Before they were the trailblazing rap icons Salt-N-Pepa, Cheryl "Salt" James and Sandra "Pepa" Denton were first-year college students in Queens, N.Y., where they met in 1985. They both worked at Sears with comedians Martin Lawrence and Kid 'n Play, who also had yet to reach stardom. Salt and Pepa recently sat down with "Nightline" at the Bryant Park Hotel's Cellar Bar in New York City to share with us some of their favorite songs.
"We never went to class," Salt admits. "We played spades," remembers Pepa. Despite all their success, Salt knows how lucky she was to achieve so much without focusing on her schoolwork. "When you're in school, go to school," she says. "Go to class, people."
The first single they ever recorded was called "The Showstopper," and served as an "answer" to Doug E. Fresh's rap single "The Show." They believe it was that recording that really got their feet in the door. Pepa recalls that Doug E. Fresh wasn't keen on "Showstopper." "We didn't make any more records about them," Pepa says. "Just that one."
Salt-N-Pepa hit it big in 1986 with their first album, "Hot, Cool & Vicious." The hit single from the album was "Push It," and it remains one of the group's most well-known songs.
Surprisingly, the "Push It" remix was only added at the very last minute to fill a spot on the B-side. They recorded it in their friend and producer Fresh Gordon's bathroom in Brooklyn, with no clue of the impact it would have. The album eventually went platinum. They were the first female rap group to go gold or platinum.
Their third album, "Blacks' Magic," was released in 1990 and included tracks the women produced themselves. The 10th track of the album was the controversial hit "Let's Talk About Sex," which climbed to No.13 on the Billboard charts that year.
The late Peter Jennings asked Salt-N-Pepa to revise the song for a special that aired in 1992 on ABC News called "Living in the Age of AIDS." The women responded to the request with the song "Let's Talk About AIDS," which drew attention to practicing safe sex.
Some of the most memorable Salt-N-Pepa songs came on their 1993 album, "Very Necessary." The song "Shoop" was their first Top 5 hit and was accompanied by a wildly popular video. "It was a breakout video for Salt-N-Pepa," Salt says.
"That video was so much fun," Pepa says. "People wanna know what it means. 'Shoop' is whatever you want it to mean. You just shooping around. Just shoop!"
Also on "Very Necessary" was the hit single "Whatta Man," which included special guests En Vogue. "You know, a lot of guys don't get their recognition, all the good men out there," Pepa says. "And I'm still looking. 'Cause I know you're out there."
In 2000, fans were shocked to learn that Salt-N-Pepa were breaking up. Salt made the decision to walk away from Pepa and their DJ Spinderella while the group was still enjoying success in the music world. She decided to dedicate her life to her family and to her faith as a committed Christian.
Now, more than 10 years since they put out a new album, and about eight years since they broke up altogether, Salt-N-Pepa have reunited in their VH1 reality show, "The Salt-N-Pepa Show."
'I Feel for You,' Chaka Kahn
Salt-N-Pepa cite an eclectic mix of songs that influenced them over the years that range from Motown classics to hard rock.
They listened to Chaka Kahn's "I Feel for You" when they were first becoming friends.
"We were roller skating at the time," says Salt. "But that was before Salt-N-Pepa," recalls Pepa. "That's when we were just friends." Chaka Khan released "I Feel for You" in 1984. She went on to win a Grammy for her version of the Prince song by the same name.
'I can't Live Without My Radio,' LL Cool J
When they were young, Salt-N-Pepa used to hang out in New York City parks listening to LL Cool J on their boomboxes. One of their favorites was a song LL Cool J wrote about his boombox, "I Can't Live Without My Radio."
"That was the time we used to be in the park jams and everyone hooking up the turntables, grabbing the mics," says Pepa. "So I definitely could relate to that."
'Dancing Machine,' Jackson 5
No matter how many times they hear them, Salt-N-Pepa will never get sick of songs by the Jackson 5.
"If I hear a Jackson 5 record right now," says Pepa, "I probably get up from this [chair] and go dance." While Pepa was a Randy Jackson fan, Salt liked Michael Jackson. "I liked them when he was little," she says, "I love me some Michael."
One of their favorite Jackson 5 songs is "Dancing Machine," which came out in 1973 and made popular Michael Jackson's "robot" dance.
'As I Am,' Alicia Keys
As for new music, Salt-N-Pepa love Alicia Keys' new album, As I Am. "She is just amazing. She just blows me away playing that piano," says Salt, "I got my son playing the piano now. I'm hoping someone PLEASE! Play an instrument! One of my children!"
Pepa loves her single "No One," and after more than four years since Keys' last album, Pepa thinks it was worth the wait. "She knows how to disappear and come back with something."
'All I Wanna Do,' Sheryl Crow
Salt says the songs she loves now are often influenced by what music her children like. "We love what they love," she says. "You end up singing those songs when you have children."
Salt was in Los Angeles years ago with her daughter and they sang along together to one of her favorite songs, "All I Wanna Do" by Sheryl Crow. "She was in the back of the car and we were just singing to the top of our lungs," Salt says.
"All I Wanna Do" was Crow's breakout hit from her Grammy winning debut album Tuesday Night Music Club from 1993. The song reached No. 2 on the Billboard Charts.
'Back in Black,' AC/DC
One of Pepa's favorite songs may surprise her fans. "AC/DC 'Back in Black.' Those were my punk rock days," says Pepa.
Salt was not surprised, noting that "she's a rock 'n' roller at heart." Pepa's passion for rock 'n' roll may move beyond her love of other people's songs.
"Let's do a rock song," Pepa says, "When we do music again."
"We could do whatever we want," Salt responds. "We Salt-N-Pepa."
Does this mean there may be another Salt-N-Pepa album in the future?