Writing about musicians means you occasionally get to fulfill completely random fantasies e.g., a casual phone conversation with Cheryl James, aka Salt of Salt-N-Pepa. (Read Gambit's story on the group's Essence Festival reunion here.) I was all of 8 when "Push It" swept across the country in 1986, and one of my most vivid childhood music memories is watching that video for the first time, loving the synthesizer hook ("It sounds like a naughtier 'Axel F'!") and thinking, Jesus, one day I hope I understand what these lyrics are all about. Had James called me then, it's the first thing I would've asked her.
We just started performing again. Its been incredible, the turnouts. Im surprised that people still want Salt-N-Pepa the way that they do. Im so flattered and so excited about performing again. We did a show in Hawaii in an arena, and we sold it out. Were going to Toronto. Were just getting back into it. Weve structured a really great show full of all of our hits or as many as we can get in there. When I started putting the show back together, I was like, Wow, we had a lot of hit songs! I had forgotten. So were just hitting you with those hits, back to back to back. We have Spinderella with us, and she does a hot set. I think were going to do about 45 minutes. Im excited, because I didnt really realize how huge this Essence Festival was. Ive heard about it from year to year. On the show, we had the cameras follow us to New Orleans to do some disaster relief for Hurricane Katrina. We made a lot of friends, so Im sure theyll be giving us some love.
I got an e-blast about the situation. You know how some things just hit your heart. My heart really just went out to those kids. I identified with their moms on a really deep level for some reason. I decided I was going to go out there. We were filming the show, and I didnt really expect them to come because, you know, its VH1. I didnt think theyd be interested. But I was going anyway. That wouldve put a break in the shooting schedule, so they followed us. I talked to Pep, and she came along. We went and we met with the families, and we let them tell us what was going on. But the point of bringing the cameras was to bring awareness to the situation. We took our kids. It was really a powerful, meaningful journey, because our children learned a lot about injustice and what can happen. For that reason I was really glad that we did it. And it was a powerful episode.
Our show was unusually real, compared to reality. The drama between me and Pep was all true. We had many unresolved issues. We even had an episode where (life coach) Iyanla (Vanzant) came in, which was incredible. Her announcement to the crew and the producers was, Im not here to do reality (TV). Im here to heal these girls relationships. [Therapy?] It really was. And the thing is that you only get 23 minutes of things that take days, you know, and you have to crunch it down. Its really difficult, as one of the people on the show, to see them crunch it down to what they want it to be. But for the most part our show was very, very real. Then, theres times where you know, OK, were going here and doing this and we need to film it. Part of it thats set up, that goes without saying.
Very hard for me. That was one of the most trying experiences for me. Even the first episode, when we were hashing out our drama, that was a two-hour conversation. And it was, I think, a minute and a half. (Laughs) Were just gonna take when Salt starts crying and when Pepa starts yelling. Thats the drama. It took a long time to escalate to that point. There was a lot of very coherent discussion, you know? It took some getting used to for me. But the shows not coming back. But its a singles dating show. Im stepping back into the producer lane. [Had enough?] Oh my God, yes. (Laughs) If I do, it has to be something like Im a judge on a show, something like that.
What I did love about the reality show is it helped me sift through all those fears that I had of disappointing God, disappointing the church. The conclusion that I came to was, one, the way that I left Pep was very damaging to her, and I apologized and I repented for that. God showed me how much I hurt her; He showed me her pain, which was very helpful to me. Two, that the music that we did was, in comparison to whats going on right now, very, very bubblegum. (Laughs) But back then, it was like, oh my God, you know? Our intention for Push It was always, it was about dancing. And people were like, Yeah, right. (Laughs) But its so true! We were so naïve back then. That wasnt Hurby (Azor)s intention; he wrote that song. Three, opening up my heart to the possibilities of how we can structure a show and new music in a way that is balanced and that is still uplifting and something that I can claim and be proud of.
I opened up to that process, and we came up with a show. And Sandy allowed me to. Because there was a fight there, a struggle there for a while, and eventually she allowed me to do that, and she decided that shes going to respect where I am. The show is amazing. Its full of ministry, full of fun. They allow me to close out the show with Stomp, and the crowd goes crazy. We end up our show with the whole place praising God, and we get to talk in the middle about our journey and forgiveness. The way that I resolve Push It is, we changed the meaning of push it. Now were pushing it for all of these different reasons: for our single moms who are struggling, for our soldiers to come home. Were pushing it for change in America with Barack Obama. And they love it. That satisfies me, and we still get to do our hits. God worked it out for me.
Yeah, we are. We have some incredible music. Its really Salt-N-Pepa-ry kind of stuff. Nothing too crazy or too deep or anything. Its what we do, you know? Dance music. We came to a nice common ground, and it was like, OK, lets keep it positive, lets keep it light, lets keep it fun, lets keep it dancing. I think people will love this record that were working on. Were also working on the plan to put it out, because the record industry is nothing like what were used to. So were still developing a plan on how were going to market it and promote it, and where you can get it. Itll probably mostly be through the Internet. We have about 13 songs. Songs are still coming. We didnt think of a name yet. But were in the process of wrapping it up. This particular album, I did most of it. Ive been working with Rock Wiler and these two producers from Atlantic City, Chris and Teeb. Drop Zone is the name of their production. And a couple of other young guys that are up-and-coming that have some hits under their belt. But for the most part, Im putting together the album.
I really didnt, I didnt at all. I was exhausted. I just needed some normalcy in my life. And I got that for a really long time. I never longed for [fame]; I resisted it a lot. Over the years I turned down huge checks. Also, I was resenting the fact that I had to be responsible for Pepa and Spins finances. But then, in maturing, God showed me that in a way I am. This is what we do to make our living. So I have to figure out how to do what I was blessed with to make a living for myself, my family and the girls.