In Does Rock 'N' Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz a grizzled artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the loud music and hard rockin' has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: Cheryl James, aka Salt from rap pioneers Salt-N-Pepa.
1: Which pop star dressed her family as Salt-N-Pepa for Halloween in 2016?
“You know you’ve made it when you become a Halloween costume but when Queen Bey dresses up like you, you’re definitely an icon – she made it official! (Laughs). When she was in Destiny’s Child, we did a radio station performance together. She was quiet and reserved. She struck me as the shier one – but definitely the star – in the group.”
So many big names have cited you as an influence – for instance, a young Amy Winehouse was in a Salt-N-Pepa inspired rap duo called Sweet ‘N’ Sour. Any stand out?
“She’s someone we have lots of respect for. I love Amy – I was very sad when she passed. Hip-hop icons like Queen Latifah, MC Lyte and Missy Elliott always show us love. The only one I was surprised by was Prince. When hip-hop came about, it was rapping over break beats or other people’s music, so there was a lot of people that didn’t understand or respect it. So I was really flattered when Prince – who’s such a dedicated musician – was a fan of a hip-hop group like us. He invited us to Paisley Park, his home in Minneapolis, once for a private party and he stayed onstage the entire night performing with his band. He was exactly how you’d think he’d be – very soft-spoken, a little shy, but a dynamite performer.”
2: Who once sent you a cake shaped like a Glock?
“You don’t need to say ‘correct’ – I know I’m correct. I was there! (Laughs) I’m not going to forget that!”
“Another amazing artist and amazing human being. I know he was talking about the media when he named his album ‘All Eyez on Me’, but it was apt because when he walked into a room, he commanded attention – you couldn’t look away. He was so vibrant, outspoken, interesting – and sexy as I-don’t-know-what!”
“It was a congratulations cake for winning a Grammy. But when we first opened it, we looked and it and went: ‘A gun?! A Glock?!’. We didn’t know if we did something wrong or were being threatened! Then me and Pep looked at each other and went: ‘Nah, it has to be a congratulations cake!’ (Laughs) So we accepted it as that.”
What’s your favourite Tupac memory?
“When he appeared in our ‘Whatta Man’ video. I remember being in the bed with him feeling really nervous and shy. It even shows in the video when he’s kissing my neck and I kind of hold my neck up a little bit like: ‘(Screams) OH MY GOODDDDDDD!!!! TUPAC IS KISSING ME! I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS!’ He took the time to be my leading man during a period when he had a lot of negative things going on, which is testament to the type of down-to-earth celebrity he was. He dedicated ‘Keep Ya Head Up’ to my daughter Corin – she’s such a positive ray of light and he met her when she was two. She had an effect on him and he called me to let me know he’d dedicated the song to her. Or maybe he was subliminally hollering at me when I was in a relationship with her father at the time. Who knows?!”
3: Which two Marvel universe films feature Salt-N-Pepa songs?
“Um, Deadpool and…holy cow! I don’t remember the other one!”
“Okay yeah! I saw that with my son – we were like ‘(Excited) Aaggghhhh!’ which happens a lot when we go to the movies. I just saw the latest J-Lo movie [‘Second Act’] and they do a whole sequence to ‘Shoop’. She told me about it at the Billboard awards but I forgot. Women tell me all the time it’s their karaoke song. Before Ryan Reynolds received an award at the MTV Movie Awards in 2016, we sang ‘Shoop’ to him with a troupe of dancing Deadpools. We’d spent time with him before that – we hosted a panel he was doing about the movie industry with the stars of Deadpool. He’s funny, personable, kind and amazing to be around – just a happy dude who doesn’t take himself too seriously at all.”
4: Which Australian actress used to cover your songs when she was younger in a rap duo with her sister?
“Oh my! Not Khaleesi from Game of Thrones – Emilia Clarke – because she’s not Australian? Um (Racking her brains) Australian, Australian…”
If you say ‘Australian’ three times, she isn’t going to appear like Beetlejuice…
“(Laughs) The tall one with the blonde hair? I’m so bad with remembering names!”
WRONG. It was Rebel Wilson.
5: Which British girlband covered ‘Push It’ on their 2008 ‘Tangled Up’ tour?
“Probably the Spice Girls?”
WRONG. It was Girls Aloud.
“Who? A lot of people cover ‘Push It’. Fatman Scoop just sent us a new mix of ‘Push It’ with him on there hyping up the crowd. It’s really hot. In the ‘80s when it first came out, at one show, police thought we were singing ‘Pussy real good’ and were called to the side of the stage to censor us. We had to go and get the album: ‘No, look – it says ‘Push…It…Real…Good!’”
6: Which artists was your answer record ‘The Showstoppa’ a response to?
“ Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick. Their song was ‘The Show’ – we did ‘The Showstoppa’”
“That’s how we got our foot in the door. That’s how you got started as a female – like Roxanne Shante had the Roxanne Wars. That’s how you got people to pay attention because it was quite ballsy for women to do that back then in such a male-dominated, misogynistic genre. They [Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick] didn’t take it too seriously. We ran into them a couple of times back then and they were nice – they weren’t angry. Doug E’s a good friend of mine now.”
In that misogynistic world of rap, which rappers were the most supportive of you and who dismissed you because of your gender?
“Our producer Hurby [‘Luv Bug’ Azor] had a bunch of artists – Kid ‘n Play, Sweet T, Kwamé, Dana Dane – so we didn’t really look outside of that camp for support. But for a long time, we were very iffy and had to have consistent amount of hits in order for us to be considered legit in the industry.”
“One person I overheard giving us the thumbs down saying we weren’t going to last when we first came out was Russell Simmons [co-founder of Def Jam]. He’s the father of hip-hop so I could have let that discourage me but it was actually ammunition for me to prove him wrong. Years later, he tried to sign us to Def Jam and I reminded him. (Laughs) He admitted: ‘I was an asshole!’.”
What do you think of the current state of rap?
“I’m not paying much attention. Anything new I hear is because my son plays it to me – he got me heavy into Drake who I think is brilliant. I appreciate slick lyrics as opposed to these elementary lyrics people are listening to these days. (Laughs) Which are fun to dance to but I like to break down lyrics and go ‘That metaphor was insane!’. Me son just played me a freestyle where this male rapper talks about fellatio three times within his 30 second rhyme. I notice a lot of girls are now saying that too like ‘He ate my mmmnn-hmmm’ – and they’re getting flak for it. Though it’s not my taste to hear women speak that blatantly about what he did to you in the intimacy of his bedroom, guys have been doing it for years! You can’t listen to a male rapper without hearing about how some girl went down on him. Thirty years after we started, double standards for women are still everywhere! (Laughs).”
7: Who hosted the episode of Saturday Night Live that you appeared on in 1994?
“From Star Trek? Oh God, you have to help me remember his name!”
WRONG. It was Patrick Stewart, aka Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Jean-Luc Picard.
“I remember that quite well because of his accent and the role he plays is so dignified – it was quite hilarious to have him introduce us!”
Talking of TV, what can you tell us about the forthcoming Salt-N-Pepa Lifetime biopic miniseries?
“We’ve been holding off on our biopic for many years because we wanted the right offer and creative control. It’s about the trials and tribulations of being friends and making that work within a business relationship which is difficult, and the things we were going through as individuals as well as within the music industry. It’s a two-part series which still isn’t enough – how do you fit 30 years into three hours?! It’s telling our story and hopefully we can be an inspiration to women. Social media wasn’t around back then so people don’t know the real behind the scenes truth of what we experienced.”
8: Soccer manager Jürgen Klopp sang ‘Let’s talk about six baby’ after which football team won their sixth Champions League final this summer?
“I have no idea! I don’t know anything about sports!”
WRONG. It was Liverpool. He sang it to the tune of your 1991 hit ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’.
“Cute! I’ll have to Google that! (Laughs)”
9: Which imposters once led to you spending a night in jail?
“Very early on, when the only song we had was ‘The Showstoppa’ and people didn’t know our faces, our managers were actually pimps – while they were managing us! (Laughs) Real grimy street cats! We left them due to me saying I couldn’t deal with them. I didn’t like the way they talked to us and treated us. So they just went and got two other girls and called them Salt-N-Pepa! We had a show in Manhattan one night and get to the door and the bouncer said: ‘Salt-N-Pepa’s already here!’. We were like, ‘What?!’ So Hurby, our producer and my boyfriend at the time, snuck into the venue, grabs the mic and announces: ‘This is not the real Salt-N-Pepa!’. Then our ex-manager’s bodyguard – a huge dude – starts chasing Hurby down the street, I chase after my boyfriend defending him and start getting hit. It’s carnage. Pep’s crying. Because they’re criminal and streetwise, one of the ex-managers called the police to press charges against me saying I assaulted him so I get taken to jail. Tip: never go to jail on a Friday ‘cos you don’t get out until Monday!”
10: What is the number one use of salt in the United States?
“Around the rims of Margaritas? (Laughs) Bath salts? It’s obviously in food, right?”
“Wait…Do I need to say a specific type of food?!”
…NG. According to the latest US Geographical Survey, road de-icing is the number one use of salt (43 per cent of all salt consumed) compared to just 3 per cent used in agricultural and food processing.
“Well…that makes sense!”
Can we expect any new music from Salt-N-Pepa?
“We’re discussing the situation now with BMG because we’re old school and would want a label to promote and get it out there, rather than us doing it ourselves. We’ve definitely got a few songs I’m working on right now and I just have to get Pep in the studio.”
The verdict: 4/10
“That’s the kind of student I was! That’s why I became a rapper – I was a C student so it’s consistent! (Laughs)”
Salt-N-Pepa play Indigo at The O2, London, on Friday 9 August