Hip Hop Harmony At Home With Pepa Denton And Treach Criss, The 'First Couple' Of Rap

Posted: November 16, 1999

MORRISTOWN, N.J. — Her DJ, Spinderella, calls them the "black version of Sonny and Cher."

And because they have more soul, hit records and platinum jewelry than Bill and Hillary, fans of hip-hop culture call them the new "first couple."

Sandy "Pepa" Denton - the Salt-n-Pepa rap veteran who female hotties like Missy Elliott and Germantown's Eve call their idol - and Anthony "Treach" Criss - gritty front man for Naughty by Nature - made hip-hop history when they married last July. It was the first time two rap stars tied the knot.

In a recent interview at their secluded hilltop home - just down the road from another celebrity duo, singers Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown - the couple spoke candidly about their personal and professional lives.

On a picturesque fall afternoon, Pepa was decked out in a blue satin outfit and matching suede boots, while her other half was more relaxed in jeans and a white cotton shirt.

Sleeping upstairs was the couple's daughter, Egypt Jahnari Criss, who was quickly dubbed "the first baby of hip-hop" when she was born 14 months ago. Pepa's 9-year-old son, Tyran, was at school.

The entertainment room has a full-size movie screen and video game arcade. But the most eye-catching feature is the custom-made fish tank built into the bar. Dozens of platinum and gold albums, awards and plaques cover the smooth white walls.

A larger-than-life painting of Pepa adorns the living room wall upstairs. Across the room is a white baby grand piano they bought for Tyran.

The Jamaica-born Pepa and her husband, who's from East Orange, N.J., were officially married in a Kansas City tattoo parlor in April. Their names and a barbed-wire design were tattooed on their ring fingers to mark the occasion.

Invites for that event, which were handwritten on Marriott Hotel stationery by Salt-n-Pepa DJ Spinderella, sit in a gold frame atop the living room's stone fireplace.

The couple have all the celebrity-couple intrigue of Mr. and Mrs. Will Smith, with an extra twist of ghetto-fabulous. (Treach wore a stocking cap at their wedding.) They even call each other Pep and Treach when they're just shooting the breeze.

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So how did this all begin?

It wasn't exactly love at first sight, said Pepa, as her husband wrapped his arm around her.

When Pepa first stumbled across her future soulmate, she was not impressed. In fact, she was a little afraid. A fellow rapper, Nicki D, introduced them backstage at Harlem's Apollo Theater in 1991. She had reservations about approaching the rap star and his squad of friends.

"I was nervous because they all looked crazy and rough. When she introduced us, he just looked at me and was like" - she curtly nodded her head - "that's it. He looked scary and he was scary, because he didn't even talk to me."

Treach sat up a little straighter on the couch to offer his defense.

"It was just too much going on at the time at the Apollo. There were people everywhere," he said. "It was crowded. I wanted to meet her alone."

"Big Pep" had been looking forward to the day when she could see his face.

She loved Naughty by Nature's hit song, "O.P.P.," but had never seen the video. She had tried three times to catch the group in concert, but it didn't work out.

He knew exactly what she looked like. Salt-n-Pepa are among the most recognizable female rappers in the industry.

Shortly after that backstage introduction, their paths crossed again on a flight to Florida for MTV's spring break concert. He made his move at the baggage claim, offering to carry her things.

It was then that the sparks began to fly.

"From the beginning, we were so much alike. We were gambling in the hotel room for money. As the night was dying down, everybody was leaving, one at a time, and we were still there playing hard, trying to win our money back," she said, rubbing her husband's leg.

Treach asked her to stay behind, although Salt-n-Pepa had already performed and were scheduled on an early morning flight. And then it happened.

"I ran upstairs and told the girls, `Guess who I just kissed?' " she recalled, grinning from ear to ear.

She stayed, and the next day they literally leaped into each other's life by answering mutual dares to bungee-jump.

"It's almost like destiny with us," said Pepa, who had met one of Treach's cousins years ago in New York. "His cousin always used to tell me, `Yo, my cousin really likes you and he's about to come out' and I'd be like, `OK.' "

The road to the altar wasn't completely smooth, though. Like lovers all over the world, they encountered growing pains.

"It was just a matter of getting to know each other," said Treach. "Sometimes we were just conflicting like fire."

"But let me tell you about our break-ups," interjects Pepa. "We were still going out to dinner, still hanging out and still doing it every once in a while."

Their most publicized drama involved the daughter of one of America's most famous defendants. During one of their break-ups, word got back to Pepa that Treach was seeing Arnelle Simpson.

"My friends called me and told me that it was Arnelle," she recalled. "And I said, `Who's Arnelle?' and they were like, `It's OJ's daughter,' and I said, `Oh, brother.' "

Just as his wife began to give details, Treach came back down the stairs to the family room after checking on the baby.

They haven't talked much publicly about the situation. As Pepa spoke, her husband sat quietly next to her, nodding his head in agreement while softly rubbing her shoulder.

