Leading Ladies Of Hip Hop: Salt-N-Pepa

By Kathia Dawson, Staff Writer


Few have paved the way for female artists in the Hip Hop industry like Hip Hop trio Salt-N-Pepa. The group’s influences are widely seen today, and more than three decades after their top hits have been released, their songs are still known by everyone. Salt-N-Pepa were the first female rappers to win a Grammy Award for Performance by a Duo or Group, and first all-female rap act to achieve gold and platinum status.

The group as we know them today started as a duo with Cheryl James (“Salt”), who was born on March 28, 1966, and Sandra Denton (“Pepa”), born November 6, 1966. The two met as first year students at Queensborough Community College where both were studying nursing. The group’s turntablist, Spinderella — real name Deidra Roper, born August 3, 1970 — would join the duo later, in 1986, after Salt-N-Pepa’s previous Spinderella was released. James and Roper are from Brooklyn and Denton is from Queens.

Salt described their college days in 1985 as less about learning and more about them bonding as sisters. “We were big time screw-ups,” James told The Guardian. “We never went to class. We’d just hang around in the lunchroom playing cards, and we formed this amazing friendship. Because we were polar opposites, we fascinated each other.”

In addition to going to school together, the close friends also worked together at Sears as telephone operators. Other notables who worked alongside them included soon to be Hip Hop duo Kid-N-Play, comedian Martin Lawerence, as well as Salt’s boyfriend Hurby Azor. Azor, a music student, was the main producer for Salt-N-Pepa’s early works and became a big contributor to their sound.

The group officially formed in 1985, at first under the name Super Nature. People began calling the women Salt-N-Pepa after a lyric from their debut single “The Show Stoppa.” The verse went, “‘Cause we, the Salt and Pepa MCs.” From then on, the now iconic nickname stuck.

Early in their rap journey, they weren’t thinking about the money that came from their songs. Their big goal was to be on the radio, but what started as a fun pastime later became a full time job.



Their first track was recorded in 1985 during a time where rap battles were big. “The Show Stoppa” was a diss track in response to big names Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh’s song “The Show.” It was ballsy for the two to take on established names for their first track in a male-dominated industry.

One day the pair were listening to the radio while driving in Queens and heard “The Show Stoppa.” Salt recalls in an interview with Rolling Stone, “Pep, being the crazy person that she is— she stopped the car in the middle of the boulevard, she jumped out of the car, and she started screaming, ’They’re playing my song! That’s me! That’s me on the radio! And I’m like, ‘Get back in the car!’”

Azor had taken it to WBLS and DJ Marl, who had a show called World Famous Mr. Magic Rap Attack. This exposure garnered the group attention, which eventually led to signing with indie record label Next Plateau. The label offered them $5,000 for the single “I’ll Take Your Man,” and another $9,000 for an album.

The duo went on to complete recording a whole album— a major feat for men or women in those early days of Hip Hop. In between the release of their first album, Hot Cool Vicious, and their sophomore effort, A Salt With A Deadly Pepa, the group produced a single which became an international sensation.

The B-side for the single “Tramp,” “Push-It,” was released in 1987. The pair actually hated this song and thought it was cheesy. Recorded in a bathroom, the track unexpectedly took off and propelled their career to a new realm of fame. The song sold more than a million copies, hit No.20 on Billboard Pop charts, and earned them a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Performance.

In 1986, the group continued to evolve. They added a 16-year-old DJ Deidre Roper, with the stage name Spinderella. Thematically, they grew even more unashamed about delving into taboo topics. They embraced their sexuality on titles like “Let’s Talk About Sex,” released in 1991. And at a time when it was the prevailing global health concern, they addressed the HIV epidemic in the sharply-titled public service announcement “I’ve Got Aids,” voiced by the group WeTalk from Boston, Massachusetts.



In the mid-1990s, Salt entered into the Christian music space, collaborating on the Grammy nominated “Stomp” with Kirk Franklin in 1997. This was also the year of their last album as a group. The group disbanded in 2002 when Salt wanted to focus on producing.

In 2003, Spinderella began work as a radio personality on KKBT in Los Angeles, spinning old school hip hop. Pepa was featured in the reality TV show The Surreal Life in 2005. In 2007 they flirted with a comeback, and starred in their own reality series, the Salt-N-Pepa show.

Tensions within the trio became public when Spinderella sued Salt-N-Pepa, alleging fraud, breach of contract, trademark infringement, and unpaid royalties. Spinderella is no longer a part of Salt-N-Pepa. Her departure was made official when she was barely acknowledged in the group’s recent Lifetime biopic.



