Salt-N-Pepa selling a positive message

June 10, 1994|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

Could it be that Salt-N-Pepa represents some secret underground side of rap music?

It scarcely seems possible. After all, not only has the trio enjoyed a steady string of successes on the pop singles chart, from "Push It" to "Let's Talk About Sex" to the current "Whatta Man," but its four albums have sold at least a million copies each. In fact, the most recent, "Very Necessary," is double platinum and still going strong.

Yet whenever pundits and policy-makers talk about the state of rap music, somehow Salt-N-Pepa is always overlooked. There's no way anyone could be aware of this group's music and still think the only thing that sells in rap is gun-toting, misogynist negativity.

"I know," agrees Pepa, over the phone from an Atlanta hotel. "They're just trying to shoot rap down. But rap is a positive thing, because a lot of young people -- especially a lot of young black people -- that's where they escape into. That's where they're getting involved.

"It's hard for us, especially young black boys, to make it out there. And this music keeps them off the street . . . I mean, they're producing, they're writing, they're dancing, they're rapping. It's a positive thing, and they're not even beefing that part up. They're just talking about the gangsta rap."

Not only is the mainstream of rap being misrepresented by this barrage of anti-gangsta propaganda, but as Pepa points out, most of these critics miss the real issue at hand.

"It's sad," she says, "because people are not even taking the time to say, 'Well, dag! Maybe they were raised like that.' You know what I'm saying? Not all of them, because some of them might be just jumping on the bandwagon -- but some of these people were brought up like that. That's all they knew in the ghetto. They've never been outside of their neighborhood. They're just rapping about what they see."

Take the music's apparent misogyny. Many women are deeply offended by gangsta rap's fondness for describing women as bitches and 'hos. "But Salt-N-Pepa, we try to counteract that, and wake up women," says Pepa. "Because it's not only [the men's] fault. I've been on tour with male rappers, and I've seen girls banging at their door, there 'til all night. We're pulling out the next day on the tour bus, they're still there in the lobby.

"These are a lot of the women that they're talking about. So we tell 'em, 'Let's not give them so much to talk about, girls.' "

In a sense, that's one reason raps like "Whatta Man" have such impact -- they offer positive images on both sides.

"Yeah, we've man-bashed a few times," Pepa admits. "We've made songs like 'Tramp' -- even though the men never got offended. But women sometimes don't appreciate a good man. I've always said, if you treat yourself like a queen, you'll attract a king. And then you'll see that good man.

"There are good men out there," she adds. "There are guys who have their priorities straight, who take care of their kids, who respect their mothers. We also give props to mothers who raise good men. Because it starts at home. So at the end of 'Whatta Man,' that's one of my favorite lines: 'And he's never disrespectful, because his mother taught him that.' "

Salt-N-Pepa, it should be noted, are big believers in the &r importance of family values. "Because with morals, parents need to instill that in kids from when they're young," says Pepa. "From home. Sit down with the kid. I do that with my son now. You know, he's only three and a half, but if I say I have a headache, he'll rub my temples."

She laughs. "I'm not saying that's what it's all about, but I'm saying if you have a little sensitivity with him, he won't feel nothing wrong with doing that. So it starts at home. Parents need to sit down with their boys and girls and tell them how to carry themselves, and tell the boys how to respect women and respect yourself, and know who you are."

Above all, practice what you preach, and speak honestly about life. Salt-N-Pepa certainly do, both onstage and off.

"And you know what? I think that's why Salt-N-Pepa have lasted so long," she says proudly. "Because they sense a realness. Everything we talk about, I've either witnessed or gone through, you know what I mean? I'm not ashamed to speak about anything. And what I'm telling you is real, it's from the heart. I'm not making it for the buck.

"Like people were telling us, 'You should come out grimy,' because that was the thing to do. Everybody was getting paid for doing that. But I don't feel grimy in my heart. I'm not grimy. That's not me. People are trying to make me hard, and I'm not hard. Then they say I'm soft.

"Well, good," she says, laughing. "That's me. I might have crossed over, but I don't feel that you're a sell-out unless you're doing something that's not you. If you don't believe in that, if you're just doing it for the buck -- that's the sell-out."

It's 'Necessary'

To hear excerpts from Salt-N-Pepa's current album, "Very Necessary," call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call 268-7736; in Harford County, 836-5028; in Carroll County, 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6249 after you hear the greeting.

What's shaking

When: Today, 8 p.m.

Where: Baltimore Arena

Tickets: $23.50

Call: (410) 347-2010 for info, (410) 481-7328 for tickets

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