Contrary to rumors flying around at the time, Pepa says she never beat Arnelle Simpson up. She admits, however, to confronting Arnelle after she and Treach were back together.

It happened after a Naughty by Nature concert where Arnelle, out in the audience, acted a little overzealously about Treach for Pepa's taste.

Initially she planned to approach Simpson at the concert but was talked out of it by her girlfriends. Their paths crossed a short time later in private.

"I didn't know how she was going to react because I was stepping to her like, `Were you trying to play me?' " Pepa recalled. "She was real sweet about it. She said that she and Treach were just friends, and that was that."

Even rap royalty have their domestic breakdowns. As the couple tried to play the tape of their star-studded wedding for a visitor, the tape jammed in the VCR. Apologizing for the malfunction, they sat back down on the couch together, holding hands.

The glare from their platinum-and-diamond wedding rings could stop a truck. But when asked for specifics, Treach replied, "A true rabbit never tells how many carats he has."

Shoppers stare in amazement when Pepa hits the aisles of the local Morristown A&P.

She explained that celebs are a more common sight up the road at the upscale King's food market, where Houston and other well-known folks buy their groceries.

Pepa frequents King's too, but there are days, she said, when she'd just rather keep it real and make a run to the A&P.

"They look at me like, what is she doing in here with us?" she said, while pouring a glass of orange juice in the kitchen. "And I'm looking at them like, my son likes Kix cereal, and we need milk."

If all goes as planned, it may become a little harder for Pepa to drop in at the local A&P. Both rappers are looking to elevate their careers to a whole new level.

"We're definitely on some husband-and-wife ensemble career stuff," says Treach.

Following the lead of other rappers turned actors like Smith, Ice Cube and Queen Latifah, the two plan to invade Hollywood. Fans of the Showtime comedy series "Linc's" can expect to see Pepa alongside Pam Grier in an upcoming episode. She also has a small role in the action film, "Love in a Bullet," which stars her hubby.

Treach has already starred in "Jason's Lyric" (1994) and "First Time Felon" (1997). Next up will be "Book of Love," also starring Robin Givens and Richard T. Jones.

"I don't have any limitations with my acting," said Treach. "The role I play in `Book of Love' is definitely not a gangster. Girls are dogging me out in this one."

Most recently, he was seen on HBO's critically acclaimed prison series "Oz." Getting into character for that role was especially difficult, he said. In two episodes of the violent drama, Treach played an inmate who admits to murdering and raping a woman before stabbing her newborn to death.

"It was really intense," he recalled. "The thing about that was I had to kill a baby, and I got kids. I basically had to blank out all my emotions. It took me a while to do that scene. I had to keep looking at the crib to make sure it was still a doll in there."

Fatherhood has brought out the softer side of Treach.

The man who once wielded a chainsaw in a music video, melts as he takes "Boo-boo" out of her crib and brings her downstairs to the family room.

He spoke about what he think it takes to be a good father.

"Most parents run on dictatorships, where their kids are scared to talk to them," he said. "You have to talk to your kids and basically just have a friendship with them where they can trust you. I want them to be able to come to me for anything. I don't want them learning nothing in the street."

His wife added that making time for their children is a priority, although they have hectic schedules.

"My sister takes him to school in the morning and picks him up in the afternoon," Pepa said of her son, "but I do all the important stuff like plays and Halloween parties. Or if he just says, `Mom, I want you to take me today.' "

One of the next projects on their platinum-coated plate is to complete a book on relationships. Pepa says friends and fellow celebrities frequently call on her for advice.

"It's going to be fun because who else can tell it like Pepa and Treach?" she said. "It's going to be about just making it work and dealing with the hard times if you're with your soulmate.

"A lot people think they're with their soulmate just because they been together for five years, and when they break up you hear them say, `I gave him five years of my life,' but that don't mean he was your soulmate."

Treach says the secret to their happiness is being able to communicate and not being insecure.

"It's business first when we're out in public. My baby been doing this for a long time, so she has a lot of fans and friends all over," he said. "I have to be secure about mine. Sometimes I even have to ask her `Whatever happened to the little skirts?' "

"I didn't think he wanted me to wear that kind of stuff," she added with a smirk. The rap divas, as Salt-n-Pepa are known, made a splash in concerts in the early '90s when they performed in shorts and Victoria's Secret bras.

On that note, Treach grabbed the keys to his Lexus SUV and rushed out the door to read for a part in an upcoming Arnold Schwarzenegger film.

Hip-hop hooray for love, beats and rhymes.

Both artists made names for themselves with home-wrecking songs that applauded infidelity. Naughty's best-known hit is "O.P.P.," which stands for "Other People's Property." A track off Salt-n-Pepa's first album was titled, "I'll Take Your Man."

These days, Pepa doesn't have eyes for anybody else's guy, and for Treach, "O.P.P." has taken on a whole new meaning.

Only Pepa's Property.

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