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
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Sport
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Latest stories from i100
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

    Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

    £23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

    Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

    £14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

    Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

    Day In a Page

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower