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Salt-N-Pepa Changed The Face of Hip-Hop in the ’80s — See The ‘Queens of Rap’ Now!

They're one of the bestselling rap groups of all time!

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In the ’80s, hip-hop hit the mainstream, and it’s stayed there in the decades since. When hip-hop emerged, it had an urgency and power that set it apart from the pop that dominated the charts, but there was one noticeable flaw: The music was largely made by men, and there didn’t appear to be many women in the scene. Salt-N-Pepa, composed of Cheryl “Salt” James, Sandra “Pepa” Denton and Deidra “DJ Spinderella” Roper, changed all that with their 1986 debut, Hot, Cool & Vicious, which made them the first female rap group to earn a Platinum record.

They would become one of the bestselling rap groups of all time.

Salt-N-Pepa in 1988
Salt-N-Pepa in 1988Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

The rappers enjoyed continued success throughout the ’80s and ’90s, setting records and inspiring women with their tough yet feminine persona and empowering songs. Salt-N-Pepa weren’t afraid to be bold and unapologetically sexual in their raps, and their music paved the way for a new generation of women in hip-hop.

Salt-N-Pepa hits like “Push It,” “Let’s Talk About Sex,” “Shoop,” “None of Your Business” and “Whatta Man” (featuring none other than R&B girl group En Vogue) remain catchy as ever, and the hip-hop trailblazers are still a touchstone for women in the genre decades later.

They’ve truly earned their status as “the First Ladies of Rap” and their outfits (who could forget their colorful oversized jackets and door knocker earrings?), moves and music are forever fresh.

MUST-READ: En Vogue Members: See the Original Lineup of the Iconic ’90s R&B Girl Group Then & Now

Salt-N-Pepa in 2023
Salt-N-Pepa in 2023Amy Sussman/Getty

Salt-N-Pepa then and now

Salt-N-Pepa released their final album, Brand New, in 1997, and while they took a hiatus in the ’00s, they got back together and still perform today (albeit without DJ Spinderella). Here’s a look at the group then and now.

Cheryl “Salt” James

Salt in 1992 and 2023
Left: 1992; Right: 2023Al Pereira/Getty/Michael Ochs Archives; Lester Cohen/Getty for The Recording Academy

Rapper Cheryl “Salt” James, known as Salt, met Sandra “Pepa” Denton in college, where they were both studying nursing. They struck up a friendship and soon enough, Salt-N-Pepa was born.

Outside of rapping, James appeared in the films Who’s the Man? (1993) and Raw Nerve (1999). In 1997, she contributed a rap to the hit gospel song “Stomp” by God’s Property. Most recently, she was a featured rapper on the 2024 song “Woman,” also featuring MC Lyte, Big Daddy Kane and Raheem DeVaughn.

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James developed a strong Christian faith, and from 2007 to 2008, she and her former bandmates had a reality show following their attempt to reunite and the tensions that arose due to her faith and other issues between them.

Now 58, James has two children with her former husband, producer Gavin Wray. She still performs with Denton as Salt-N-Pepa.

Reflecting on Salt-N-Pepa’s longtime reign as hip-hop queens in a 2023 People interview, James said, “I never thought in my mind that we would be in our fifties and still traveling and performing probably just as much as we ever did. So that’s a testament to the power of the culture and how much people embrace it and love it. When we do shows and we see ’90s babies, ’80s babies, millennials, Gen Z, knowing our songs, it’s just like, “What are you guys doing here?” They’re there with the grandma, the mom and the daughter. Three generations we get sometimes. So, it’s a blessing.”

Sandra “Pepa” Denton

Sandra 'Pepa' Denton in 1992 and 2023
Left: 1992; Right: 2023Al Pereira/Getty/Michael Ochs Archives; Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/Getty

Rapper Sandra Denton, known as Pepa, overcame a traumatic childhood to become a hip-hop trailblazer, as detailed in her 2010 memoir Let’s Talk About Pep. She also had a reality show of the same name that year.

In addition to having her own reality show and being in the Salt-N-Pepa reality show, Denton was also part of The Surreal Life: Fame Games in 2007, and appeared on Growing Up Hip-Hop, a show following the kids of iconic rappers, from 2016 to 2023. Her son and daughter were both featured in the series.

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Denton also became an actress, with roles in Jason’s Lyric (1994), Joe’s Apartment (1996), 3 A.M. (2001), The Perfect Holiday (2007) and more. She had a six-episode arc on the show Oz from 2000 to 2003. In 1995, she branched out even more when she opened her own clothing store in Georgia.

Now 57, Denton was married to fellow rapper Treach. She recently became a grandma.

In a 2023 People interview, Denton reflected on Salt-N-Pepa’s impact on women, saying, “to see women… acknowledge us and how we inspire them, or they say we are the soundtrack to their lives. I’m like, ‘Yo, thank you.'”

Deidra “DJ Spinderella” Roper: Salt-n-Pepa

Spinderella in 1990 and 2023
Left: 1990; Right: 2023Michael Ochs Archives/Getty; Aaron J. Thornton/Getty

DJ Deidra Roper, known as Spinderella, started spinning records as a teen. She then joined Salt-N-Pepa, and remained a member until 2019, when she was fired from the group.

Roper was featured as a rapper on the 1993 Big Daddy Kane song “Very Special.” She also appeared in the films Stay Tuned (1993), Kazaam (1996) and Sandy Wexler (2017).

In 1997, she opened her own beauty salon, and from 2003 to 2006, she was a radio personality for the LA station KKBT 100.3, with her own show featuring classic hip-hop.

Roper is involved with a number of charitable causes, including the American Diabetes Association and the Saving Our Daughters Mentoring Program. She also offers classes in DJing through the Keep Spinning DJ Academy and had her own program to help kids learn about being DJs.

Now 53, she has a daughter with NBA player Kenny Anderson, and recently became a grandma. She still frequently DJs at all kinds of hip-hop shows and events and is currently working on a memoir.

In a 2021 Billboard interview, Roper said that while Salt-N-Pepa’s legacy has always been “to uplift women,” she’s been frustrated by being kicked out of the group, saying, “How are we going to uplift women if we can’t uplift each other?” though she’s still proud of all they achieved in the ’80s and ’90s.

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