Let’s talk about Salt n Pepa

Let’s talk about sex, baby
Let’s talk about you and me

This morning while sipping my tea and crunching on some peanut butter toast, I caught a little bit of Video Hits. The legendary female rappers Salt n Pepa were being interviewed because they’re in Australia touring at the moment. Salt n Pepa have tunes that are still catchy, cheeky, fun and powerful. I thought they should feature as this week’s “Feminist of the Week”.

Rap and hip hop music tends to have a bit of a bad reputation among feminists – there’s concern about sexist lyrics and video clips that objectify women’s bodies (obviously this is not confined to this one genre of music!) – but I reckon Salt n Pepa turn the tables on this. They’re sassy, sexy, in your face, and they’re not afraid to talk about sex and their lusty thoughts about men. They look really good in lycra, their lyrics depict empowered and liberated women, and their songs continue to make people dance and smile.

Below are three of my favourite Salt n Pepa songs for your enjoyment. I’ve also included some discussion from other blogs about about them as feminist musicians and icons.

“Let’s Talk about Sex”

Now we talk about sex on the radio and video shows
Many will know anything goes
Let’s tell it how it is, and how it could be
How it was, and of course, how it should be
Those who think it’s dirty have a choice
Pick up the needle, press pause, or turn the radio off

The likes of SNP, TLC and En Vogue provided urban music with the right kind of femme-fatale attitude through the 80’s and 90’s, and even provided a strong, powerful feminist voice for those who’d felt they couldn’t speak. Women in music were being given a proper platform, and Salt ‘N’ Pepa were, out of the aforementioned, the first on the Urban music scene to really make a strong feminist impression. Exploding onto the music charts in 1985, Cheryl Wray (Salt), Sandra Denton (Pepa) and Deidra Roper (the often referenced in song, never in artist title Spinderella) were feisty girls from New York who, up until 1987 had minimal impact on music buyers wallets.

When the incredibly infamous dance floor monster “Push It” surfaced as a single in 1987, Spinderella and her mates cracked the US Hot 100 for the very first time, and hit the top 5 in both Australia and the UK. Minor hits followed suit (their 1989 cover of “Twist & Shout” – complete with amazing video clip – still remains one of my favourite covers of all time), but the melody and club-attack of tracks such as 1991’s “Do You Want Me” and “Let’s Talk About Sex” cemented them into pop music history for more than just “Push It.” The groups discography reads on-and-off right through to the end of 1999; minor hits broken up by a succession of big ones. However, their biggest effort wasn’t until 1993, when the bands iconic album “Very Necessary” was released and we were given the beauty of “Shoop”, “Heaven or Hell”, “None Of Your Business” and the En Vogue duet “Whatta Man”

Source: Adem with an e.com


I love you in your big jeans, you give me nice dreams
You make me wanna scream, “Oooo, oooo, oooo!”
I like what ya do when you do what ya do
You make me wanna shoop

Popular female rappers like Salt-N-Peppa and Monie Love use explicit sexual speech to turn the tables on the men and let the women be the dominant ones. For example, Salt-N-Peppa’s 1993 hit single “Shoop”, broke the boundaries of female inhibitions, disputing the myth that women should not and do not discuss their sexual desires of men. The music video for “Shoop” features men in sexy, slightly objectified roles, and camera shots which do not pan to the face before or after a sexy body shot. The word “shoop” is a euphemism for the act of sexual intercourse. “I wanna Shoop” intends to relay a strong sense of sexuality absent of the traditional inhibitions placed on women. The use of erotic imagery portrays women’s physical lust as being not only acceptable but enjoyable. The power of these lyrics serves to boost women’s self esteem, also eradicating the stereotypical attitude that women need to be sexually submissive.

Source: funk-the-system

“None of Your Business”

I hadn’t seen this clip before. It’s got an anti-homophobic and anti-racist vibe to it.

Now you shouldn’t even get into who I’m givin’ skins to
It’s none of your business
So don’t try to change my mind, I’ll tell you one more time
It’s none of your business!

For more information about hip hop feminism, you might like to check Joan Morgan’s book, When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: A Hip-Hop Feminist Breaks It Down. There’s a whole range of books exploring similar issues. See the amazon link for other suggestions.


