such as securing rights to divorce and child custody.
“It goes so much deeper – the right not to be abused, emotionally or physically, or to be thrown out of your house,” she said. “It’s a worldly issue and a continuous fight.”
Female hip-hop pioneers found their niches by being “unapologetically bold”, James said.
“Latifah was the queen, Lauryn Hill was the consciousness, Salt-N-Pepa was fun, fashion and feminity,” she said. “Now it’s a bit empty.”
Still, James praised leading female rapper Nicki Minaj – who released her own, more provocative celebration of female sensuality on Anaconda in 2014 – as well as Australia’s often-maligned Iggy Azalea.
“Shoutout to Nicki and Iggy – they’re doing their thing – but there are definitely more voices out there that aren’t being heard,” she said.
Salt-N-Pepa – whose other hits included Push It, Shoop and, with En Vogue, Whatta Man – have not released a studio album since 1997, although the rappers said they are working on new material.
The reunited group found a new audience with a 2007-2008 reality show on the TV channel VH1.
In a sign that hip-hop has quickly emerged from its roots in African American culture, Salt-N-Pepa will now perform mostly to white audiences, said Jeff Allen, co-owner of Universal Attractions Agency, which is presenting the tour.
The shows began in the overwhelmingly white state of West Virginia, and Allen said received strong expressions of interest in other unexpected destinations such as Norfolk in Nebraska (population 24,500).
Also scheduled to hit major arenas, the tour is expected to reach a total of 90 to 100 cities around North America – no small feat – he said.
Promoters are marketing the shows with unabashed nostalgia, calling them the “I Love The ’90s” tour and distributing a poster that looks straight from the software of an early Mac.
Other rap stars from the era will join Salt-N-Pepa on some dates.
They include Tone-Loc – best known for Wild Thing and Funky Cold Medina – and Vanilla Ice, whose Ice Ice Baby was the first rap track to hit number one on the mainstream US chart but who later endured personal turmoil amid mockery of the song.
Response to the tour reflects the current stage in the lives of America’s Gen X-ers, many of whom grew up on hip-hop’s first mainstream hits and are now living with families and seeking less new music.
“For everybody, you have a soundtrack to your life,” Allen said. – AFP Relaxnews