Spinderella has gone on the record noting she was influenced by vintage soul music from the likes of the O’Jays and Marvin Gaye. In an interview, they stated rapper Roxanne Shanté was influential and part of their blueprint.



It’s no doubt Salt-N-Pepa paved the way for many of the popular female rappers and groups that are well-known today; however, it wasn’t easy for them. They broke barriers in the male-dominated music industry, facing off with the double challenge of being women, and Black women at that.

Their influence is extremely broad. Just a few artists they’ve gone on to influence are TLC, Lil’ KimFoxy BrownRemy MaNicki MinajCardi BCity Girls, and many more. Spinderella also made a blueprint for female DJs. Before her, there weren’t many who could flaunt mainstream success.

Meatloaf, burgers, macaroni and cheese, and more are what’s on the menu next for James and Denton. The pair are launching their own show, Cookin’ with Salt-N-Pepa, which is set to premiere on The Cooking Channel. The premise of the show is that the pair will tour their favorite spots around the country, review the food they try, and spend time with the chefs who prepared it.



  • First all-female rap act to go Platinum
  • First females to win a Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group, for “None of Your Business” 1995
  • MTV Best Choreography in a Video for “Whatta Man,” 1994
  • MTV Best Dance Video for “Whatta Man,” 1994
  • MTV Best R&B Video, “Whatta Man,” 1994
  • Entertainer of the Year at Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards, 1995
  • Grammys Lifetime Achievement Award, 2021
  • Hollywood Walk of Fame Star, received in 2022



  • “The Show Stoppa,”
  • “Push It”
  • “Shoop”
  • “What A Man”
  • “Let’s Talk About Sex”



The strength of Cheryl James and Sandra Denton’s friendship transformed them from screw-ups to international sensations.

More than three decades after their releases, hits like “Push It,” “Let’s talk about sex,” “Whatta Man” and “Shoop” still hold a place in history as some of the most cutting-edge lyrics of the time that are relevant today.

Salt-N-Pepa were the first female rappers to be certified platinum. Their recognition and success was largely because of their fearlessness to speak on taboo topics. The band hit the hearts of their largely female audience by speaking their truth and being bold with the things they had to say. They were one of the first female groups to explore female relationships with men in their genre. Their voice gave voice to future generations of female rappers as well as millions of other women in the world.

Leading Ladies Of Hip Hop: Roxanne Shanté

By Breanna Nesbeth, WERS Music Coordinator


Roxanne Shanté is one of the first female super stars in Hip Hop. She paved the way for much of what the culture and genre is today. Ironically, Shanté has rarely been discussed as a serious player in Hip Hop’s 50 year history until recently.

Shanté, birth name Lolita Shanté Gooden, established herself through a distinctive style of solely freestyle-rapping, and it’s in Queens, Queensbridge to be exact– where we see the start of the prodigy’s journey.

Roxanne Shanté honed her rapping skills at the early age of eight.  She developed her interest in rap through watching the game show “Hollywood Squares”. During the show, Shanté would watch comedian Nipsey Russell answer questions back in the form of a rhyme.  In an interview with Ailsa Chang for NPR, Shanté shared “… people would ask him [Russell] questions, and he would answer them in a rhyming form. So I sat in front of the TV and was like, I like Nipsey Russell. I like to hustle. So what it did was it started a whole rhyming effect. And I would rhyme the entire day.”

By the time Shanté turned nine, she was participating in and winning local rap battles. At ten years old, she earned her first $50 in a rap battle contest. By fourteen, Shanté, still a young lady with a ponytail and braces from humble beginnings, was a respected force during Hip Hop’s infancy.

By the time Shanté turned 15, she went through significant life altering challenges. She was in an abusive relationship with an older boyfriend, which produced her son Kareem. The very same year she became officially  recognized as the first female battle rapper. This title was bestowed when she took on MC KRS-One of Boogie Down Productions in what became known as “The Bridge Wars” – a rap battle between rappers from Queens and the Bronx.

Over the course of her career, Shanté had been cheated out of money by managers and others whom she trusted. By age 25, Shanté made a decision to take a step back from the Hip Hop scene and for the most part retired from the recording industry. She continued to make motion picture appearances and book live performances, however. Shanté had acting roles in the movies Colors (1988), Lean On Me (1989), and Girls Town (1996).


After developing her freestyling skills, Shanté would take on older male competitors in rap battles, winning with her lyricism that incorporated her sharp tongue and wit. At age fourteen, Shanté was approached by neighbor and producer Marlon “Marley Marl” Williams to rhyme on an ‘answer track’ he was working on. The answer track’s beat came from the Hip Hop song “Roxanne Roxanne” by the Brooklyn rap group U.T.F.O. The resulting countersong – “Roxanne’s Revenge” – was released in 1984. It’s considered hip-hop’s first diss record, leading to dozens of response records.

