Rock: Girl power rules ... but with a little less spice

They have toned down the riskier, raunchier lyrics in their new album but the women of Salt-n-Pepa reckon that when it comes to girl power they can show the young pretenders a thing or two. Phil Johnson meets a group who have grown up hard and fast.

When future anthologists of British children's playground rhymes reach the late-1980s, a distinct change in the content of the verses will have to be noted in a flurry of footnotes. For this was when "The Big Ship Sails Through the Alley-Alley-O" and its like were displaced by kindergarten versions of "Let's Talk About Sex" by rap group Salt-n-Pepa, complete with illustrative dances.

From here onwards, kiddie culture would never be the same again. It was only a short step and then the tots were singing along to "Tease Me" by Chaka Demus and Pliers, and on to the present where pre-teens practise kung-fu kicks in playground re- enactments of Spice Girls' videos.

"Let's Talk About Sex" is still a favourite rhyme, to be sung satirically in sex education lessons whenever the teacher points to the diagram of the rabbit's reproductive organs, and Salt-n-Pepa's subsequent success (their last album went quadruple- platinum in the US) makes perfect sense: they were always the most satisfyingly cartoonish of rappers. But while fellow toon-town stars like The Fat Boys and Kid-n-Play (whose hyphens indicate they came from the same producer's stable as S-n-P), have had their day, disappearing into the fade-to-black of rap obscurity, Salt-n-Pepa are still with us.

Their latest album in an 11-year career is released on Monday, and the original line-up is intact: Salt is still Cheryl James, Pepa is still Sandi Denton, and the third member (you didn't know there was a third member?), DJ Spinderella, is still Dee Dee Roper, who replaced the original Spinderella, Pamela Greene, after the first album.

The new album, Brand New, is not only evidence of rare longevity, it's also the first time that Salt-n-Pepa - who are all single mums - have made a record without their founder and first manager, Hurby "Luv Bug" Azor. It was Azor who thought up the brand-name of the group and who controlled, at least partly, all their previous recordings.

Originally, when James and Azor met at work in a Sears store in Queen's, New York, Azor himself was going to be Pepa, and it was the contrast between his dark skin and James's lighter colour that inspired the group's cruet- set name. When Azor decided that the idea would work better with two girls, Denton - who James had met at college in Queen's - became the new hot stuff.

In trying to ensure the success of their first album in four years, and to hit their target of 15 million sales, Salt-n-Pepa face more than a career without the Luv Bug. New female rappers like L'il Kim and Foxy Brown get far more low down and dirty than S-n-P ever did, talking about sex with a candour that no longer suits the playground. James - who produced Brand New herself, and wrote many of the songs - has also got religion and started to regret the salty lyrics that helped secure their reputation - a move that hasn't gone down well with Denton, who is still partial to the odd innuendo. Accordingly, Brand New treads a sometimes uneasy path between PG and 15 ratings, with mild sauce ("Gitty Up") sharing space with hot gospel ("Hold On"), and the musical menu mixing rap with more mainstream R&B, and even rock, with Sheryl Crow guesting on one track.

What does give the group a contemporary spin, though, is the success of the Spice Girls.

"I respect them," Cheryl James says, when I get to talk to her in a break from rehearsals for a new video at the dance studio in Hollywood. "They know they're pop, but they don't care, and they're making money, they're business women. It makes me proud to see someone sort of looking like me or doing my style."

James also sees Salt-n-Pepa as having a social significance that reaches beyond their cartoon image. "We stand for female empowerment and girls really look up to us because we made it out of situations that a lot of people wouldn't have. The music business is a good old boys club and we're three black women who are still here after all this time.

"I think we're an inspiration to females around the world; we're moms, we keep looking as good as we possibly can and we've always remained true to our look, to our sound, and to who we were."

The new album attempts to offer a more adult perspective than its predecessors, and includes a song about domestic violence inspired by the OJ Simpson case, and another, "Do Right Woman", about what James thinks women want from men - none of them, by the way, have partners

"Being older, I understand what I really want out of a relationship through having had what I didn't want in the past, she says. "Basically, the song is saying that we want to do all of the wonderful things men want us to, and we don't mind getting your slippers, we don't mind cooking for you, but you have to inspire us to do these things."

Brand New is out on Monday on London Records

Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Sport
Yaya Touré has defended his posturing over his future at Manchester City
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
News
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
news
Life and Style
beauty
Sport
There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

    £60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

    Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

    £75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

    Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

    £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice