Salt-N-Pepa Do It Their Way

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Today, Roper, like her two band mates, is a mother. It is her turn to worry. Her daughter, Christenese, is 4. Christenese's father is the basketball star Kenny Anderson. Having two famous parents was weighing on the young girl's self-esteem, so Roper enrolled her in karate classes to give her a sense of control. She will soon receive her first belt.

How to protect their kids is a topic that comes up repeatedly with the members of Salt-n-Pepa. All are single mothers. Roper and Anderson broke up shortly after the birth of Christenese; Denton split with the father of her son, Tyran, before the birth ("We broke up from Day One," she says. "Pregnant, gone"); James was briefly engaged to Gavin Wray, Corin's father, until Barbara James told Cheryl that she should follow her heart, not a misguided sense of duty.

"I'm glad I said that, but it was a tough decision, because I like the father," says Barbara. "It just wasn't right for her. And now the child adores her father. She gets so much love from both sides."

None of the members of SNP is currently involved in a romantic relationship. The stakes are different, they say, now that they have children. Denton, who recently (and amicably) ended a six-year relationship with Treach of Naughty by Nature, sat her son down to discuss the topic of future relationships.

"I said, 'Whoever's around has gotta love you,' " says Denton. "And he said, 'But they gotta love you, too, Mommy.' "

Intro, music, mayhem. that's how quickly the fans rip out of their seats when Salt-n-Pepa rip into "R U Ready," the first single off Brand New. One note and the TV soundstage becomes a nightclub. And why not? It's all here: the hip-hop attitude, the dancing, the pop sensibility, the slinky cocktail dresses, the energy. By the time the group unleashes its big diva finish, the fans are in heaven.

"You can't fight Salt-n-Pepa," says Denton, laughing.

"It's where the women rule, baby," answers James.

As the program fades to black, the crew surprises SNP with a cake commemorating their 10 years in the music business. Forget the slight math problem – Hot, Cool and Vicious came out in '86 – what matters is the sentiment. Salt-n-Pepa have endured.

The women wander to their dressing room to slip out of their stage personas. It has been a long day, but this is only the beginning of the push for Brand New. When it is done, they will be left with uncertainty. At one point they talked with CBS about producing and starring in their own sitcom, but that fell through. There are other possibilities.

"Our girl Roseanne has always been interested in producing a sitcom for us," says Denton. "That might happen. I don't know about Salt sometimes. She's drifting away from everything. But I'm still very interested."

More than being interested, Denton has taken small roles in the films Joe's Apartment and First Time Felon to help feel out a career switch. Granted, she is impetuous (after visiting Paris and loving the vendors selling crepes, she contacted the city of New York about operating her own cart in Manhattan), but you get the feeling that she is serious about keeping her options wide open.

Backstage, James changes into a denim dress and heads back to the hotel with her daughter. Roper and Denton plan to watch a pay-per-view boxing event tonight, but James will probably stay in. Offstage, they sometimes need to go their own ways. Certainly the making of Brand New didn't help matters.

"At a point, it felt like betrayal or abandonment," says James of her relationship with Denton during Brand New. "She'd cancel studio time. Or not show up. Or not call me. And I was working so hard. But she's a grown woman, and I have to separate from her in that way. I have to not let it affect me so . . . deeply."

Which might explain how each member of Salt-n-Pepa is treating this new album. Any record could be a band's last, but this time, it really could be the last. They are nervous, excited, a little scared to think too far down the line.

For her part, Roper has other plans. She has opened a salon, She Things, in Queens; she plans to get a license in massage therapy and open a spa, too; and she has recorded nine of the 12 tracks for a Spinderella solo album, to be released on Jireh Records, Salt-n-Pepa's label.

For Denton and James, the stakes are higher, if only because they are more firmly planted. More than a decade since they began their partnership with Azor, he has graduated to vice president of A&R at Universal, a division of MCA. "You know, God bless Hurby," says James. "We're just glad we got the opportunity to prove it's not all about Hurby. That's all we ever wanted."

They have proved their point. Salt and Pepa, the individuals, now run Salt-n-Pepa, the band. The moment is finally all theirs. They talk about how much they love each other, and when they do, it is with obvious sincerity and emotion. Whether that love will keep them together is anybody's guess. The Lord works in mysterious ways.

This story is from the October 16th, 1997 issue of Rolling Stone.

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