In the aforementioned NPR interview, Shanté shares “‘Roxanne’s Revenge’ was a freestyle, a seven-minute freestyle where the story I was telling was the fact that when men approach you and they’re trying to heckle and – you need to be able to turn around and answer them. So if they were rappers, you just proved that you were a better rapper. And you turned around and you responded in a rhyming form.”

“Roxanne’s Revenge” hit number 22 on the R&B/Hip Hop charts, and would eventually spark The Roxanne Wars, a series of tracks that were responses to the hit song. Gooden would then go on to join The Juice Crew, a rapping crew of all male rappers and Shanté.  The roster of the Juice Crew included rap pioneers, Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, MC Shan, and Kool G Rap. She began to tour with the crew and in 1985 released a single with another female rapper, Brooklyn’s Sparky D, “Round One, Roxanne Shanté vs Sparky Dee,” on Spin Records.


There aren’t many known artists who’ve been influential in Shanté’s career, seeing the genre itself was so young when she emerged. And of all the artists on the scene who were experimenting with Hip Hop at the time, almost all were men. Her closest contemporaries who approximate Shanté’s attitude and bravado would be R&B’s Millie Jackson and Linda Clifford.

However, she has influenced many. At the height of her career, Shanté was referred to as the “Queen of Rap” by The New York Times. She’s been credited for popularizing “the diss track,” and been called “rap’s first female star.” She’s been considered a pioneer for the first generation of female MCs, all while advocating for female empowerment.

Additionally, because of the newness of the genre at the time, Shanté had not received any awards for her music.


The success of “Roxanne’s Revenge” also led to a string of other hits by Roxanne Shanté including, “Have a Nice Day,” and “Bite This.”

Her pioneering 1984 single, “Roxanne’s Revenge,” is now eligible for platinum certification in the U.S. This song– a true freestyle–is especially amazing because 39 years ago, a 15-year-old girl was able to encapsulate commentary about sexism and catcalling into a song and these are discussions society is still grappling with today.

As the only female member of Marley Marl’s Juice Crew, Shanté entered yet another hip hop beef— “The Bridge Wars”, between Queensbridge, Queens and the South Bronx. After an initial diss from KRS-One of Boogie Down Productions,  Shanté clapped back onhe 1987 track “Have a Nice Day” with “Now KRS One, you should go on vacation/With that name sounding like a wack radio station.” KRS-One responded directly to Shanté’s diss with the infamous reply track, “The Bridge Is Over” the same year.

Shanté displayed an image of strong confidence with little reverence to her male counterparts who outnumbered her significantly in all her songs, which was a rarity amongst rappers – male and especially female – at the time. On “Bite This,” she calls out top-ranking acts like Run-D.M.C., Kurtis Blow, and L.L. Cool J. Calling out artists by name became a signature trademark of hers. “I’m talkin’ to all you MC’s out there / I’ll say your name cause I don’t care.”


Roxanne Shanté is undoubtedly the blueprint for female MCs today. She was not just a pioneer for female Hip Hop artists, but a pioneer for Hip Hop on the whole. Although few music historians have given her props, she deserves her flowers.

Luckily, she’s now receiving them. Netflix has recently released the biopic
“Roxanne Roxanne”, which tells the story of the beginning of her career. Shanté, who now lives in New Jersey, co-leads an education nonprofit. She is also known to occasionally perform, and has done a series of press events where she comments on Hip Hop and rap artists of today.  You can currently hear her unique voice on L.L. Cool J’s SiriusXM channel, ‘Rock the Bells Radio’ with a show called “Have a Nice Day with Roxanne Shanté featuring DJ Sylk”.

When recently asked, Roxanne shared what she thought her legacy and status in Hip Hop was, and it’s complicated at best.  She said, “I’m not the female Hip Hop artist people talk about. I’m not invited to the awards. I’m the person who people would assume would be angry at home. And I’m the total opposite of that. I love life so much. I’m a breast cancer survivor. I know what it’s like to go through lumpectomies, through everything. Life is amazing to me. I enjoy every minute of it.” Roxanne’s legacy of true inspiration and independent thought have few rivals, if any. In the pioneering worlds of Roxanne Shanté and Hip Hop, no imitating biters can or ever will be allowed. There is and will only be one queen of the diss track, Roxanne Shanté!

So to Queen Shanté, there’s only one thing to say: thank you and have a nice day.