11 Responses to “Let’s talk about Salt n Pepa”

  1. Tim Byron Says:

    Haha, we saw the same thing on Video Hits this morning, and we were wondering if cultural studies in music types were big on Salt N Pepa. And here you are!

  2. ana australiana Says:

    Freakin’ ace, thanks for this! In the words of Queen Latifah: U-N-I-T-Y/you gotta let ’em know/you ain’t a bitch or a ho….:)

  3. Jadey Says:

    I was going to reply to this but I see Tim already got there first! We were taking about Salt ‘n’ Pepa when we were watching their clips. I was thinking about why music sociologists haven’t picked up on Salt ‘n’ Pepa as much as they should have, because there are a lot of gender studies in music academia, and a lot of writing about the issues in hip hop music. Thinking about it, it was surprising to me that I hadn’t come across any papers about them, because they seem like a total goldmine for music sociologists (though to be fair, I haven’t specifically looked for them so they may be out there!)

    I think what you said was correct though, they took a genre that alienated women and made a space in it for themselves. They talked about their lust for men, but it was never a put down (like it can often seem these days in rap music: ‘bitches’ and ‘ho’s’ and what have you), it was often a celebration. In some ways, they stuck to the original ideal of hip hop music too, in that they do talk about social issues (such as “let’s talk about sex”). I would have to listen to more of their material to comment more about that, and how it relates to their music specifically.

    Beyond that, they did seem really GOOD at what they do. Listening to the lyrics of ‘Shoop’ after many years, the lines are so clever, they use all kinds of rhymes (inline, imperfect, often rhyming inline rhymes with other inline rhymes!) and they play with the rhythm of their lyrics in a conversational style. They also show an awareness of other music (eg, they openly reference Prince’s single “Sexy MF” which is along the same lyrical lines, but also the children’s song “skip to my lou” and wordplay in the lines “spend all my dough…re me cutie” which is a nod to the sol-fa scale).

    Hmm I don’t know where I’m going with this, but I was thinking about things on Sunday morning and obviously you were too!

    • doctorpen Says:

      Thanks for your comments, Jadey. You’re right about their music being a celebration of sex and sexuality. Thanks for your discussion of their work from a musicology perspective!

      • Tim Byron Says:

        I generally agree with Jadey about all this. The other thing I noticed is that, on “Shoop”, Salt is clearly a superior rapper to Pepa from a technical perspective – Salt had more wordplay, was more conceptual, and had more odd rhythms in her rapping.

        A little later on Video Hits there was a video by Jay Z, “DOA”, and it was interesting seeing them in reasonably close proximity: Salt’s raps in “Shoop” are actually considerably superior to Jay Z as far as I’m concerned, as Jay Z had a couple of good lines, but was largely uninspired or descending into cliche.

  4. Aviva Says:

    Excellent post; I love that you’ve gathered so much analysis/information together about Salt N Pepa. I have to be very careful while watching these videos because as soon as I start playing one of their songs it leads into a two-hour marathon singing, viewing, dancing session!

  5. Gugu Bëla Says:

    I really enjoyed this post. I was just wondering what your thoughts on more modern day female rap artists are. Like, say Nicki Minaj. (haha, I know, I know) There has been a lot of talk about Anaconda and some feminists loved the music video while others hated it. I’m still on the fence about it.

    *shameful whisper* Even though I blogged about it and said that I loved it.

    I think it’s real interesting what Nicki has us talking about.

    • doctorpen Says:

      Hello! Thanks for your comment! I’m so out of touch with what’s going on in music at the moment, especially mainstream stuff. (I blame having a child!) It was funny, the day you wrote this message, was the first time I’d seen the Nicki Minaj video, and it was a spoof version, with farts dubbed over the music. (Have a look for it, it’s hilarious!)

      I think the video definitely has a feminist message, but I fear that a lot of the message may be lost on many people. Particularly those who don’t know the original Baby Got Back song. There’s still just a bit too much arse wiggling going on for me to really see the strong feminist side of the video. But it’s definitely clever, if subtle.

      I like your post about it. I’ll have to check out more of Minaj’s work now!

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