Rap pioneer Salt makes music to uplift women

Kevin C. Johnson
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MCT)

Groundbreaking rapper Salt of Salt-N-Pepa fame isn't worrying about who's walking through the door the duo opened in the '80s with hits such as "Push It," "Tramp" and "Shake Your Thang."

She's heard of new female rapper Nicky Minaj, for example, but acknowledges she's not that familiar with Minaj's music.

Today's hip-hop might be a bit much for Salt, who is working on gospel music and is more likely to listen to "music that uplifts and keeps me encouraged."

"I think there's definitely some good hip-hop out there but, for the most part, I think it's too negative and misogynistic and violent," says Salt (aka Cheryl James). "It's really gone to an extreme."

Salt is trying to help bring more positive messages to music with the Fresh Fest tour, featuring a number of throwback hip-hop acts.

"We're having a good time on stage, and it's very nostalgic," she says. "It's nice taking people back to when hip-hop was happy and fun."

Back when Salt-N-Pepa was making history as the first female rap act with a gold or platinum CD and the first to win a Grammy Award, life was more challenging than fun, Salt says.

"We had a problem getting in the door and being taken seriously," she says. "We had to knock down doors and convince people we had what it takes."

She remembers one night early in the group's career when the duo was backstage at a Run-D.M.C. concert. She overheard a conversation between rap mogul Russell Simmons and another person. Simmons was asked what he thought of Salt-N-Pepa, and he answered with a thumbs-down gesture.

Salt-N-Pepa went on to record hit after hit such as "Shoop," "Whatta Man," "None of Your Business" and, of course, "Let's Talk About Sex." The latter — a plea to have open conversations about sexual relationships — was among the songs that gave Salt-N-Pepa a reputation for being socially conscious.

"That's our responsibility as an artist," she says. "I pray for other artists to accept that responsibility. The kids need those role models."

Unfortunately, those role models aren't coming from other female rappers. Though history has seen a variety of female rappers, these days they're having a tough time breaking through to the mainstream.

Salt-N-Pepa hope to be relatable to women with its next CD, its first since 1997's "Brand New." One of Salt's gospel songs is part of the project. Rockwilder is among the producers, and Salt calls the music "very female-empowering."

Although both Salt and Pepa have experimented with starring in television shows, Salt says she's more interested in getting her new music out.

"It mostly started out as something cathartic for me, but people are asking about it," she says.

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