Salt-n-Pepa win top honors at BET Hip Hop Awards '10

Lady B: "Different ballgame."
Lady B: "Different ballgame."
Posted: October 12, 2010

HIP HOP AWARDS '10. 8 tonight, BET.

ATLANTA - NOT MANY hip-hop dynasties can say they were built on dependable household appliances.

Enter the Queens of Rap.

Cheryl "Salt" Wray and Sandra "Pepa" Denton were Queensborough (N.Y.) Community College students and working part time at Sears in the mid-'80s. It was their sole mission in life to call New York customers and persuade them to extend the warranties on their washing machines. (One of their co-workers in the telemarketing cubicles was a youngster who talked often of how he was going to be a huge comedian one day. The world knows him as Martin Lawrence.)

In between making phone calls, they were persuaded by aspiring music mogul and Salt's then-boyfriend Herby "Luv Bug" Azor to make a rap record. The song was called "Showstoppers" and was a direct dis to popular rappers Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick. It was the way of the world in those days. If a female rapper was to get any respect, or attention, she had to take a lyrical swing at one of the guys.

Once radio stations in New York and beyond got a hold of that record, the rest is history. Five albums, 15 million units sold, and numerous world tours later, the "Queens of Rap" have woven themselves into the fabric of hip-hop history.

"They are a very significant part of hip-hop in that they were the first female rappers to go platinum and the first to rise to the occasion and demand respect for themselves," said iconic radio personality Lady B of WRNB-FM. "They refused to be pushed to the side."

Not long after the group recorded their first full studio album, they went on a mission to replace their original DJ, who had quit the group.

Dee Dee "Spinderella" Roper heard a rumor in school that Salt-n-Pepa were looking for a replacement and practiced nonstop with the assistance of A.D., her high school sweetheart.

Acing the audition was the easy part. The huge challenge was persuading her parents to let her hit the road on a national tour that conflicted with her senior year of high school.

"These women plucked me from the Pink House Projects in Brooklyn when I was 16 years old and changed my life forever," recalled Roper, who is now one of the most sought after celebrity DJs in the world. "It has been nonstop ever since."

Roper joined the group right in time to shoot the video for what music critics have often called one of the greatest hip-hop tracks of all time, "Push It."

"I missed a lot of 12th grade because I was on the road with the girls, but I had an agreement with the school that I would do my homework on time," she recalled. "When I graduated, the whole crowd was screaming, 'Ahhhh, Push It' as I walked down the aisle. It was so funny and embarrassing."

This groundbreaking trio was honored with the "I Am Hip Hop" Icon Award in Atlanta last week, during BET's "Hip Hop Awards '10" ceremony. The show will be broadcast tonight.

All eyes were on the pioneering rap group as they took the stage after a video montage of their career that included a recorded congratulatory message from their former co-worker Lawrence.

Among the audience members were people of all generations and musical tastes, but it was obvious that the majority of attendees were likely babies or not yet born when Salt-n-Pepa debuted.

"It felt good to be honored by my peers as a pioneer and to receive a standing ovation from a younger generation," said Salt. "I saw Busta Rhymes and Puffy backstage and we hugged and laughed. They were genuinely excited for us and what we have accomplished."

Throughout the years, the trio earned a reputation for being workaholics, extremely driven to success. According to their former co-manager JP Edmund, Pepa once took to the stage sporting an eye patch after she cut her eye while removing a contact lens. She refused to miss the show.

"I worked those girls really hard," said Edmund. "At one point they did nine countries in 11 days and they both got sick. They kept it moving and finished, though. They had longevity because they just kept working hard no matter what."

All of the recent hype over Salt-n-Pepa with this award and their current "Legends of Hip-Hop" national tour, has many fans wondering why the female emcee has virtually disappeared.

Since Salt-n-Pepa kicked in that door, rappers like Da Brat, Queen Latifah, Lil' Kim, Foxy Brown, Missy Elliott and Eve have all joined the platinum club. But in recent years, tumbleweeds are blowing in the studios where mainstream female rappers once spit fire into microphones.

"It's deeper than asking where have all the females gone," said Lady B. "The question is where has real hip-hop gone. With the new technology and the nature of record companies, it's a whole different ballgame for everyone, not just the female emcees. They do exist, however. They're underground and on YouTube, but we have to find a way to get them to the masses."

Lil Wayne protégé Nicki Minaj has been a staple on radio and video channels for more than a year. The quirky rapper, known for her schizophrenic lyrics and persona, has taken the industry by storm. But unlike the days where Monie Love, Finesse & Synquis, Sweet Tee and J.J. Fad shared the airwaves, Nicki Minaj is fighting her battle alone.

Although she has yet to drop a studio album, she has made guest appearances on dozens of songs, both mainstream and underground, making her currently the most popular female rapper.

Some critics have given her glowing reviews for her skills while others have said she is benefiting from the lack of competition.

"I don't think that it's only about her being out there by herself," said Salt. "She stands out from the rest because she is witty and has an interesting and creative flow. You can also call her the Lady Gaga of hip-hop because she has great stylists and her look is innovative and keeps everyone's attention."

Salt acknowledged that Nicki Minaj is doing everything the right way, including riding into the game on a wave of testosterone.

"She came into this business by way of a man, which is normally the way a female has to do it," she continued. "The door of opportunity was opened for her by Lil Wayne and she was smart enough to take advantage of that."

There has been much talk about the absence of female emcees in the rap game, but on the flip side Spinderella is pleased with the advancement of ladies rocking the wheels of steel.

"I speak on behalf of female DJs when I say that our plight seems to have far surpassed not only the quantity, but the quality of female emcees," she said. "These great female DJs are spreading like wildfire around the world. When I see that DJ Eque, DJ Monalisa or DJ Angie Vee are doing a party, I'm there in a heartbeat."

Drastic changes in the economy and record-label structures may be to blame for the decline, but legal woes have also added to the setbacks of some major players.

Platinum New Yorkers Lil' Kim and Foxy Brown have both served time in prison. Jermaine Dupri protégé Da Brat, the first solo female rapper to go platinum, is serving time in prison for assaulting a waitress with a rum bottle and slashing her face. Popular female emcee Remy Ma also was enjoying a rising career when she was thrown in jail for shooting a friend in the stomach over stolen money. She is serving an eight-year prison sentence.

All the drama aside, the veterans of the game are confident that the next wave of female rap greats are right around the corner. As hip-hop forges ahead, it's safe to say that no other women will ever have the same impact on the genre.

"Salt-n-Pepa were a phenomenon," explained Salt. "The stars aligned for us back then and I think it can happen again for another group, but not the way we did it. Just like there is only one Beyoncé, and one Janet [Jackson], there is only one Salt-n-Pepa."

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