Three decades ago Salt-N-Pepa shot to the top of the charts with their hit single “Push It.” Now the female rap group is back in the spotlight with a new Lifetime movie.
The film titled Salt-N-Pepa chronicles Cheryl “Salt” James and Sandy “Pepa” Denton’s journey from college students to hip-hop icons. The rap legends serve as executive producers on the movie, which stars G.G. Townson and Laila Odom.
During the virtual press junket, James said making the movie brought back a flood of memories.
“I definitely had a lot of anxiety doing it, because you do have to revisit old wounds,” she explained. “It opens up old wounds and questions that you have about things you experienced. I definitely had a hard time pushing through it.”
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Denton and James became friends while they were nursing students at Queensborough Community College in Queens, New York.
Over the years, the two had many ups and downs, including financial disputes with music executives, failed relationships, mental health issues, and replacing their original DJ with Deidra Roper, who became known as DJ Spinderella.
Roper is no longer involved with the group. In May 2019, she shared a statement on Instagram saying she’d received a “termination email” from Salt-N-Pepa. In August 2019, Billboard reported that Roper was suing the group over alleged unpaid royalties.
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Spinderella is portrayed by Monique Paul, who has a small role in the film. Denton and James said there were things they kept out of the movie for legal reasons.
“There definitely were a lot of legal limitations,” James noted. “That was a hard hump to get over. It’s hard to put 35 years into a two-and-a-half-hour film. I felt there were so many things that we wanted to do and wanted to say that we weren’t able to. For me and Pep, there was nothing we didn’t want to say.”
Denton’s parents were originally from Jamaica. She said her father expected her to make something of herself in the U.S.
“I had to become somebody and Salt-N-Pepa, it was my answer, my path, my destiny that was put in front of me, and nothing was going to stop me from achieving that,” Denton said at the junket.
In the early 1980s, Denton and James recorded a song for their friend Hurby Azor and it got lots of attention in New York City. The track was called “The Showstopper” — and was an answer to Doug E. Fresh’s popular single “The Show.”
Salt-N-Pepa called themselves “Super Nature” at the time, but a line in their song about “the salt and pepper MCs” caught on with fans and they changed the group’s name.
“When we had our first single, ‘The Showstopper,’ all the fans were like ‘yo, play that salt and pepper song,'” Denton recalled.
The movie shows Azor, played by Cleveland Berto, molding James and Denton into rappers and guiding them to success. There’s a scene where he explains to them how to deliver the lyrics to “Push It,” just before they record the track in a tiny bathroom — something James said really happened.
“We did record ‘Push It’ in a bathroom at this producer’s house named Fresh Gordon. It was that small, like you saw in the movie. It was hot, we were sweating, and we were up in each other’s faces,” she said with a smile.
[Watch a clip of the scene below]
The film is produced by Sony Pictures Television and directed by Mario Van Peebles (New Jack City, Baadasssss!) from a script by Abdul Williams (The Bobby Brown Story, The New Edition Story). In addition to Denton and James, executive producers include Robert Teitel, Shakim Compere, Queen Latifah and Hurby Azor.
Salt-N-Pepa premieres Saturday, Jan. 23 at 8 pm ET/PT on Lifetime, followed at 11 pm ET/PT by a documentary titled Salt-N-Pepa Interview Special, hosted by Loni Love.