Salt-N-Pepa on Fighting for Recognition and Earning a Star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame

It’s hard to imagine where music would be today without Salt-N-Pepa. Since forming in 1985, the group pioneered a pop-leaning hip-hop sound with such hits as “Push It,” “Shoop,” “Let’s Talk About Sex” and
“Whatta Man,” leading the way for generations of female MCs who would follow.

The members of Salt-N-Pepa, originally a trio comprising Salt, Pepa and DJ Spinderella, had to navigate their way through a male-dominated industry and did so with purpose — rapping about sex and other topics thought taboo at the time as well as female empowerment. Along the way, the group went on to sell millions of albums and, later in their career, reach many millions of living rooms as the stars of a “Push It”-themed Geico ad campaign.

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On Nov. 4, Cheryl James (Salt) and Sandra Denton (Pepa) will be recognized for their impact with
a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. They spoke to Variety ahead of the ceremony.

What is your earliest memory of the Hollywood Walk of Fame?

Cheryl James: It was the ’80s and Salt-N-Pepa’s first time traveling to Los Angeles. We stayed at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. I was fascinated by all of it. I’m a black-and-white movie buff, so all of the art and history were incredible. I walked it at night and read all the stars and was in awe of how many blocks of stars there were. Even when the person is no longer here, that star is going to be there representing their accomplishments.

What does it mean to you to be in that company?

James: It’s surreal for me because I had no idea that we would even be performing still. So, to be celebrated and to be able to invite family and friends and to have your star on the Walk of Fame forever, it hasn’t really hit me yet.

Sandra Denton: It represents a lot. I fought to get this star. We came from the ’80s. I was dancing with
mics that had cords and mic stands. We faced a lot when our songs were hitting, and [we were] selling as much as the next male rapper. They’d get the acknowledgment, and we [didn’t] because we were female.

We battled a lot of resistance from men in this industry. I never let it get to me or discourage me. It fueled me. I know that women in every industry have to fight harder for recognition, respect, and accolades. So mission accomplished, as far as I’m concerned.

Have things gotten better for women in music?

James: The industry has changed in leaps and bounds. When we were coming up, you had to come through a man to be taken seriously.

Denton: I’m beginning to see that change. Women are taking way more control of their image and business. Record companies don’t have the same amount of power that they had over artists. There is social media and so many ways that you can promote yourself. I love that there is this opportunity for you to have more control over your art and masters. A lot of women have the opportunity to be moguls in the way that we didn’t have at that time.

In 1987, “Push It” became one of the biggest hip-hop songs to be embraced by pop radio and catapulted Salt-N-Pepa into the stratosphere. What do you remember about it?

James: It was the B-side of “Tramp” and Hurby [Azor, former manager of Salt-N-Pepa] put the song together. I remember Pep and I saying, “This isn’t our usual sound, this is different,” but we trusted Hurby. We didn’t expect anything to come of it. But this DJ started playing it and “Push It” just blew up without any promotion.

We got word that the song was being played like crazy and so we had to hurry up and do a video.
We filmed this show that we did in Florida. Dapper Dan put the jackets together and it ended up
being No. 1.

Denton: We were in the middle of being judged by hip-hop. Back then, I was so caught up in that
judgment of us not being hip enough or street enough that I didn’t get a chance to enjoy the
sound. It was crazy. But I do love that song.

James: “Push It” is not my favorite song. I love “Shoop.” It’s tongue-in-cheek, and Salt-N-Pepa flipping
misogyny onto the guys and we are objectifying them in the video.

We had lost some weight and we were looking really hot. We also wrote it ourselves so it was an emancipation moment from the record company and Hurby. We had to fight the record company to make it the first song to kick off the “Very Necessary” album. It means a lot to me.

What happened to the iconic jackets from the video?

Denton: Those original jackets got stolen pretty early in our career. We were in Brixton, London, and someone broke into the dressing room and specifically stole the jackets.

We’ve had them remade. When we did the Geico commercial, we had a version made. Same with Las Vegas, and we also had a version made with Swarovski crystals.

Salt-N-Pepa receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 11:30 a.m. on Nov. 4 at 6212 Hollywood Blvd. and will livestream on the Variety YouTube page.

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