Salt-N-Pepa Were All About Women’s Liberation

Salt-N-Pepa/David Burke/Flickr/CC-2.0

September 18, 2017

Beyonce’s 2014 VMA performance in front of a giant “Feminist” sign caught everybody’s attention, but Salt-N-Pepa were Black leaders of the feminist movement decades before.

Salt-N-Pepa broke up the monotony of a male-dominated rap scene that frequently objectified women. They completely flipped the script. The provocative, dynamic trio’s in-your-face lyrics and role reversing videos challenged norms and loudly boasted a spirit of women’s liberation and independence.

Cheryl “Salt” James, Sandra “Pepa” Denton, and Latoya Hanson exploded on the scene in 1985 with a fiery single called “The Showstopper” in response to Doug E. Fresh’s “The Show.” The following year, Hanson was replaced by Deidra “ DJ Spinderella” Roper.

Beyond the catchy hooks, songs like “Let’s Talk About Sex,” “Shoop,” and “Push It” reclaimed women’s sexuality and stated to listeners that women do not need to play coy about their sexual desires.

By subverting the idea that women’s sexuality is reduced to being the object of the male gaze, Salt-N-Pepa empowered other women to embrace themselves and feel comfortable in their own skin.

The group’s videos often confronted stereotypical narratives about sexuality in a direct way. For example, “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.”

These video depictions showed Black women free of inhibitions as well as fully in control of their bodies. This representation turned the notion of a submissive woman falling victim to a fawning hypersexual male on its head.

As the first Black women group to win a grammy, Salt-N-Pepa transcended boundaries and built a catalog of timeless records along the way that are still worthy of playing on any given day. Their knack for crafting hip hop records that got people up out of their seats and dancing while simultaneously giving the crowd lyrics with a purpose.

When we think of Black feminist pioneers, it is easy to point to scholars like bell hooks and Audre Lorde, however, some entertainers have played a key role in advancing feminist thought --- Salt-N-Pepa is an exemplar.

With feminist movements ongoing today pushing for equal rights, equal pay, reproductive justice, and more for women, it is just as important as it was in the 80s and 90s to continue fighting for these important issues and using whatever platforms we have to bring about meaningful changes in our communities.

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