A Salt-N-Pepa Hip-Hop Feminism Syllabus

Ahead of Lifetime’s biopic on the legendary rap group, we pulled this list together. Dig in.

Rappers Salt-N-Pepa and their DJ Spinderella pose for a portrait in 1988. Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Black women’s effects on hip-hop dates back to its inception more than 50 years ago. Founding father Kool Herc had help from his sister when he threw his epic block parties. Sylvia Robinson established a viable business model with Sugar Hill Records. Sha-Rock, Sparky D, and Roxanne Shanté were also in the mix, setting examples for future generations of women who wanted to rock the mic. The Sequence was an early example of what a group of rhyme-slanging women could do on a national level.

Our influence on the genre cannot be discussed without the legendary Salt-N-Pepa, who now have a Lifetime biopic to illustrate their legacy. Salt-N-Pepa, premiering January 23, chronicles Cheryl “Salt” James, Sandra “Pepa” Denton, and Deidra Muriel “Spinderella” Roper’s journey from humble beginnings in Queens, New York, to becoming hip-hop icons.

Salt-N-Pepa is the first female rap crew to go gold and platinum and achieve mainstream success. Spinderella joined Salt-N-Pepa in 1987, replacing the first DJ for the group, Latoya Hanson, who appears on the cover of their 1986 debut album Hot, Cool & Vicious. Self-described as “bringing, fun, fashion, and femininity,” the group introduced the world to hip-hop feminism, a term that was later defined by Joan Morgan in her 1999 book, When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost.

When Salt-N-Pepa arrived on the scene, they challenged the men with “The Showstopper” — a diss track aimed at Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick’s “The Show.” It was playful, cheeky, and bold. They showed us women could hang with the men on the mic and look fierce while doing it. Their single, “Push It” set the stage for their fearlessness through a catchy hook and sexy bravado. With the single, they created a new dance, set new fashion trends, and broke the proverbial glass ceiling. They immortalized oversized coats over spandex and lopsided, cropped bobs. They talked about sex, laying out its negative consequences, and told the world to mind its business when it came to women’s sexuality.

Ahead of the group’s Lifetime movie, we have prepared a very necessary multimedia syllabus to highlight Salt-N-Pepa’s influence and the power of hip-hop feminism.

Books

Let’s Talk About Pep (2008)

Denton candidly shares how the group formed with details about a tumultuous rise to fame that include being physically assaulted for standing up to promoters who attempted to stiff the group out of money and the pressures of looking a certain way as a Black woman in the spotlight.

When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: A Hip-Hop Feminist Breaks it Down (1999)

Joan Morgan’s debut book does an excellent job of breaking down the nuances — including important highs and lows — of being a socially conscious woman who enjoys hip-hop.

The Crunk Feminist Collection (2017)

Brittney C. Cooper gathered academic works by scholarly women who weren’t fulfilled with coverage of how race and gender politics intersect with pop culture. It’s a dope extension of The Crunk Feminist Collective blog.

Bad Feminist (2014)

Roxane Gay confronts a number of issues related to how she (and the marginalized feminist mind at large) interacts with pop culture. Refreshingly honest, Gay also examines herself as a hip-hop fan and the cognitive dissonance of being a woman who enjoys the genre.

God Save the Queens: The Essential History of Women in Hip-Hop (2019)

Music journalist Kathy Iandoli chronicles the history of iconic women who have contributed to hip-hop dating back to the early ’70s while weaving in tales of her personal experience navigating the space.

Playlist

Hot, Cool & Vicious

Salt-N-Pepa’s debut album features ubiquitous hits such as “Push It,” “I’ll Take Your Man,” “Tramp,” “My Mic Sounds Nice,” and “The Showstopper.” The latter song is iconic because it was unheard of, at that time, for women to call men out on record.

“Spinderella’s Not a Fella (But a Girl DJ)”

You can find this tune on Salt-N-Pepa’s sophomore album, A Salt With a Deadly Pepper. Having a lady DJ was largely unheard of back then.

“Shoop” and “Whatta Man”

These tracks are everyone’s karaoke favorites. Both videos will be recreated in the upcoming biopic so get your lyrics together now.

“Let’s Talk About Sex”

This may have been the only sex education some people got at that time. They encouraged people to not be shy about talking about sex — the good, the bad, and the ugly.

“None of Your Business”

This unapologetic anthem about women enjoying sexual pleasure sounds like a Disney sing-a-long when you think about Missy Elliot’s “Pussycat,” Lil’ Kim’s “Not Tonight,” and especially today’s tunes such as “WAP” and “Cyber Sex.”

“I’ve Got AIDS (a PSA)”

This isn’t a song; it’s a skit featuring a group of teenagers acting out a hypothetical scenario where one of them is infected with HIV after having unprotected sex. This came out in 1993 as the nation learned more about HIV/AIDS.

“Expression”

It sounds very New Jack swing because it came out in 1990, but the message is especially true today. It’s calling for people to be themselves. Apply that concept to how people like to front on social media.

Recording artists Sandra Denton, DJ Spinderella and Cheryl James of musical group Salt-N-Pepa pose in the Press Room during the 2018 Billboard Music Awards 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo: LISA O’CONNOR/AFP via Getty Images

Podcasts

It’s A Long Story: “Joan Morgan, Hip hop from a Black feminist perspective

In this episode, Morgan discusses her most recent book, She Begat This: 20 Years of the Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which details the album’s influence on music.

Unladylike: How to Be Da Baddest Bitch in Hip-Hop

Regina Bradley joins hosts Caroline Ervin and Cristen Conger to discuss how modern acts such as Megan Thee Stallion and City Girls are breaking stereotypes that there can only be one successful woman popping at a time while also redefining sexuality and self-love in the digital age.

Wife. Mom. Jaded Journo. Digital Content Producer. Aerialist. Gryffindor/Ravenclaw. Wanderluster. Author of ‘Bloggers Can’t Be Trusted’ on Amazon.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store